NEAR NORTH SIDE — Joyce Mac since January has dropped her career in finance, moved from Sydney to Chicago with her boyfriend, and entered culinary school.
So far, so good.
That's because Mac, a 25-year-old Streeterville transplant from Australia, will soon have her own sandwich on the Hannah's Bretzel menu after winning a company contest pitting local students' recipes against each other.
"I like numbers. I like it but I don't breathe it," Mac said. "Winning the competition has certainly given me confidence in the field and feel I made the right decision."
Mac's creation, the "Keen Wow De-Lite," won over judges in May at the Hannah's Bretzel contest, which asked students at Kendall College and Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts for their best sandwich ideas. Mac's quinoa-based concept came out on top and will be available for $9.50 on a baguette or $6.35 on a wecken starting July 13 throughout the Chicago-based mini-chain.
"It was out of left field, and considering Chicago is such a meat-heavy city we really appreciated her creativity," Scott Perin, Hannah's director of brand experience, said. "Quinoa on a bread-based sandwich is not something most people would put together, but it really works out well."
The Keen-Wow includes quinoa, kale, sundried tomatoes, manchego cheese, organic kettle chips, pickled onions, herb salad, and jalapeños. [Courtesy of Hannah's Bretzel / Steve Greiner]
Mac said she isn't even a vegetarian, but thought she'd play with the rising popularity of quinoa and wanted to "have that challenge" of making a tasty veggie sandwich.
The contest, called the Emerging Chefs Challenge, was a first for Hannah's Bretzel, which plans to make the competition an annual event. The student chefs were judged by a panel including Parachute owner/chef and James Beard Award nominee Beverly Kim, Viva La Rev Chef and Partner Mark Steuer, Kimberly Galban of Chicago-based One Off Hospitality Group, and Hannah's Bretzel Owner and Founder Florian Pfahler. Ten percent of Keen-Wow sales will go to charity, and Mac also won a $1,000 scholarship, Perin said.
"We just wanted to tap into the talent at local culinary schools, give them real experience, and give them scholarship money," he said.
Though winning the contest is a nice boost to Mac's early career, she doesn't envision many more sandwiches in her future. Ultimately, she wants to become a pastry chef running a "dessert bar" inspired by "Willy Wonka." But she recognizes realizing that dream could take time.
"At the moment all I want to do is learn," Mac said. "In this business there are so many things I have to learn about."
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