BY ELISABETH ANDREWS
Things Leo Cook can do: mix an award-winning cocktail, play the electric washboard, make 50 varieties of Rice Krispies treats, and hug more than 1,000 people within 24 hours. He’s also a plumber’s assistant, a part-time landscaper, a volunteer cook and server at the Shalom Community Center, a volunteer bagger at Bloomingfoods, and a popular emcee for local events like LifeDesigns’ Week of Chocolate and the costume contest at The Bluebird Nightclub.
Cook, 46, has strutted his stuff in the Dancing With the Celebrities showcase, raised nearly $1,000 for Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard with his Hug-a-Thon, and even cohosted the nationally syndicated The Jenny Jones Show. His day job these days is head caterer at the Showers Inn Bed and Breakfast.
“I like it because each event is different—I’ve done book signings, art openings, weddings, and various receptions and fundraisers,” he says of his post at the downtown B&B. “It’s a beautiful setting, and I get to work with clients to create a lot of new menu concepts.”
Creating new concepts is a way of life for this Michigan City, Indiana native. When he’s not dreaming up new recipes—like the Vanilla Lemon Cookie cocktail that won a national Food Network contest—the former Bluebird bartender is inspiring community projects, such as the accessible playground at Karst Farm Park. He’s also bursting with ideas for commercials, movies, and TV shows—he recently wrote a sample script for an episode of Seinfeld that a friend passed on to a Chicago television producer.
“She was like, ‘Give me everything he has.’ She couldn’t believe I’m not a working writer,” Cook says. “But I don’t write that often. I wing a lot of things. I just kind of figure it out.”
His appearance on Jenny Jones in 2002 was one such improvisation. Because his lifelong ambition is to work in film and television, he passed himself off as a karaoke expert in order to get on the show. “I know nothing about karaoke. Nothing,” he says. “I just made stuff up.”
The ruse went over so well that he nearly earned his own NBC show. “I had corporate money behind me. I was being groomed,” he says. The project’s cancellation was a major disappointment, but Cook remains adamant that he’s still on his way to making it in show business.
“I have never given up on this whole show business thing,” he says. “Never, never, never, never, never.”