Exploring the world one cuisine at a time (highlighting Ursula Korus)

By Abby Scalf

Ursula Korus of Bartlett stirs her Moroccan stew before adding more vegetables.

Ursula Korus remembers cooking Polish favorites with her mom at her childhood home in Tarnow, Poland. When given the chance to create on her own, she’d make desserts for her father. Some of the treats were as simple as vanilla wafers with sliced bananas on top.

“I would think at the time it was a great creation,” she said. “ … I just loved being in the kitchen and playing with food.”

Now living in Barlett, Ursula’s playing has evolved into a true passion to cook and explore ethnic foods. Last summer, Ursula dabbled in Indian cuisine, making chicken tikka masala and a roasted eggplant dish that becomes a sauce for rice. This summer, she plans to tour Indonesia via the country’s cuisine.

“Any time I try something that is a little different from I’m used to eating, I fall in love with so many different flavors,” she said. “Anyone who loves to cook will tell you being able to try different cuisines and challenging yourself is always so fun. I ask myself ‘How could I live without that?’”

Yet there is one ethnic cuisine she will not make.

“When I grew up and moved out, I vowed not to cook Polish food. When I want comfort food, I will go to my mom’s house,” she says. “My fiance complains that the one thing that he craves are pierogies. I won’t make it. I tell him go to my mom’s house.”

Her fiance is not be allowed in the kitchen, yet he has inspired Ursula to pursue dishes closer to home.

“I was so focused on exploring dishes outside our country that I didn’t look within our nation and cuisines that may be wonderful,” she says. “He turned me on to Southern cooking. He recalled a crawfish boil he had that was awesome, and another dish was shrimp and grits. Now it is one of my favorite dishes.”

As she grew more confident in the kitchen she encouraged herself to see how her food would be received by a broader audience and submitted a recipe for a contest at Cooper’s Hawk Winery and Restaurant in South Barrington. She entered, she said, with an ulterior motive, to meet the owner and to network. She won on both front: her Mediterranean Pot Roast was a finalist and she now serves as director of the restaurant’s wine club.

“It validated that there (the restaurant) is where I want to be,” she says. “I want to open a restaurant some day.”

Her immediate plan to host Mother’s Day brunch.

“I’ve been planning the menu. I’ve been so excited,” Ursula says. “I would entertain every day if I could.”

• To suggest someone to be profiled here, send the cook’s name, address and phone number to Deborah Pankey c/o Cook of the Week, Daily Herald Food section, P.O. Box 280, Arlington Heights, IL 60006 or to food@dailyherald.com.

Parking garage, restaurant part of Des Plaines TIF 6 redevelopment deal


A 1,900-car parking garage, national franchised restaurant and possibly a hotel are part of the new redevelopment deal for property near Mannheim and Higgins roads in Tax Increment Financing District 6, city officials said.

Des Plaines will sell the 4.9 acre site for $1.1 million to TPS Des Plaines, LLC, and stands to make $40 million through various parking, restaurant and hotel taxes by 2025. The city bought the property for about $10 million in 2005, said Finance Director Dorothy Wisniewski.

City officials said the purchase will pay the debt for the ailing TIF district, which is expected to hit a $5.9 million deficit by the end of the year. That amount could escalate to $19.7 million by 2025, when the TIF district expires.

Director of Community and Economic Development Mike Bartholomew said the land is currently valued at $5 million. He said the city is looking at the long-term picture and not the immediate financial loss. The development will push the TIF district out of the red, while also providing different sources of revenue for the city, he said.

“It’s a big benefit to the city,” Bartholomew said of the deal. “That’s sort of deceiving if you don’t take the long view of it.”

The five to six story garage will be mainly used as off-site parking for O’Hare International Airport. Des Plaines makes $1 per day per car parked in the O’Hare Corridor Privilege Tax Area, which covers TIF District 6.

Though a specific restaurant has not been chosen, the eatery will be a national franchise with a successful business plan, Bartholomew said. The plans call for one restaurant though there is a possibility two could be built, he added. The agreement lists over 50 permitted restaurants, including Cooper’s Hawk, Chipotle, Portillo’s and Five Guys Burgers.

The developers will likely wait a few years to see if the hotel industry has bounced back, but if a hotel is built, the city would generate hotel taxes, Bartholomew added. Under the deal, the city also retains the land underneath the billboard on the property, he said.

Hotels were slated to be built at the northeast corner of Mannheim and Higgins roads, just south of Interstate 90, but the deal fell through when the economy soured. Last April, the city received five proposals from developers looking to purchase the land and in July, the council gave the green light to negotiate with TPS Des Plaines.

At the Feb. 6 City Council meeting, Ald. Jim Brookman voted against the project, saying the request for proposal bid process doesn’t work and is not truly competitive. The only competition is the selection process, and then once a developer is chosen, the negotiations occur in private, he said.

He added he doesn’t want the city to use the request for proposal bid process in the future, because he wants the city to get the best financial deal.

The council voted 6-2 to approve the redevelopment deal. Ald. Mark Walsten also voted against it.

“It’s like going to a car dealer and saying, ‘I’m going to buy an Impala from you and no one else and let’s go and talk about terms,’” Brookman said. He claimed the council was never given updates during the negotiation process, though other aldermen refuted that.

In order to support the debt on the TIF, residents would see a 5 percent property tax increase for 2012, Wisniewski added. Bartholomew told the council it would take at least a year for the city to re-start the process and find a new developer.

During the discussion, resident Brian Burkross said he wished the city asked for more from the community and asked officials to wait on the deal. He pointed to the previous plan for the area and said developers spoke about their ideas without discussing prices.

“Remember, you are spending our own money,” he told the council. “I think we should have a right to have input to that process…I don’t see where that right was afforded in this particular case and that upsets me a bit.”

Ace Rent-A-Car currently sits on the site. Officials said the company was notified it must vacate the premises. Bartholomew said he hopes the developer breaks ground this spring.