Cake recipe wins Pass Health Foods vegan contest

March 15, 2024

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The grand prize winner of Pass Health Food’s Vegan Baking Contest, Barb Weber of Crestwood who made a vegan Cookie Dough Cake, received a $100 gift card to pass Whole Foods.

By Kelly White

One local health food store has encouraged residents to bring out the best in their culinary abilities.

Pass Health Foods, 7228 W. College Dr., Palos Heights, hosted a Gluten Free Baking Contest on March 9.

“This is the first time we have held this friendly competition,” Carolyn Johnson, co-owner of Pass Health Foods, said. “We have a gluten-free baking contest every year. That is always fun, and we have a large group of people who are vegan, or vegetarian, or can’t have dairy, so we thought a vegan bacon contest would be a fun thing. Baking without animal products can sometimes be tricky, so we thought a baking contest would be fun and also a way for people to try different vegan baked goods, since after the judging all entries will be available to taste.”

Johnson co-owns the establishment along with Liz Ryan. Johonson’s aunts, Joanne Callahan and Theresa Van Loon, opened the store in 1995.

The entire community was invited to participate in the Vegan Baking Contest by entering a dish along with a recipe. The only rule being that the item must be entirely gluten free and that the recipe must come with a full ingredient listing.

“I’m a vegetarian and don’t eat any dairy products, so I’m excited to try the different entries because while I’m an okay baker, there are some things that are a little difficult to make without dairy or animal products- plus who doesn’t love trying desserts and baked goods?” Johnson said.

There was no pre-entry to participate in the Vegan Baking Contest. All entries had to be on disposable plates or platters and could be dropped off at Pass Health Foods on the morning of the contest. There were not any specific categories, the only stipulation was that all entries must be completely free of any animal products. All entries also had to be accompanied with recipes and full ingredient listings, with no dairy products, meat, eggs, gelatin, honey, or any other animal derived ingredients.

The contest featured plenty of cakes, breads, muffins, cookies and pies.

“I would say there always has been a demand for vegan foods but it has grown popular more in recent years,” Johnson said. “People are choosing a vegan diet for health reasons or for animal reasons, and then there are a lot of people who have allergies to certain animal products like eggs or dairy who would need to avoid them for that reason. This was a fun event and that was a way for people to try some different vegan dishes.”

The guest judge for the competition was MaryAnne McKenna Bryan, creator of the active Chicago Southside & South Suburban Vegans group in Facebook. Along with her selected winner, an award was also given to the staff favorite.

“What a lot of people don’t realize is that you can create absolutely perfectly beautiful and delicious desserts,” Bryan said.

The main criteria for the winners were being the best tasting, although presentation mattered as well, Johnson said.

“I chose to enter the contest because of a few reasons,” Geraldine Westerhoff, of Oak Forest, said. “I have been primarily plant-based myself for about four years now and the newest fun challenge in this lifestyle change is baking. It is thrilling to follow a recipe that I know is not incorporating any animal products and yet turns out exquisitely. I was also able to sample the other desserts when the judging was over so of course that excited me immediately and I knew I had to enter.”

Contestant, Summer Hallaj, who made Chocolate Candy Cookies, agreed.

“We are a vegan family and I wanted my kids (Teddy, 5, and Annie, 2) to feel part of the vegan community by participating in this event and bringing them with me to sample foods,” Hallaj, of Beverly, said.

The grand prize winner, Barb Weber, of Crestwood, who made a vegan Cookie Dough Cake, received a $100 gift card to pass Whole Foods. The second-place winner, Mariah Michels, of Palos Heights, who made Madeleines and received $50 gift card, and the third-place winner and staff pick, Amirh Miles, of Richton Park, who made a Strawberry Lemon Cake, received $25 gift card.

“I have been baking vegan for a long time and I feel like the less animal products used, the better,” Weber, said.

Each winning contestant also received bags from Pass Health Foods filled with different vegan treats.

The winning recipe can be found online at .


Pass Health Foods, 7228 W. College Dr., Palos Heights, hosted a Gluten Free Baking Contest on March 9

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