Sweet tradition returns to Homewood

Photos by Eric Crump

A large crowd gathered at the Homewood-Flossmoor Park District Auditorium Saturday, Feb. 16, ready for a sweet experience. And that’s exactly what they got at a fun annual event centered on chocolate — the Homewood Chocolate Fest.


Allisa Opyd, Homewood events manager, said that the crowd was even larger than  expected, which she credited partially to the recent polar vortex that brought bitterly cold temperatures to the area. 

“I think that with the cold weather we’ve had it has given everyone cabin fever,” she said. “This was a delicious way to get out of the house for a fun day of tasting decadent chocolates.” 

The event began at 11 a.m., but Opyd said that a large number of people arrived early and ready to buy treats.

The event has been a longtime favorite in the Homewood community. In 2007, it was held at the auditorium for the first time, but Opyd explained that it had already been going on in a smaller form for several years elsewhere.


The highlight of the event is a bake-off in which locals compete and showcase a variety of different chocolate creations. 

“After judging, then you can make a donation for open tasting and sample each item,” said Opyd. “Each year donations go to a different non-profit and this year it is the Cancer Support Center.”


Nine individuals competed this year for cash prizes — $100 for first place, $75 for second and $50 for third place. 

Jessica Josvai was the first place winner for her chocolate cupcakes with dark chocolate ganache and pretzel pieces in edible white and dark chocolate cupcake holders.


"It's my third year. I've just done it for fun. I never expected to win,” said Josvai.  “It's something to do on a wintry Saturday. And it brings the community together.”

Michelle Nelson, representing the Homewood Science Center, took second place with salted caramel chocolate crunchy macarons.

Patricia Stepp has participated twice in the past and this year won third place for her raspberry cheesecake brownies. Two years ago she won third place and three years ago, in her first time competing, she won first place.


“I love doing the Homewood Chocolate Fest,” Stepp said. “They have very creative talent participating and it’s awesome that this year’s donations go to the Cancer Support Center. It’s fun to come back each year and see participants from past years and make a couple new friends. It’s also priceless to watch the smaller kids’ faces light up when you hand them a special treat."


Amy Crump participated this year for the third time. Although she didn’t walk away with a prize at Homewood Chocolate Fest, she used her experience during the first two years to tweak her recipe for Dixie Doodles cookies that she then entered into the Illinois State Fair, where it won three separate awards, including Best Overall Pastry or Cookie.


This year her entry was the “Bite Me Bar,” which was a chocolate oatmeal bar cookie. 

“It’s a competition, but it’s so much fun,” she said. “All the competitors are so friendly. A lot of them do it year after year.”


Also part of the festival was a baking demo by Barb Haggerty of Confections who showed attendees how to make truffles.


For those who were looking to bring home goodies to satisfy their sweet tooth, there were several vendors offering everything from frozen custard to toffee to chocolate bread to popcorn.


Freddie’s Frozen Custard opened last November in Homewood. It was only the second Illinois location after Orland Park, which had opened earlier in 2018. A Frankfort location has since opened, adding to the total of around 330 stores across the country. Employees were eager to introduce the crowd to their chocolate frozen custard topped with chocolate sauce. 


Fabulously Sweet Creations had a number of their handmade chocolates available for purchase. In business for seven years, they recently relocated to Mokena to a larger facility and storefront. 

“I just love coming here,” said owner LaVerne Hall. “It’s the environment — everyone here is here for chocolate and that’s what I love.”


Laurie Norris came to the festival about seven years ago as a competitor. Her chocolate pretzel toffee won first place that year and helped to springboard her into going in to business. 

The next year she was traveling to California to bring her toffee to be put in gift bags at the Grammy Awards. Now Norris participates as owner of Tiddleywink Toffee. She sold dark and milk chocolate pretzel toffee and milk and dark chocolate walnut toffee.


She continues to stay true to that recipe that won her first place many years ago. She said at one time she looked into having a company make the toffee for her so that she could produce more, but there was no way they would do it without adding preservatives, so she opted against it. 

“So, I just keep doing small batches. I didn’t want to put preservatives in because it really changes the taste,” she said.


New Homewood resident Sarena Lee was attending the fest for the first time. 

“It’s really nice how it showcases businesses in the area,” she said. Her son loved finding Mother Wilma’s Marshmallow Factory after trying her s’mores at last year’s Fall Fest.


“It’s a nice community event and a nice way to get people from the neighborhood together,” said Lee.


ComEd was sponsor of the 2019 Homewood Chocolate Fest along with the Homewood Community Relations Committee, which organized the event and coordinated volunteers.

In addition to Josvai, Nelson, Stepp and Crump, the Bake-Off contestants included Nick Quirke, Charlene Vasoli, Lee Brauer, St. Joseph’s Athletic Outreach Youth Group and Tony Falvo.


This was the first year the village offered cash prizes in the bake-off. 

"We felt it made the competition more official," Opyd said. "Winners for the Chili Cook-Off at Fall Fest receive cash prize awards. We felt we should do the same for the Bake-Off."

Vendors at the event included Freddy’s Frozen Custard, Empanadaus, Fabulously Sweet Creations, Mother Wilma Confections, Tiddlywink Toffee, Pop’s Popcorn, Homewood-Flossmoor High School Advanced Culinary Class, Homewood Business Association, 

ComEd, Organic Bread of Heaven and Oberweis Milk. 

The Homewood Business Association (HBA) offered Chocolate Fest passports that encouraged visitors to take a chocolate stroll in downtown Homewood. Anyone with a passport could visit shops in Homewood to receive a unique chocolate candy from a different country.   

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A great community deserves a great newspaper. The HF Chronicle was created in June 2014 as an online publication. In December 2015 we began monthly print publication, too. Our mission is to chronicle the life of our community — news by, for, and about the people of Homewood and Flossmoor, Illinois.


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