southtownstar
IMPERFECT 
Weather Updates

Big Brothers Big Sisters benefit satisfies sweet tooth

Michael Tessone chocolatier Aunt Nina’s Sweets-n-Treats will create desserts for Big Finale Big Brothers Big Sisters fundraiser Oct. 14. |

Michael Tessone, the chocolatier at Aunt Nina’s Sweets-n-Treats, will create desserts for Big Finale, the Big Brothers Big Sisters fundraiser, on Oct. 14. | File photo

storyidforme: 38003932
tmspicid: 7094707
fileheaderid: 3258686

If you go

What: Big Finale

When: 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. Oct. 14

Where: Holiday Inn Conference Center, 411 S. Larkin Ave., Joliet

Etc: Two hours of chef-created desserts, music and a silent auction

Tickets: $50

Contact: Call 815-723-BBBS (2227) or visit www.bbbswillgrundy.org.

Updated: November 8, 2012 11:46AM



The “homey” desserts executive chef John Woods will dish up at Oct. 14’s Big Finale benefit for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Will and Grundy Counties will contain three irresistible combinations.

These are Woods’ personal love for sweets, Harrah’s Joliet’s commitment to charitable causes and signature recipes from the casino’s newest restaurant, Paula Deen’s Kitchen.

“I spent part of my career as a pastry chef and really have a soft spot in my heart for pastry art,” said Woods, 51 of Naperville. “And I really like chocolate.”

His featured item is a gooey butter cake, a dense dessert that resembles bar cookies. Woods, along with William Langlois, the room chef for Paula Deen’s Kitchen at Harrah’s Joliet, will offer several varieties of this cake. These will include “traditional” and custom flavors, such as pumpkin and Oreo.

“It’s very sweet and satisfying for people who, like me, really like their desserts,” Woods said.

He and Langlois will also serve two of Deen’s pies, key lime and pecan, as well as a butter rum cake. All of the foods served in Paula Deen’s Kitchen are based on recipes Deen uses at The Lady and Sons, Deen’s Georgia restaurant.

Also during Big Finale, local elected officials will introduce a child from their community who is waiting for a Big Brother or Big Sister. Patrons may also enjoy piano music and bid on silent auction items.

Lisa Morel Las, CEO for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Will and Grundy Counties, conceived Big Finale after eating at Finale Desserterie in Massachusetts, an all-dessert restaurant. Last year, Big Finale raised $33,523.

“It’s a great way to taste decadent delicacies from the local area and not feel bad,” Las said. “People can feel good knowing that the money generated will go toward efforts to match the 52 boys and 13 girls on our waiting list for a Big Brother or Big Sister mentor.”

Woods came to Harrah’s Joliet slightly more than a year ago. This former political science major began his culinary career as a line cook for the former Stouffer’s Restaurants and Hotels as his means of paying for college, until Stouffer’s offered Woods a culinary internship and Woods decided he’d rather cook than practice law.

He remained with Stouffer’s for 12 years, eventually becoming executive chef at the Oak Brook Hotel in 1989.

“When I was growing up, we used to window shop at Oak Brook Mall and then have brunch at Stouffer’s,” Woods said. “Years later, I worked there.”

Before Woods accepted a position at Harrah’s Joliet, he worked seven years at the Holiday Inn Select Hotel in Naperville and then the Hyatt Rosemont. Woods believes the joy in working as a chef is variety (“Each day is different,” Woods said.) and new people to meet.

Moreover, with the popularity of the Food Network channel, chefs have become both celebrities and approachable individuals, since nearly everyone cooks at some point or wishes to discuss a great new restaurant.

“It’s a very rewarding career,” Woods said. “We get immediate gratification from what we do and instant feedback, good and bad, from others.”



© 2014 Sun-Times Media, LLC. All rights reserved. This material may not be copied or distributed without permission. For more information about reprints and permissions, visit www.suntimesreprints.com. To order a reprint of this article, click here.