Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

May 1, 2013

Vidalia a trademark and a competition

By Christine Tibbetts

— Consider rural Georgia for a tasting holiday, especially when the sweet onions are ready in Vidalia.

Five million 40-pound boxes ship along the East Coast, others head west. Chances are good, most American towns anticipate Vidalia onion arrivals every April.

There’s a festival to celebrate them and now a new event: one dozen professional Georgia chefs vying for the Golden Onion trophy.

April 20 is the 2014 date for the 3rd annual chef event.  Nose in the cooking pot, almost possible, and the aromas are abundant. This is up close foodie travel.

Talking to the chefs most definitely possible, just not so much during the 60 minutes each is allowed for creating amazing onion dishes.

Pre- and post, each chef in the 2013 event talked easily, sharing preparation tips, describing discoveries of fresh, local, pure-as-can-be food sources.

This is an all-afternoon event with executive chefs and other foodies. Strict 10-minute intervals between next-chef starting points.

While the competitors cook, the others chat. Can’t get that contact on television broadcast cuisine.

Golden Onion trophy winner Daniel Chance is executive chef at Campagnolo in Atlanta, his childhood hometown. He’ll keep the Golden Onion trophy designed by artist Melissa Harris of Rome, Ga., for one year, passing it on to the 2014 winner.

Onion advocate Keira Moritz, chef and owner of Steel Magnolias in Valdosta, a South Georgia city, thinks this:

“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.”    

Judges and lucky raffle ticket winners are served a plate by each chef.

The rest of us savor tidbits left in the cooking pans and tastes from platters some chefs present with leftover ingredients.

Not to worry. The front-yard vendor in the Vidalia Community Center where the event is held sells the finest fried onion rings ever tasted, with a secret dipping sauce.

I learned onion facts from Bob Stafford, one of five competition judges. Find him in the Vidalia Onion Museum where he protects the onion trademark.

Only 13 Georgia counties and parts of several others are allowed by federal order to call their product a Vidalia onion with the trademark.

Claim otherwise and the fine could be $10,000. Stafford’s serious. After more than three decades in agriculture, he understands the way these special onions grow in certain sandy soil.

Soil in and near Vidalia only.          

Works of art created all afternoon. I say go to the 2014 Golden Onion for the beauty and the aroma even if you don’t like to cook.

Savannah is your destination for a pancetta-wrapped Vidalia onion stuffed with Georgia peach risotto.

Chef Roberto Leoci won third place for this recipe; find him in Leoci’s Trattoria on Abercorn Street in Savannah.

Overnight on a Vidalia holiday, and discover other treats too.

The Edenfield House bed and breakfast in nearby Swainsboro is a two-story home, built in 1895.

Inkeeper Aaron Correll brims with enthusiasm and his inn offers expansive opportunities.

Nine rooms for starters, with an astonishing five on the ground floor. No stairs for those rooms, unusual in historic homes.

Up-to-date bathrooms with each room too.

Anticipate a four-poster king bed or two queens, historic style too.  Exquisite linens.

“I do the laundry,” innkeeper Aaron says, “to high standards. That includes washing every blanket, every pillow sham, above and beyond the sheets.”

Chances are good his 33-year military career contributed to standards he demands.

Breakfast to order at Edenfield House. Most fine inns have French toast Tuesday or omelet Saturday but Correll and his two-daughter team ask your pleasure.

Eggs any way, hash brown casserole grits, breads, yogurt fruit parfait, spinach Vidalia onion quiche, caramelized onion apple tarts.

“I am enjoying life through building connections with people, with this place and with the foods,” Correll says, always beaming.

Guests are enjoying the under $100 a night rates too.

Devote one evening to Elements Bistro & Grill in Lyons, next door to Vidalia where executive chef Mark Lane prepares exquisite food in a stunning building -- brick and wood, bold, colorful art, spacious windows.       


Christine Tibbetts covers travel for Tifton Scene magazine with the Tifton (Ga.) Gazette.

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