Food Tourism Soars in Georgia
By Doc Lawrence
VIDALIA, Georgia— The great journalist Lewis Grizzard described the area as Georgia’s big sky country. In Vidalia, visitors behold a glorious horizon, a stunning panorama of natural beauty. A case can be made that all good plants will grow well in the fertile soil in this Deep South nook with the world famous name. Water is abundant and the clean air and moderate climate supports a comfortable lifestyle. But the magnet that attracts visitors is now and forevermore the great sweet Vidalia onion, arguably the world’s most talked about vegetable.
The Vidalia Onion Festival just concluded. Food tourism is a fast growing industry, a fact not lost on Ingrid Varn the high energy Executive Director of the Vidalia Area Convention and Visitors Bureau: “The economic impact each year is about $850,000. The festival is huge pull for our region. It is a way for us to showcase our small town. We are unique because we are a nationally known brand but still a small city of about 12,000 citizens.”
Vidalia onions have high profile fans like acclaimed chefs Emeril Lagasse and Georgia native Paula Deen, but also include fast rising star TV chef Lara Lyn Carter of WALB-TV in Albany, Georgia. “We had an onion-farmer from Uruguay visit last year,” said Ms. Varn, “who read about the museum and stopped by on his annual trip to Miami. We have also had a group from Kazakhstan on an agricultural tour. The kids seem to love the interactive onion grader in the children’s room. It allows them to see how the onions are graded by different sizes.” Ms. Carter says she used the legendary onion in countless dishes. “Vidalia’s are as basic to me as salt and pepper.”
The festival anticipates the harvest of Vidalia onions and the introduction to the national marketplace and this year featured the second Vidalia Onion Cook off, a competition among top Georgia chefs for cash prizes, trophies and bragging rights. First place honors were awarded to Chef Daniel Chance, executive chef of Campagnolo Restaurant and Bar in Atlanta for his recipe, “Scallop Stuffed Vidalia with Onion Purée.”
Good soil, pure water, fresh air and friendly people seem to be somehow embedded in the Vidalia onion, Georgia’s official state vegetable. This is a destination for travelers most any time of the year, who, according to Ingrid Varn, “need to come to Vidalia to experience the whole onion.”
NOTE: Wonderful recipes incorporating Georgia’s legendary onion are legion, but nothing beats authenticity. A genuine Georgia Girl, Lara Lyn Carter knows her way around a Southern kitchen. Here’s one of her original recipes:
Lara Lyn Carter’s Vidalia Onion Tart
4 tbsp. butter
1 tsp. sugar
4 cups Vidalia onion sliced
½ cup white wine
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
2 cups smoked Gruyere
Pre-baked Pie Crust
Melt butter in skillet, add onions with sugar and cook until tender. Remove skillet from heat and add wine, parsley and cheese. Mix all ingredients well and pour into pie crust. Bake at 400 degrees until cheese is melted.
Veteran travel writer Doc Lawrence combines three decades of experience on the road with expertise in wine, spirits, arts, fine dining, BBQ, Southern heritage and lifestyles. One of the country’s top journallists, Doc covers America’s performance stages, parks, galleries, artisinal farms and fine dining restaurants. Doc is.writing a series about the Civil War 150th through 2015.
Journalist, Broadcaster, Producer
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Stone Mountain, GA 30083
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