Highwood turns into a sea of Redheads

Above, the Mullinax family, all gingers, of Lake Villa at Highwood’s Redhead Days. From left Jessica, baby Genevieve, 4 mos., Stefan, and Madeleine, 7. – Tina Johansson photos

Bent Fork takes the cake at annual Redhead Days Chicago

by Tina Johansson

You would think that heavy, albeit intermittent, rains the first day of the 2nd annual Redhead Days festival would dampen the spirits of those in attendance at Everts Park in Highwood Saturday. It didn’t.


Redheads and gingers were mugging for the camera, people were dancing, and there was plenty to eat and drink.

And under the big-top red and white striped tent, people crammed in for a peek at the popular Carrot Cake Throwdown.

Cakes on display to be judged at the 2nd annual RedHead Days festival in Highwood.
Cakes on display to be judged at the 2nd annual RedHead Days festival in Highwood. The first place winner from Bent Fork Bakery is the off-white cake third from the right.

Four judges, including yours truly, were blessed with tasting bites from 11 delectable cakes. There was everything from triple-layered tortes, to cupcakes, to carrot cake sandwiches, and carrot cake in a jar. There was even a carrot cake rich with texture, simple in looks, that had a bit of a bourbon-y, smoky flavor to it.

It was a blind taste test. And although we didn’t know whose we were eating, I think we could all agree they were pretty good eating indeed.

As the sweets kept coming, a pianist from the Redhead Piano bar kept tickling the ivories under the cover of a nearby gazebo.

To entertain, and to possibly keep the audience from drooling while the four of us were eating cake, Emily Gimbel from Highland Park talked redhead trivia and told funny tales relating to famous gingers.

When we had finally finished the last of the tastings (and I was nearly in a happy sugar coma), the tally totals were counted and the winners announced.

First place was awarded to Highwood’s own Bent Fork Bakery. Second to Real Urban Barbecue in Highland Park and Vernon Hills. Third place went to last years’ first place winner– Nothing Bundt Cake in Skokie.

I must say, it was not easy judging these 11 cakes. They all tasted really good; and in fact I kind of fancy myself a bit of a carrot cake aficionado.

Accompanying the winners—and each should be given a hand for a job well done—were entries from A La Carte, Alex’s Washington Gardens, Baker Boys, Foodstuffs (two entries, one for their catering and one for their gourmet shop), Sunset Foods, Taste on Chestnut, and Barrel Crossing Tap & Grill.

Jim Stoecker, a redhead himself, organized the Highwood event after he came upon Redhead Days in Holland while biking across Europe several years ago. Stoecker is owner of Alex’s Washington Gardens restaurant in Highwood.

Sisters Kim Brown and Becky Ponce came with two others from Kansas. “Neither our mother, father or grandparents have red hair, but we do,” said older sister Becky.

“We had to come to this. It was a lot cheaper than going to Europe again,” said Kim, noting the sisters met event founder Mr. Stoecker at the original Readhead festival in Breda, Holland last year. “He invited us to come here,” she added, showing off her red umbrella and bright blue T-shirt from the Dutch redhead fest.

An entire family of redheads from Lake Villa, Jessica Mullinax, her husband Stefan, four-month-old baby Genevieve,  and other daughter Madelein, 7, all wore red to accentuate their copper locks.

When asked about what makes redheads so special, Mrs. Mullinax said, “We burn.” She explained going out into the sun is tough. Madelein was excited to talk about her hair. “We are special because only two percent of the population in the entire world has red hair,” she said.

Truth be told, I’ve always been secretly envious of those with red hair. In grade and high school it was the ginger kids that I would befriend easily. I told this to Michigan resident Kristi Aquino who came with her ginger-furred canine Charlie. “You should do it,” she said of my thoughts to try out a reddish hue. “You already look like you should be one. You have the skin and the eyes for it.”

Hmmm. It certainly got my wheels turning.

For more information about Redhead Days, visit www.facebook.com/RHDchicago or http://www.redheaddays.nl .

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