By Lori Fredrich Senior Food Writer, Dining Editor, Podcast Host Published Jun 08, 2015 at 1:02 PM

Finalists have been named in the 2015 Hottest Kitchen Entrepreneur Challenge. And they’re doozies.

From casserole delivery to malt vinegars fermented with craft beers, this year’s top food business concepts are all about adding a new twist to classic flavors. And you’re invited to watch the final competition.

The event will take place at noon on Thursday, July 23 at Milwaukee Area Technical college’s future Food Maker School at the MATC Education Center at Walker’s Square.

In addition to meeting the contestents and sampling their wares, for the first time ever, there will also be a "People's Choice" voting component by which the audience can select their favorite food business. RSVP here to attend and cast your vote!

Finalists for this year’s awards are:

Karen Allen of The Raw Conformist. This Oconomowoc-based business produces raw prepared desserts and snacks that are made with a unique blend of organic, gluten-free "raw" ingredients such as nuts, cacao and Madagascar vanilla.

Robert Holton of Glendale is the man behind Milwaukee Craft Brew Vinegar, a company which ferments craft beers into completely unique malt vinegars. Products include a saison-style vinegar which ages into champagne-like vinegar as well as a maple bock aged to almost balsamic-like finish. Holton’s goal is to extend the line into flavorful sauces and pickled vegetables.

Pedro Tejada of Pedro’s South American Empanadas is a Milwaukee food truck selling homemade empanadas in flavor combinations like potato chorizo and aged cheddar, ramp cauliflower chickpea curry, and Peruvian chili chicken. Tejada’s goal is to introduce the culture and flavors of South America to those who have not experienced it.

Jennifer Grundy of Milwaukee’s 5 Lilies creates small batch preserves which are locally sourced and organic, whenever possible. The company produces three year-round flavors including blueberry lavender peach, Blushing Berry, and pear citrus ginger, as well as several seasonal flavors. These jams are meant for people who love to cook and eat.

Susan Knutson of The Naked Baker, LLC is based in Elm Grove. Her business aims to create the ultimate cookie experience with frozen all-natural gourmet cookie dough. Each recipe uses all natural ingredients free of preservatives artificial sweeteners and hydrogenated oils.

Jessica Williamson of Hales Corners, who recently launched her business, Cream City Casseroles, Milwaukee’s first casserole delivery business. She makes and delivers comfort-food classics such as chicken and biscuits, shepherd's pie, pizza casserole and more. Meals are delivered fully cooked and cold, ready to pop in the oven, fridge or freeze. She calls it "guilt-free real food for busy families."

The grand prize winner in each category will receive:

  • $2,000 in seed money from Reliable Water Services

  • Tuition for a three-credit course at MATC during the 2015-16 academic year

  • Private meeting with food industry executives serving on FaB Wisconsin’s advisory council, and a one-year membership for FaB Wisconsin

  • Commercial kitchen and consultation services from MKE Kitchen along with free registration for Riverwest Farmer’s Market, if appropriate; total value: $1,000

  • Prize package worth $350 from Fein Brothers Restaurant Equipment & Supplies

Judges for the contest include: Kurt Fogle, executive pastry chef for SURG Restaurant Group, Jan Kelly, owner and chef at Meritage, Peter Gottsacker, president of Wixon Seasonings & Flavor Systems, Lynn Sbonik, co-owner of Beans & Barley Deli, Market & Full Service Café,

Nick Maas, premise specialist for Agave Loco LLC (RumChata, Tippy Cow brands), Jennifer Marino, owner at Angelic Bakehouse and Rakesh (Ryan) Rehan, owner of Café India.

The Hottest Kitchen Entrepreneur Challenge is sponsored by Milwaukee Area Technical College, Reliable Water Services, a statewide provider of commercial water heaters, boilers and water softeners and FaB Wisconsin, the state’s food and beverage industry cluster network.  Other prize sponsors include Fein Brothers  and MKE Kitchen.

Lori Fredrich Senior Food Writer, Dining Editor, Podcast Host

Lori is an avid cook whose accrual of condiments and spices is rivaled only by her cookbook collection. Her passion for the culinary industry was birthed while balancing A&W root beer mugs as a teenage carhop, fed by insatiable curiosity and fueled by the people whose stories entwine with each and every dish. She’s had the privilege of chronicling these tales via numerous media, including OnMilwaukee and in her book “Milwaukee Food.” Her work has garnered journalism awards from entities including the Milwaukee Press Club. 

When she’s not eating, photographing food, writing or recording the FoodCrush podcast, you’ll find Lori seeking out adventures with her husband Paul, traveling, cooking, reading, learning, snuggling with her cats and looking for ways to make a difference.