BEVERLY — It takes a bit of gumption to challenge a pancake house in a breakfast cooking contest.
But that's exactly what Mayor Rahm Emanuel did on Friday, putting his signature French toast up against the buttermilk pancakes at The Original Pancake House in Beverly for a charity breakfast cook-off.
In the kitchen of the pancake house at 10437 S. Western Ave. on Friday, Emanuel and Ald. Matt O'Shea (19th) cooked French toast beside the father-daughter team of Richard and Julie Harrigan. Richard Harrigan opened the pancake franchise and the neighboring KFC on Oct. 1, 1965. The event was held in part to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the franchises he opened with his late brothers Bud and Jack.
A portion of the day's sales were donated to Misericordia, a residential facility in West Rogers Park that cares for developmentally disabled children and adults, and several residents were invited to share the meal.
The cook-off idea came about at a February fundraiser that raised money to buy new bulletproof vests for police officers. Rahm stopped by the event at St. Christina School in Mount Greenwood, where he talked to Julie Harrigan about his French toast recipe.
Emanuel's recipe is made from Challah, a special Jewish bread made to be eaten on the Sabbath. Emanuel's wife, Amy Rule, makes the bread on Friday nights, allowing the leftovers to be transformed into French toast over the weekend, the mayor said.
The French toast "is only good because of what Amy does," he said.
Early in his political career, Emanuel would share his breakfast specialty with President Barack Obama and his family. Likewise, the Obamas would cook buttermilk pancakes, and the two families would challenge each other on who made the better breakfast.
The Harrigans declared Emanuel the winner Friday, though Misericordia resident Michael Anderson preferred the house pancakes: "My mom makes pancakes at home," Anderson said.
Also on hand was celebrity chef and Morgan Park resident Graham Elliot, who was asked to judge the contest and help both sides in the kitchen. Elliot is a regular at the neighborhood pancake house, Richard Harrigan said.
"There's no greater endorsement than someone who is a food genius to come into your establishment every week," he said.
Harrigan also has met the founder of KFC, Col. Sanders, several times as a result of his relationship with the company and knew Les Highet, who started The Original Pancake House in 1953 in Portland, Oregon.
"I've been privileged with the length of time I've been in the business," Harrigan said.
And while he graciously chose Emanuel's French toast over his own pancakes, he may have been strong-armed into doing so — albeit in jest.
"I just want to be clear about something. If I don't win, I can have the fire inspectors here," Emanuel joked.
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