Golden Onion Emcee and Judges


Georgia Chefs, TV Personalities, Authors & Ag Experts Team Up

for New Professional Cooking Competition Showcasing Vidalia® Onions

Vidalia, Georgia, USA (March 5, 2012) — Chefs from across Georgia will face-off on Sunday, April 22, 2012, for the inaugural Golden Onion professional cooking competition that kicks-off the 35th Annual Vidalia Onion Festival. This new cook-off showcases the Vidalia® Onion, Georgia’s most exclusive and internationally renowned agricultural treasure, and also offers a new platform for chefs across Georgia to display their skills and creativity.

While chef applications will continue to be accepted through Friday, March 16, 2012, other key positions related to the competition have been filled.

Sonny Dixon will emcee the event. The popular anchor of Savannah’s WTOC’s new and innovative broadcast, THE News NOW at 4 PM, plus THE News at Five and THE News at Six won an Emmy for Best Anchor in the Southeast U.S. in 2011. A longtime member of Toastmasters International, Dixon has won numerous awards for public speaking and communication, including Georgia’s Best Anchor/Reporter by the Associated Press in 2005. The Leadership Savannah graduate was elected to five terms in the Georgia House of Representatives, where he held key offices and served on prominent committees before retiring from elected office in 1997. He has also appeared on the CBS Evening News, the CBS Early Show, on CNN, in Newsweek magazine and many major market newspapers. [For more information, visit]

A panel of five judges will participate in a blind tasting and score each competitor’s dish featuring Vidalia® Onions on the basis of taste, presentation and creativity. Judges of the 2012 Golden Onion cook-off are:

Executive Chef Holly Chute of the Georgia Governor’s Mansion. A graduate of the renowned Culinary Institute of America, Chute first arrived at the Governor’s Mansion in 1981 as Chef and Foods Manager. Since then, she has helmed the kitchen for six different Governors: Governor George Busbee, Governor Joe Frank Harris, Governor Zell Miller, Governor Roy Barnes, Governor Sonny Perdue, and now Governor Nathan Deal. At the Governor’s Mansion, Chef Chute oversees all meals served, from private family meals to official state dinners.

Executive Chef Hector Santiago, owner of three restaurants in Atlanta, Ga., including the award-winning Pura Vida Tapas. A native of Puerto Rico and graduate of the renowned Culinary Institute of America, Santiago worked in several kitchens, many ranked four- and five-diamonds, before opening his own restaurant. In 2007, he was named “Rising Star Chef” for Atlanta by, and was a long-list nominee for “Best Chef of the Southeast” by the James Beard Foundation for 2008, 2009 and 2011. In 2009, Chef Santiago appeared on Bravo TV’s “Top Chef” Season 6 Las Vegas. [For more information, visit]

Chef de Cuisine Brian Whitcomb, CCC, FMP, is District Chef for the Southeastern Division of Eurest under the Compass Group Americas. The former owner of Del Pizzo’s, has worked in several kitchens including Cultured Bean Café in Marietta, Ga., ESPN Zone and Bones in Atlanta, Ga., Country Club of Birmingham, Ala., Morton’s of Chicago in Denver, Colo., and more. An active member in the American Culinary Federation certified in both nutrition and sanitation and a graduate of the School of Culinary Arts in Atlanta, Ga., Whitcomb began working in commercial kitchens at age 14. He has appeared on the Fox Network’s “Good Day Atlanta” and authors a monthly column, “Road Kill,” for Full Throttle Magazine. [For more information, visit]

Bob Stafford is director of the Vidalia® Onion Business Council, a role he’s held since the mid-1990s. Among Stafford’s responsibilities is lobbying on behalf of farmers, working with researchers to improve the annual crop, and working to protect the Vidalia trademark. Stafford was inducted into the Vidalia® Onion Hall of Fame in February 2010. Prior to his current position, he worked with the Florida Department of Agriculture for 34 years.

Hope S. Philbrick, is an Atlanta-based freelance writer and editor who conceived of and helped launch the Golden Onion competition. She has published thousands of articles in dozens of publications including Chile Pepper magazine, Atlanta Journal-Constitution and San Francisco Chronicle. She is contributing editor to Atlanta’s new Epicure magazine, served as managing editor of Restaurant Forum magazine and assistant editor of Wine Report magazine. She has reviewed restaurants for many publications, including Where Atlanta, Where Charleston and The Atlantan, and authored weekly dining columns for Sunday Paper and Southern Voice.  She’s judged several culinary competitions, including the Louisiana Seafood Cook-Off, S.Pellegrino “Almost Famous” Chef Competition, Taste of Atlanta, Beaufort S.C. Shrimp Festival, and the International Wine Summit. [For more information, visit]

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 $5 per person or $10 at the door. For details visit

About the Vidalia Onion Festival

Celebrating its 35th year in 2012, the Vidalia Onion Festival will be held April 26-29 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 four-day festival offers something for everyone, including the Miss Vidalia Onion Pageant, a children’s parade, outdoor music concerts, an arts and crafts festival, street dance, 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

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

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

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

About Georgia Tourism

Whether visiting for business or on vacation, the Georgia travel experience brings a contemporary and modern feel with the authenticity, heritage and hospitality of the South. From Georgia’s energetic and lively cities to the relaxing coastline and breathtaking mountain scenery, Georgia boasts rich and unique experiences that are unparalleled. For more information, visit


Ingrid M. Varn

Executive Director, Vidalia Area CVB


Kelly Hornbuckle

Director of Marketing,

Georgia Restaurant Association


Stefanie Paupeck
Marketing & Communications Specialist,

Georgia Department of Economic Development


Hope S. Philbrick

Freelance Writer & Editor / Golden Onion Judge