Meet The Diabetes Cook-Off Judges

These are the experts who crowned the winners.ÿÿÿ

A special thanks to our panel of judges:

Professional Chef Brian Alston ?Chef Brian X?

I have been cooking for over 25 years?So much so that when I was in college all my friends would flock to my dorm room where the hot plate and crock pot were always busy. For the past 4 years I have been a professional chef/cook for hire for Xclusive Catering, in Chicago. I walked away from my 20+ years engineering career to pursue a career in cooking.

I love food because it is so intimate, and it brings people together. I view food as a ministry forming bridges that combine communities, especially in today society where people are becoming so anti?sociable, due mostly to high tech devices and social networking. At the dinner table is where all that ends. I provide Thanksgiving dinner for the Catholic Charities battered women shelter in Chicago, and gifts and dinners for less fortunate families at Christmas time.

I entered the Fox Master Chef Reality show auditions in December 2010 & 2011, because of my passion for cooking and my creativity. I placed in the top 200 out of 2300 contestants from Chicago in 2010 and in the top 50 in 2012. I have been told that the skills I possess cannot be taught but are GOD given. I have no formal culinary training, and have been complimented and respected by many in the culinary profession. I have cooked for the likes of Recording Artistes, Frankie Beverly, Maxwell, Fertile Ground, local artist Eric Roberson, Darius Brooks, and Grammy/Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson; comedian Sheryl Underwood, co?host of Channel 5 daytime talk show, The Talk; TV anchorwoman Sheryl Burton and cast; Former NBA Superstar Michael Jordan & Antoine Walker, and most recently Mayor Rahm Emanuel to name a few.

Chicago?s ?Fat Chef? Michael Digby

Unaware of his unhealthy eating habits, Michael Lee Digby, found himself weighing 311 at the young age of 29, which earned him the nickname of ?Big Mike?. With a family history of diabetes, his wake up call was the death of his grandfather and his mother being recently diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes.

Michael took a personal stance to take control of his life and auditioned for the Food Network?s reality show, ?FAT CHEF?. The show challenges overweight chefs to work with nutritionists and trainers to lose 25% of their weight in 16 weeks. He successfully lost 100 pounds and maintains his new healthy lifestyle today. As a Sous Chef at Quay restaurant in Chicago, he is now aware of his caloric intake as he prepares and samples dishes in the kitchen.

Currently, he strives to help others develop healthy lifestyles by offering tasty alternatives when preparing specialty dishes. His goal is to ultimately remove the odds stacked against others who also deserve to live healthy lifestyles. His motto, ?Eliminate The Fat With Healthy Eating? is what he uses to influence and motivate change in the lives of others.

?Cookin with Jazz? Chef Jimmy Carter

Distill the secret of Jimmy Carter?s culinary fame and it all comes down to passion. His passion for good food and flavors brought him to cooking and his intensity in finding, creating and serving the best that Caribbean cuisine has to offer.

Chef Carter trained at the La Cordon Blue Nunez School in New Orleans, Louisiana. His searches for the best Golf Coast lead him in several directions, The Caribbean and East Africa. His Cuisine is defined by its clean flavor and balances combinations of taste and texture, plus enticing presentation.

Chef Carter has his own television cooking show called ?Cookin with Jazz Productions?, a show that deals with diabetic health problems. Chef Carter was the Executive chef for The National Alliance of Black Expos. He was the corporate chef for the International House of the African Festival of the arts; he has overseen food production for major Jazz and R&B Artists from around the world. He has worked on key projects for the City of Chicago, working as the Executive chef for Chicago First African American World Class Ice Capades which brought celebrities in the city of Chicago to see the show.

Chef Carter is the Executive Chef for the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan at the Rebuilding Rebirth of the Salaam Restaurant, in Chicago IL. Chef Carter has traveled around speaking to people telling his story about how diabetes has affected his life. Chef Carter is not diabetic, but he comes from a long line of diabetics. I saw my loved ones die off one by one. This prompted me to study the effect of the disease and make at life changing life style. For more information, go to

Fathers? Rights Attorney Jeffery M. Leving

Jeffery M. Levingÿreceived his Juris Doctor from the Illinois Institute of Technology Chicago-Kent College of Law in 1979. He is licensed to practice law in Illinois, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court.

Jeffery Levingÿhas been named one of ?America?s Best Lawyers? by Forbes Radio? and selected by his peers as one of Illinois? top attorneys.

His professional associations include the American Bar Association, the Illinois State Bar Association, the Chicago Bar Association, the Lake County Bar Association, the DuPage County Bar Association, the McHenry County Bar Association, the Kane County Bar Association, the LaSalle County Bar Association, the Federal Trial Bar, and the Decalogue Society of Lawyers.

He is the author ofÿFathers? Rights: Hard-Hitting & Fair Advice for Every Father Involved in a Custody Disputeÿ(BasicÿBooks) andÿDivorce Wars:ÿA Field Guide to the Winning Tactics, Preemptive Strikes, and Top Maneuvers When Divorce Gets Uglyÿ(HarperCollins).

Mr. Leving has a newly released book,ÿHow to be a Good Divorced Dad: Being the Best Parent you Can Be Before, During, and After the Break-Up (Jossy-Bass,) which garnered an endorsement from Francis Cardinal George of the Archdiocese of Chicago, who said ?This is a pain-filled book that offers good advice about how to preserve a family born of a marriage that has failed. It?s a book that is, unfortunately, more and more needed.?

Mr. Leving?s accomplishments include co-authorship of the Illinois Virtual Visitation, Right to DNA Testing Notice, and Unlawful Visitation or Parenting Time Interference Laws as well as the Illinois Joint Custody Law. He has also delivered testimony before both branches of the Illinois Legislature on Joint Custody, Grandparent?s Visitation and Child Support Accountability bills.

Mr. Leving has lectured locally and nationally on family law issues. His firm concentrates in Matrimonial and Family Law where he leads a team of highly skilled and leading litigators. Mr. Leving received the Recognition and Commendation Award for Meritorious Service to the Public and Legal Community from the Illinois State Bar Association and the coveted ?Protection of the Family? award from the Illinois State Crime Commission.

Jeffery M. Leving was chosen by the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships to provide expert input in the first Town Hall Meeting on Responsible Fatherhood and Healthy Families in Chicago and recently met with President Obama in Washington, D.C. to discuss critical issues facing the nation.

Leving was honored with the 2012 Professional Achievement Award from the Illinois Institute of Technology Chicago-Kent College of Law for outstanding achievement in the legal profession and bringing distinction to himself as well as credit to the university.

On April 26, 2012, the Illinois House of Representatives honored Leving by adopting Resolution No. 995 ?for his work in safeguarding the rights of fathers and protecting the welfare of children and families in this State? and for his ?hard work, integrity, and dedication for the people of the State of Illinois.? The Illinois House of Representatives resolved that Leving be presented with a copy of this Resolution ?as a symbol of our esteem and respect.?

Registered Dietician Valerie Reynolds

Valerie Reynolds 2I graduated from Texas Woman?s University with a bachelor?s degree in Nutrition & further pursued my Masters degree in Clinical Nutrition from Rush University Medical Center. Since that time I have been working as a clinical dietitian at the University of Chicago Hospitals functioning in various areas to help advocate for patients and educate others about the importance of a healthy diet related to specific disease states.

Since high school I have been fascinated with how much nutrition and diet affect the human body and how we function on a daily basis. ÿI have come to understand that nutrition is the backbone of everything: from how we participate in daily activities to how we can prevent and, sometimes treat, illnesses and diseases to even how well our medications work. Without the proper nutrition, everything else becomes less effective. I have always had a passion to teach what I have learned about nutrition to the public and the community to help others understand its? importance. ÿAnd like many others, I just simply love to eat. I enjoy helping people understand how you can still take pleasure in the foods you like, but stay healthy at the same time. Although I do not always get to wear the chef?s hat at home, I have a great respect for others who can turn individual ingredients into something flavorful and creative. I myself have always said I was not the sibling who inherited the creativity gene, but I have always tried to practice with food. ÿLike smell and taste, how we visually see food, or the presentation of the meal, affects how much we enjoy eating.

I have the opportunity to participate in a contest that brings together all aspects of what I enjoy about nutrition: healthy ingredients put together as a meal that will appear appetizing & be delicious as well. My goal is to gather more tips for healthy, easy recipes that I can use in the future to help others be successful.

Certified Diabetes Educator Marla Solomon

marla2Marla C. Solomon, RD, LDN, CDE is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator. She has been on various adult/pediatric hospital based diabetes teams throughout the Chicagoland area. Her diabetes research background includes a variety of projects from the University of Chicago Diabetes Research and Training Center.

Some of the studies include:

  • Reach-In/Reach-Out ? a diabetes prevention program for African American families
  • STYLE ? a computer-based diabetes program for young adults with Type 1 diabetes
  • Latino community church diabetes program –
  • Improving Diabetes Care and Outcomes on the South Side of Chicago ? a study to improve diabetes clinical care and overcome health disparities

She is an active volunteer in the diabetes community: lead dietitian for the American Diabetes Association (ADA)-Northern Illinois pediatric summer day camps, the state legislative chair for the American Association of Diabetes Educators(AADE), and founding member of the Illinois Diabetes Policy Coalition, an advocacy organization which is now collaborating with the Illinois state diabetes caucus. She was selected as the 2010 Chicago Diabetes Educator of the Year by the Chicago chapter of AADE, and the 2009 Advocacy Member of Distinction by the ADA-Northern Illinois.

In her previous career path, Marla was a home economist for various national food companies including Banquet Food Corporation, Best Kosher Sausage Company and E.J. Brach and Sons. She earned two Bachelor Science degrees in Home Economics and Nutrition and Medical Dietetics from the University of Illinois-Urbana and Chicago, respectively.

Marla is pleased to be a judge for this community-based recipe contest. This allows her to combine her professional experiences into one: working in a food company test kitchen developing recipes for home use and helping people with diabetes learn to enjoy food in a ?heart healthy? way.

Heart and Soul Magazine?s Pamela Elizabeth Taylor

Pam taylor headshot 2012An accomplished and results oriented marketing executive, Ms. Taylor brings 26 years of strategic marketing, promotions and advertising experience from a cadre of major corporations including Spiegel, Sears, United Airlines, Turner Broadcasting, Hewlett-Packard, Soft Sheen Products and McDonald?s Corporation.

Pamela has senior level competencies in the following areas: Strategic Business Planning, Multicultural Marketing, Event Marketing, Client Services Management, New Product Development, Consumer Promotions, Product Management, Insight Mining, Fund-Raising Initiatives, Multi-channel management, Tradeshow planning and Sponsorship Negotiations/Planning.

Pamela?s passion for Multicultural Marketing was fused with her entrepreneurial spirit to start a consulting firm? The MAP Group LLC.ÿ The consulting business was developed to provide companies with strategic Marketing, Advertising and Promotional solutions for companies seeking to make meaningful connections to Multicultural consumers.

Pamela joined forces with three business partners to form the company BCDT & Associates LLC.ÿ The new company recently purchased the business assets of Heart & Soul Enterprises, the parent company of Heart and Soul magazine.

Philanthropic in nature, Pamela has lent her assistance to several not-for-profit organizations to champion their annual fund-raising campaigns.ÿÿ Leading the charge, Pamela has conceptualized and executed many citywide funding initiates, raising thousands of dollars for needy groups. Ms. Taylor has over two decades of commitment and experience with organizations such as the Chicago Urban League, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Chicago Urban League, Demicco Youth Services, and the Cabrini Green Family Focus.