Take a peek at what some of Georgia’s top chef talent can do in one hour.
By Hope S. Philbrick
In the heart of Georgia’s Vidalia onion country and days after the official release of this year’s crop, lead chefs from across the state competed for the Golden Onion trophy during the 3rd annual Golden Onion professional cooking competition.
The premiere culinary event of the 37th Annual Vidalia Onion Festival offered a platform for competitors to display their skills and creativity, as each chef had just one hour to prepare and present a recipe featuring Vidalia onions, Georgia’s official state vegetable.
Before the first Vidalia onion was cut, chefs drew for competition timeslots and then raced in the “run for the onions”: After floor judge Chef Hilary White gave the signal, competitors ceremoniously rushed to grab the Vidalia onions they’d use in their recipes. (There’s no risk they won’t get what they need, since recipes are submitted in advance to ensure sufficient quantities are available…but they have to hurry if they’ve got their eye on a specific item.)
Cook times were staggered in 10-minute intervals, primarily so that each entry can be presented to judges at the intended temperature and allow judges time to focus attention on each dish as it’s presented.
That does not mean that judging is easy.
Here’s a peek at the plates that I was presented to judge:
Chef Roberto Leoci, executive chef and owner of Leoci’s Trattoria in Savannah, who was awarded 3rd place during the 2nd annual Golden Onion competition, prepared “sea trout PLT topped with Vidalia onion aioli.”
Chef David Larkworthy, executive chef and founder of 5 Seasons Brewing Company in Atlanta, prepared “Vidalia onion Ossabaw pork burgers.”
Chef Brian Justice, chef and owner of Tasteful Temptations Café in Brunswick, who was awarded 2nd place during the 2nd annual Golden Onion competition, prepared “pan-seared ahi tuna on a bed of pickled Vidalia onions and fresh ginger topped with avocado aioli and thin-sliced Vidalia onion sprouts served with a baby green bundle wrapped with a cucumber sash on top of a red pepper emulsion, dressed with Vidalia onion and Georgia peanut dressing and garnished with soy foam, sesame and wasabi crusted pecans, and crispy sweet Vidalia tobacco onions.”
Chef Marc Taft, executive chef and owner of Chicken and The Egg in Marietta, prepared “pan-seared Enchanted Springs Georgia Mountain trout with baby Vidalia, sweet potato, Brussels sprout and apple hash, Vidalia onion soubise, pickled Vidalia buds and Riverview Farms ham hock reduction.”
Chef Jordan Wakefield, executive chef and owner of Smoke Ring in Atlanta, prepared “White Oak Pastures Beef & Foie Gras Sliders with grilled avocado and Vidalia onion salad.”
Chef Austin Rocconi, executive chef for Le Vigne Restaurant at Montaluce in Dahlonega, who was awarded 3rd place during the inaugural Golden Onion competition in 2012, prepared “Vidalia Onion Variations,” including Vidalia onion noodles, Vidalia onion “tofu,” charred Vidalia onion broth, Vidalia onion bulbs, and various Vidalia onion garnishes.
Chef Pano Karatassos, executive chef of Kyma in Atlanta, prepared “Vidalia onion studded halibut,” which had a Vidalia onion crust and was slow-poached in Vidalia onion-infused olive oil and accompanied by Vidalia onion stew, and a Vidalia onion salad.
Chef Costanzo Astarita, executive chef at Baraonda Ristorante & Bar in Atlanta, prepared “Georgia shrimp Vidalia onion remoulade, chickpea Vidalia pancake, Vidalia onion fennel slaw, and Vidalia onion ginger oil.”
Chef Jennifer Booker, owner and executive chef of Your Resident Gourmet in Lilburn, prepared “Caramelized Vidalia Onion, Wild Mushroom & Gruyere Tartlets w/ Pickled Vidalia Onions and a Arugula Salad with Vidalia Onion Vinaigrette.”
The tasting panel of five judges evaluated dishes on the basis of taste (50%), oral presentation (5%), visual presentation (10%), creativity (15%), overall use of Vidalia onions (15%), and following the recipe submitted during the application process (5%).
The challenge for judges was that every dish had appealing elements.
The second place winner receives $250 and the third place winner $100.
All winners also receive personalized commemorative plaques.
he 3rd Annual Golden Onion was presented by the Vidalia Onion Festival Committee in cooperation with the Georgia Restaurant Association.
The following organizations supported Golden Onion 2014 with donations: Braswell’s, Gayla’s Grits, Georgia Olive Oil, Sherlock’s Wine Merchant, Southern Soul Barbecue, Stanley Farms, Terra Dolce Farms Olive Oil, Two Guys Beverage & Tobacco Warehouse, United Distributors, Vidalia Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, and Vidalia Valley.