Most kids get in trouble for playing with their food. But when 8-year-old Aurora resident Miranda Johnson made a carillon and riverwalk scene out of chocolate, Jell-O and marshmallows, she was awarded a second place ribbon and a gift certificate to the movies.
"She heard about the contest and she wanted in right away," says Miranda's mother Angelique of Naperville's inaugural Chocolate Competition last year. "It didn't even matter to her that it was second place. She was just very proud."
If you or your child spends more time plating masterpieces than eating the meals, be sure to enter the competition when it returns to Naperville's Fourth Annual Chocolate Festival at Neuqua Valley High School, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Jan. 13. Entry forms are available online at www.ncoyouth.org.
"We had 25 entries last year, which we were really thrilled with," says Julie Lichter, community resources coordinator for NCO Youth and Family Services, the organization sponsoring the event. "We're hoping for more this year."
In an attempt to expand the contest, NCO has chosen a broader theme with "Childhood Dreams" and added a family category to the judging. The contest is open to all.
"Last year was good because our kids are way into Naperville history and they had their own visions of what the theme could be," says Susan Panther, whose kids Katie and Alex, now 12 and 10, won third and first places in their respective categories. Panther herself won first place in the adult contest, but this year the family is considering a new plan of attack to continue the winning streak. "We're actually discussing doing a family entry," Panther says.
Entry forms and fees ($50 professionals, $15 non-professional adults, $10 families, free kids 18 and under) must be received by Jan. 8, but actual entries should be brought to the high school at 10 a.m. the day of the competition. Pieces must be at least 50 percent chocolate-Lichter says using store bought candy bars is perfectly OK-and will be judged on workmanship, originality and how the piece relates to the theme. Taste is not a consideration to make it easier for younger chefs. Check the Web site for additional information on rules and prizes.
The Chocolate Festival also features cooking demonstrations, vendors, live music and a family activity room with face painting, balloon artists and inflatables. Kids who want a competition requiring less preparation can enter the Cookie Stacking Contest at 3 p.m. Admission is $6, $3 seniors and kids 5-17, free kids 4 and under. Proceeds go to NCO's United Way-affiliated services, such as counseling, group homes, transitional housing and prevention work in school districts.
"Chocolate seemed like a fun and exciting thing to do to get people out of the house in the dead of winter," Lichter says.