MANCHESTER VILLAGE >> A new executive chef at the Reluctant Panther is bringing a new approach to the cuisine at the inn and its dining venue.
Sigal Rocklin, 34, said she is emphasizing fresh green vegetables and local Vermont produce as she revamps the menu towards fresher and more seasonal fare.
"I came to the Reluctant Panther because I wanted to try something more personal," she said. "I wanted to be able to execute my own menu and values."
Rocklin grew up in Israel and came to the U.S. after serving in the Israeli navy, where she rose to the rank of sergeant at taught weaponry.
She attended the New England Culinary Institute in Montpelier where she met her future husband. After finishing at the institute the pair travelled widely across the U.S., working in restaurants in Arizona, Charleston, S.C., California, Wyoming and Colorado before deciding to return to Vermont and settle down, Rocklin said. She landed a post at the Equinox Resort in Manchester where she spent three years as chef de cuisine.
Her American roots go back further though; her mother is from the U.S. and ever since reading a magazine article about the Appalachian Trail when she was 16. she wanted to come here and hike it. She never left.
Now Rocklin oversees a staff of five in the Reluctant Panther's kitchen and swings by the area's farmers markets in search of fresh produce and new local suppliers. She hopes to showcase what Vermont has to offer in the way of food and cuisine.
Sean Burpee, general manager of the Reluctant Panther, said Rocklin quickly stood out from a large pool of candidates the inn reviewed for the head chef position. Her interest and expertise in fresh food represented an appealing approach, he said.
"It aligns perfectly with our commitment to the values of our Gold Barn Honor from the Vermont Fresh Network and our sourcing a large portion of our ingredients from local famers, producers and vendors," Burpee said. "I could tell just in talking with her that her love for cooking, her eagerness to run her own kitchen, to produce her own experience [would be an asset.] As a restaurant in the Manchester community, we are always looking for opportunities to offer our neighbors and hotel guests a unique dining experience."
Burpee aims to have the Reluctant Panther become a "go-to" place for dining not just for the inn's guests but for the general public. It shouldn't have to be a special occasion to make a visit to their spot near the corner of West Road and Seminary Avenue in Manchester Village, across from the former Mark Skinner Library, for area residents to be one of the top options, he said.
The Reluctant Panther has 20 rooms in its Main house and other adjoining buildings. It's a wedding venue as well, and can host private parties and special events.
Its main restaurant caters to events as large as 65 guests for a seated dinner, with dining available on an outdoor patio overlooking the inn's gardens and views of Mount Equinox. There's also the Panther Pub downstairs, which has room for holiday parties for up to 75 guests or seated dinners for up to 30 guests.
Having risen quickly through the ranks to become an executive chef at a relatively young age, Rocklin brims with confidence and excitement at the new position and its possibilities. A tour of duty in the Israeli navy, it seems, puts everything in perspective.
"I learned responsibility at a young age," she said.
For more information about the Reluctant Panther, visit its website at reluctantpanther.com.