March 9-- Twelve Georgia chefs will soon reveal layers of their own talent as well as the versatility of the famous Vidalia® onion.
The 2nd Annual Golden Onion will be held on Sunday, April 14, 2013, in Vidalia, Ga., as the official kick-off to the 36th Annual Vidalia Onion Festival. This professional cooking competition showcases the Vidalia® onion, Georgia’s official state vegetable, and also serves as a platform for chefs across Georgia to display their skills and creativity.
From the mountains to the islands, fine dining to casual eateries, new business ventures to long-standing community mainstays, the 2013 roster of chef competitors represents a cross-section of Georgia restaurants and cuisine:
Chef Mimmo Alboumeh is owner and executive chef of ME Restaurant Group, which operates Red Pepper Taqueria, Coldbrews Sports Bar & Grill, and Coldbrews Oyster Bar in Atlanta, Ga. Alboumeh’s childhood was spent in Italy and Spain where he gained a passion for the culinary arts and was immersed in rich food-centric cultures. After moving to the states, he assisted with his family’s restaurant in Athens, Ga., before moving to Atlanta to further his career. In August 2002, he became executive chef and managing partner of Barcelona Restaurant and Tapas Bar in Duluth, Ga. He opened Cheeky Taqueria in Suwanee, Ga., in June 2006. “I believe in using the freshest ingredients whenever possible, buying locally and giving back to our community,” he says. “That being said, cultivating dishes that include Vidalia onions on my menus has always been very important. The light and delicate flavor of the Vidalia onion makes it so versatile.”
Chef Daniel Chance, executive chef of Campogonolo in Atlanta, Ga., is an Atlanta native who has spent more than 15 years gaining experience in modern and traditional cuisine. He began his career cooking Italian food at Pricci and Veni Vidi Vici. His resume also includes stints at Trois, Two Urban Licks and Abattoir in Atlanta, Ga., before taking the helm at Campagnolo in April 2012. Chance enjoys using fresh produce from local farms and even spent a summer as a commercial salmon fisherman learning a lot about fish. He has participated in several events including Food & Wine in Aspen, Colo., and Charleston Wine + Food Festival in S.C. “The flavor of Vidalia onions is really fantastic,” he says. “It’s one of the few that can stand on its own or elevate any dish.”
Chef Linda Harrell, executive chef and partner of Cibo E Beve in Sandy Springs, Ga., brings over 20 years of experience to the Italian restaurant. Harrell received her culinary foundation and formal European training working in Williamsburg, Va. She hit her stride at Les Clos de Marchands in Williamsburg where she worked as executive chef for five years. For the next eight years, Harrell worked as executive chef at the Italian restaurant Trattoria Toscana in Baltimore, Md., where she made virtually every product by hand. It was here that her passion for Tuscan-influenced Italian cuisine blossomed. She brought her skills and passion to Atlanta to help open Antica Posta. She then began working with the owners of 101 Concepts Restaurant Group, first at Mangia 101, followed by a stint at Meehan’s Public House restaurants, and now Cibo E Beve. “When we can get Vidalia onions, we use them,” she says. “They’re local and delicious.”
Chef Brian Jones, chef de cuisine for Atlanta Grill at The Ritz-Carlton, Atlanta is a native of Chamblee, Ga. He began his culinary career at Carbo’s Café in Buckhead, and then moved on to The Ritz-Carlton Buckhead. Other notable restaurants on his resume include Watershed, Canoe and the 1848 House in Marietta. Jones grew up cooking alongside his grandmother and aunts, appreciating authentic Southern dishes made from daily harvests of the family gardens. He brings that heritage to his menus that brim with varieties of local and regional produce. “What I enjoy most about using Vidalia onions is the confidence that I am using a product that is world renowned and at the same time supporting our local agricultural economy,” he says. “I love the fact that I can further that name by respectfully preparing these local gems in as many ways as possible.”
Chef Brian Justice, chef and owner of Tasteful Temptations Café in Brunswick, Ga., is a Georgia native. He started working at the Sea Island Company in 1992, completed the Apprentice Cook Program and was named lead cook/banquet chef at The Cloister, Sea Island. Six years later, he moved to the Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach, Fla., where he held multiple positions. In 2004 he leapt at the opportunity to drive fresh and frozen foods across the U.S. for Frozen Foods Express, based in Dallas, Texas. In 2007, he returned to his home state and hometown with his wife and opened Tasteful Temptations, which offers catering services, serves as the in-flight vendor for Netjets and most other private jets flying out of Brunswick and St. Simons Island, and also operates the café in the Brunswick Airport. He enjoys Vidalia® onions because, “They’re sweeter and don’t overpower dishes,” he says.
Chef John Mark Lane, executive chef of Elements Bistro & Grill in Lyons, Ga., was born in Charleston, W. Va. He launched his culinary career at age 15, working as a dishwasher at Café Society in Charlotte, N.C. Within a year he’d progressed to sous chef and was creating lunches. By age 16, Lane decided that he one day wanted to cook great food at his own restaurant. A graduate of the Culinary Arts program at Central Piedmont Community College in Charlotte, N.C., he worked at several restaurants including Trio Restaurant, Charley’s and Sonoma Bistro in Charlotte, N.C., and then took some time off from cooking before opening Elements Bistro & Grill in October 2007. “I like cooking with the Vidalia onions because of the sweet flavor and versatility” he says. “The onions are very fresh and caramelize well. They can be used in a wide range of dishes.”
Chef Roberto Leoci, chef and owner of Leoci’s Trattoria in Savannah, Ga., developed a passion for food at an early age while spending summers in Sicily with his family. His culinary career began as he worked and studied in Florence, Italy, and continued after crossing the Atlantic to work at The Ritz-Carlton on Key Biscayne, Fla. He then worked as a private chef for several years. After moving to Savannah to help open Bull Street Chophouse, in late 2009 he opened Leoci’s Trattoria. The menu is influenced by his boyhood in Bari, on the heel of the Italian boot. With a family of shopkeepers, cheese mongers and cooks, Chef Leoci has a firm background in the region’s foodways. “I am an Italian Chef who was raised on Cipollini onions,” he says. “I try my hardest to use only local ingredients. Importing food from Italy defeats the purpose of Italian food as I was raised and trained to understand it—the true basis of Italian food is local ingredients, no matter where you’re cooking. So finding these Georgia gems was a no-brainer. Cooking with Vidalia onions gives my dishes a mild sweetness with a perfect acidity that complements.”
Chef Keira Moritz, chef and owner of Steel Magnolias in Valdosta, Ga., is a Georgia native. She attended Valdosta State University and was planning on a career in criminal justice before fully realizing her passion for cooking. Filling in at an event where the chef failed to show up, Moritz fed 150 guests and knew she had stumbled upon a career. She earned her culinary degree from Johnson & Wales University in Charleston, S.C., and then a foodservice management degree from the university’s campus in Denver, Colo. After graduation, she remained in Denver to work at Panzano Restaurant where her admiration of Italian cuisine grew. Her career with Kimpton Hotels and Restaurant led to stints in Denver, Aspen, Portland, San Francisco and Atlanta, where she opened and led the team at Pacci Ristorante. Moritz returned to her hometown, purchasing and renovating an historic building in downtown Valdosta, which now houses her independent restaurant where the menu showcases local farms and artisan producers. “I love cooking with Vidalia onions because they are location specific,” she says. “When you say ‘Vidalia onion’ people from all over the country and all walks of life know what it is, almost like a secret handshake.”
Chef Austin Rocconi, executive chef for Le Vigne Restaurant at Montaluce in Dahlonega, Ga., graduated from the California School of Culinary Arts in Pasadena, Calif. Prior to his current position, he worked in kitchens at Kyma, BLT Steak and Canoe in the Atlanta area. Rocconi favors locally-sourced cuisine and hyper-seasonal ingredients; at Le Vigne he incorporates ingredients from the restaurant's garden as well as from regional purveyors. “I consider it a blessing to live in the state of Georgia where I have access to such a nationally sought-after product such as the Vidalia onion,” he says. “I strive to support local and regional farmers and feature their products exclusively on my menu. The Vidalia onion gives me the chance to support local agriculture as well as show my community just one of the great accomplishments their state has produced. Vidalia onion season is something I always look forward to and a product I will use as long as I am cooking.” Chef Rocconi placed third at the inaugural Golden Onion competition in 2012 and is excited to be competing again.
Chef Michael Shutters is executive chef and food service director at The Pilot House Grille Restaurant at George T. Bagby State Park and Lodge in Fort Gaines, Ga. He was born in Indianapolis, Ind., and grew up near Jacksonville, Fla. After working for several years as a corporate trainer, he changed careers in 2002 and has worked his way up from a sandwich maker and dishwasher to his current position at the helm of the restaurant that serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. About Vidalia® onions he says, “I love the unique sweetness and low sulfur content.”
Chef Dave Snyder, chef and owner of Halyards and Tramici in St. Simons Island, Ga., first gained cooking experience during his high school years in Michigan. He continued cooking while attending college at the University of Georgia in Athens and later graduated from the New England Culinary Institute in Vermont. He then gained experience working at several New York City restaurants, including Les Celebrites, Union Square Café, The Mark Hotel and Zoe. Returning to Georgia, he worked at Azalea in Atlanta for a brief time before joining J Mac’s Island Restaurant on St. Simons Island. Now as chef and owner of two restaurants, his goal is to develop a team that will enable Halyards and Tramici to expand into a family of restaurants. He enjoys cooking with Vidalia onions, he says, “because of the variety of applications of this Georgia Grown product with a great history. It’s a one-of-a-kind onion with flavors of a specific growing region.” Snyder is a Georgia Grown Executive Chef in 2013.
Chef Marc Taft, chef and owner of Chicken & The Egg in Marietta, Ga., and executive chef and general manager of the new The Mill Kitchen & Bar in Roswell, Ga., earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Alabama and then began working for the restaurant companies Carlson Hospitality and Brinker International. He has since served as general manager for The Inn at Evins Mill in middle Tennessee, B.A.N.K Restaurant in Minneapolis, Minn., Domaso Trattoria Moderna in Washington, D.C., and Pacci Ristorante in Atlanta, Ga. Taft has also worked as the concept development director for Al Copeland Investments, where he helped develop Copeland’s Cheesecake Bistro, and has held executive chef and corporate chef positions. His experience also includes stints as the director of food and beverage for the Sheraton Music City Hotel in Nashville, Tenn., and director of restaurant operations for the Southeast region of Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants where he was responsible for overseeing several restaurants including Area 31 in Miami, Fla., and Central 214 in Dallas, Texas. About Vidalia onions, Taft says, “I love the versatility of the Vidalia® onion, the perfect balance of the onion flavor and sweetness make it the perfect additive to any dish or stand alone as the star of the show.”
Chefs Jones, Lane, Rocconi, Snyder and Taft also competed in Golden Onion 2012.
About the Golden Onion
The Golden Onion professional cooking competition challenges 12 Georgia chefs to create and prepare recipes featuring Vidalia® onions. Competing chefs will have one hour to prepare and present their recipes. The First Place champion will be presented the Golden Onion trophy to hold for one year along with a cash prize of $500. The second place winner will receive $250 and the third place winner $100. All winners will also receive commemorative plaques. The Golden Onion competition will be held at the Vidalia Community Center, 107 Old Airport Road in Vidalia, Ga. The event is open to the public starting at 12:30 p.m. Advance tickets cost $10 per person or $15 at the door and include an event recipe booklet. For details visit www.vidaliaonionfestival.com.
About the Vidalia Onion Festival
Celebrating its 36th year in 2013, the Vidalia Onion Festival will be held April 18-21 in Vidalia, Ga. The event has been featured on The Food Network and recognized as one of the “5 Don't-Miss Festivals Across the U.S.” by MSNBC. The festival offers something for everyone, including the Miss Vidalia Onion Pageant, a children’s parade, outdoor music concerts, an arts and crafts festival, opening ceremonies and fireworks, car show, the Kiwanis Onion Run, the Vidalia Onion Festival Rodeo, and the Famous onion eating contest. Come to Vidalia to experience the “whole onion.” For more information, visit www.vidaliaonionfestival.com.
About Vidalia® Onions
Vidalia® Onions are the pioneer of sweet onions and Georgia’s official state vegetable. Grown only in the mild climate and unique soil surrounding Vidalia, Ga., they’re loved by chefs and home cooks throughout the world. Vidalia® onions are hand-planted and hand-harvested each year, with sweet, juicy bulbs available seasonally from late April to late August. Their mild, sweet taste makes Vidalia® onions more versatile than stronger onions. And these Georgia sweeties are a low-calorie, fat, cholesterol, and sodium-free way to get a healthy dose of Vitamin C. For more information, visit www.VidaliaOnion.org.
About the Vidalia® Onion Committee
Because Vidalia® Onions are sweetly unique, farmers were forced to unite and seek legal protection of their crop and its name. Federal Marketing Order No. 955 was established in 1989 to stipulate how and where the crop can be grown and sold. The Vidalia® Onion Committee administers FMO No. 955 and authorizes production research, marketing research and development and marketing promotion programs. This federal protection reinforces Georgia state laws and the Vidalia® trademark. So, you can try to grow a sweet onion elsewhere, but you cannot call it a “Vidalia!” For more information, visit www.VidaliaOnion.org.
About the Georgia Restaurant Association (GRA)
The GRA’s mission is to serve as the voice for Georgia’s Restaurants in Advocacy, Education and Awareness. The GRA is sanctioned by the National Restaurant Association (NRA) to operate Georgia’s only not-for-profit representing the state’s foodservice industry. From large chains to start-ups, the GRA helps make Georgia a better place for restaurants to do business and helps make restaurants better for Georgia. For more information, visit www.garestaurants.org.
About Georgia Grown Executive Chefs
The Georgia Department of Agriculture and the Georgia Restaurant Association appoint four Georgia Grown Executive Chefs each year, as part of a program that debuted in 2012. The goal of the program is to help raise awareness about the availability of the quality, local products that can be found in Georgia and promote relationships between chefs and farmers across the state.