There are as many good chefs in Vermont as there are good restaurants. But what does it take to be ranked numero uno among chefs in a potion of Vermont's Champlain Valley? If chef Sam Palmisano of Pulcinella's Restaurant in South Burlington is any gauge of what the title means, then the bar is set high-very high.
Palmissano took home the title of the Top Chef of the Champlain Valley for the second year in a row. This year's rotating valley location contest is not totally accurate by its claim-for example, this year's contest did not include Addison County chefs, according to organizer CVAA, the Champlain Valley Agency on Aging.
"We try to rotate chefs from our four county area; this year Addison County was not represented. In previous years, Addison County made up all three of the competing chefs; it varies by year. The funding for this event however benefits the Meals on Wheels and Case Management programs in Addison County," said CVAA's Sarah Lemnah.
Palmisano competed against chef Robert Barral of Caf Provence and J.J. Vezina of the Windjammer Restaurant and Upper Deck Pub in an Iron Chef competition using all fresh Vermont produce, cheese and proteins donated by area farmers.
The secret ingredient was announced to the chefs and the audience at the start of the competition and each chef had 50 minutes to create an appetizer and entr e highlighting this year's secret ingredient, honey. Chef Palmisano's winning dish was a honeyed lamb tartare on mesclun greens in a ring of lightly roasted green pepper and for his entr e offered up a sweet and savory crusted lamb on wilted greens and gnocchi with honey sauce.
For Palmisano the competition was fun but not his motivation for participating. The Top Chef of the Champlain Valley, an Iron Chef Experience benefits CVAA and its Meals on Wheels and case management programs.
For Palmisano it is not about the competition or winning- it is all about the money raised for CVAA with everything else a bonus. Nearly $25,000 was raised by the Top Chef event, enough to provide over 5,000 meals to local homebound seniors.
Each chef presented his dishes to the panel of judges: Jozef Harrewyn, executive chef and owner of Chef's Corner in Williston, Melissa Pasanen, co-author of the cookbook, "Cooking with Shelburne Farms: Food and Stories from Vermont", Suzanne Podhaizer, a local food critic, and Annie Harlow, a farm-based food consultant.
The crowd watched as the judges meticulously tasted and took notes regarding the flavor, presentation, execution and use of the secret ingredient. In the end their decision was unanimous. Harrewyn made the pronoucement: "Sam Palmisano is our Iron Chef."
Having recently lost his last grandparent, Palmisano said, "My grandmother was one of the blessed ones and many people have not been as lucky as her, CVAA does good work to help the elderly."