By Jennifer Brandt, Vermont Country correspondent.
In the heart of Vermont’s charming landscape, where history mingles with culinary innovation, The Reluctant Panther stands as a testament to its past’s intricacies and the delightful complexities of its present. A place where the journey from a British-owned establishment to its present-day incarnation is as intriguing as the blend of flavors found in Chef Sigal Rocklin’s kitchen.
Chef Rocklin, who has gathered inspiration from kitchens across the United States, understands that her culinary creations are not solitary stars in the dining experience.
She attributes her success to the harmonious camaraderie of her team, a team that, until recently, was made entirely of women.
Her dedication to ensuring her staff’s happiness is the secret ingredient that infuses each dish with warmth and flavor, making The Reluctant Panther more than just a restaurant.
“My job is to make sure that all the employees are happy,” Rocklin explains. “If they’re happy, they produce the best food.”Chef Rocklin
In Rocklin’s eyes, dining is an experience, an orchestration of moments that extends beyond the plate to the hosts, waiters, bartenders, and every person guests encounter. It’s a symphony that transforms a meal into a magical encounter, where food and ambiance dance in harmony.
“I think dining is an experience, and not necessarily just the food or just the service or just the wine.”
Her culinary journey, which started in the Grand Canyon and meandered through the elevations of Colorado and the bountiful markets of California, has found a home in Vermont’s appreciation for farmers and high-quality produce. Even in the depths of winter, Vermont surprises her with its abundant harvest. She said she had no idea of the wonderful bounty she would find in this state, even throughout the winter months.
“I love the winter, and my farmers have beautiful carrots, parsnips, and all the squashes.”
As striking as the establishment’s name are its food and drinks. A drink made only here, called The Reluctant Panther, blends Vermont vodka, lemon juice, Chambord, and Prosecco. In Sugar Bob’s Old Fashioned, a subtle smokiness emerges from smoked maple syrup, blended with Vermont maple bourbon, smoked bitters, cherry, and orange. Dear John, named for a beloved regular, features an in-house limoncello, which gives the drink a lively citrus edge. The drinks pair beautifully with lobster fondue.
The inn part of The Reluctant Panther holds just 20 rooms.
The dining room, a hushed oasis, is open both to inn guests and the public. For winter, Chef Rocklin envisions a menu with venison osso buco, short ribs braised in Switchback ale, and seasonal vegetables (Brussels sprouts, purple potatoes, carrots, parsnips and sweet potatoes).
Some parts of Vermont have echoes of home for Rocklin:
“For me, the way I grew up in Israel, it kind of brought up the whole need to be sustainable and in a community.”
“I got beautiful lemon verbena from Mighty Food Farm a couple of weeks ago, and I love the smell.” Rocklin explains how she takes inspiration from the ingredients farmers are growing. “I was trying to think what do I cook with it because normally, it’s more for Asian-type dishes. But I made lemon verbena sorbet. Oh my God. And it’s beautiful, and I love it. It’s one of my favorites now.”
Chef Rocklin’s culinary magic is a celebration of Vermont’s essence, a place where the farm-to-table movement isn’t just a trend but a way of life. Her artistry is infused with local ingredients that inspire lemon verbena sorbet and evoke the sense of community she treasures.
In this cozy corner of Vermont, The Reluctant Panther invites you to join in its culinary journey, where the past and present blend seamlessly, and every bite is a taste of something extraordinary.
Jennifer Brandt is a born and raised Vermonter and a recent Brooklyn transplant. She has worked as a freelance writer and event coordinator for the past decade focusing on food and Intersection with social justice issues. She has combined her passion for food and sustainable food systems with her Indigenous heritage by creating a series with MOFAD celebrating North American Indigenous folks in the food world. When not touring cities and the back roads of the Vermont countryside in search of the endless array of food and culture, you can find her taking Instagram photos of her rescue pup Bagel.