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Rutland man comes in second at cook-off

RUTLAND-A little bit of creativity can take you a long way.

In the case of Rutland resident Peter Weisberger, creativity in the kitchen took him to the fourth annual Hood New England Dairy Cook-Off, where his braised rabbit with wild mushroom curry cream sauce took the second prize in the lunch and dinner category.
"I thought I could enter with this crazy idea," Weisberger said. "Then one night I got a call saying I was a semi-finalist. They gave me the information, including where I was staying. They paid for everything."

Weisberger said he learned about the cook-off watching the TV program "TV Diner with Billy Costa," a food review program combining cooking with visiting various eating establishments throughout New England.

"I felt really good about my chances, but somebody else won the $10,000," Weisberger said. "I was the only one in my category from Vermont. My prize wasn't much, only a couple of hundred dollars. I had the winner from last year and the M.C. pulling for me. They'd never heard of braised rabbit."

Wesiberger said he felt he could have taken the top prize, but flubbed his presentation.

"When it came to presentation, I thought it was just the plate," he said, "but I had to get in front of a microphone and explain it. My presentation was terrible."

The initial idea came easily, he said.
"My best friend is from India, and that gave me the ides for the curry," Weisberger said. "In Vermont there are so many wild rabbits, and plenty of growers, so I thought I'd just try it out."

The cook-off was held on Oct. 21, with 30 people competing. Mary Jo Fletcher LaRocco of North Kingston, R.I. took  the top prize with her dessert, cranberry limoncello tarts in a gingersnap hazelnut crust.

The judges -- Michele Ragussis, finalist, Next Food Network Star; Peggy Poole, Ph.D., Vice President of Quality Systems and Regulatory Affairs with HP Hood; Linda Beaulieu, author, Providence and Rhode Island Cookbook; Chef Branden Lewis, instructor, Johnson and Wales University; and Cindy Salvato, IACP Cooking Teacher of the Year Finalist 2003 and ACF Certified executive pastry chef -- decided that LaRocco's  dessert best combined the qualities of taste, presentation/appearance, and originality.
Competitors were divided into five categories: breakfast and brunch, soups and chowders, appetizers and side dishes, lunch and dinner (entrée), and dessert. One person from each New England state competed in each category. Competitors had 60 minutes to prepare and plate their dishes. Winners from each category went on to compete in the finals later that evening.

Besides Weisberger, the other Vermont residents who competed were (Joy Kipp of St. Albans, - creamy pumpkin gluten-free pancakes (breakfast and brunch);Carolyn Wheel of Fairfax, simply smart seafood chowder (soups and chowders); Forrest White of Williston, acorn squash 'n blossom fritter with vichyssoise shooter (appetizers and side dishes) and Kevin Wheel of Fairfax, apple crepes with warm buttermilk syrup (dessert).
The cook-off was taped for television and will appear as an episode of "TV Diner," Weisberger said.

"I'll be going back next year," he said. "I already have an idea for what I'm going to make."

For information on next year's event, go to