Winner and runners-up of this year's annual Contra Costa Mayors' Healthy Cook-off will go on to represent Contra Costa County in a showdown with the winners of the first Alameda County Mayors' Healthy Cook-off in October.

"Contra Costa County will win. No question about it," said Concord Mayor Dan Helix, who is participating for the first time.

"I don't think they should declare victory so fast," said Dublin Mayor Tim Sbranti, whose city is hosting the first Alameda County Mayors' Healthy Cook-off on July 24. "I like our chances. We have some creative chefs."

Once again, Concord is hosting the annual "Iron Chef" style cook-off in Todos Santos Plaza to decide which of the county's 19 cities will take home the perpetual trophy. Concord won it the first year, followed by Walnut Creek, then Concord again, and Pleasant Hill last year.

So far, eight cities have signed up, but last-minute arrivals are welcome and expected, said Pamela Singh, interim executive director of Wellness City Challenge.

This year's challenge, dubbed "Change the Food, Change Everything!" is expected to be more challenging than past events, says presenter Cindy Gershen, president of Wellness City Challenge.

Teams, comprised of either the mayor, vice mayor or a City Council member, along with their chosen chef, must all participate in the meal preparation. Each team will have a sous chef from the Mt. Diablo High School Serendipity Culinary Academy to assist them.

Chefs will not be allowed to shop at the farmers market or select their own protein, as in years past. This time, all food will be provided in a "mystery bag" to be picked up at the check-in table. The bag will include fresh fruits, vegetables and herbs, and must be used. Grocery Outlet is providing a protein, grains and oils.

"We're not letting them shop anymore," Gershen said. "We want to control products they are getting."

Adding to the excitement is chefs not knowing what they'll be cooking.

"We are not saying what it is yet," Gershen said.

She would say half of the fresh produce items would be from the Mt. Diablo High School's agriculture certified garden along with those donated from the Pacific Coast Farmers' Market Association.

Judges will sample food from each station and grade on a five-point scale for presentation, taste, most creative, following the federal school food guidelines, and telling the best story for why the competitors thinks its city should win.

Joining the preselected judges will be a random selection of 10 judges from the public attending the event.

Teams need to bring their own pots, pans, knives, cutting board, utensils and serving platter, along with a burner and cleanup items such as towels and soap. Only two burners are allowed per station and no electricity is provided.

Martinez Mayor Rob Schroder and former Concord Mayor and current Councilwoman Laura Hoffmeister concocted the event in 2009 as a way to bring communities together to celebrate and promote healthy eating. Wellness City Challenge became the presenter.

"It's getting stronger and better," said Hoffmeister.

The city of Concord accepted the request to be the annual host of the event rather than having it rove from city to city. Hoffmeister said Todos Santos Plaza's lends itself to the event with the timing of the Thursday farmers market and evening music concerts.

get cookin'
What: Fifth annual Mayors' Healthy Cook-Off
When: 4-7 p.m. Thursday, July 18
Where: Todos Santos Plaza, at Willow Pass Road and Grant Street, downtown Concord
Schedule: 4 p.m. participating cities announced; 4:30 p.m. cooking begins; 6 p.m. judging starts; 7:15 p.m. awards ceremony
Cost: Free