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by Joseph Montebello

The buzz and the crowd at Monte’s Kitchen in Amenia indicate two things: the food is great and the place is hot. This has very much to do with chef Dafna Mizrahi, just twenty-four years old and already a rising star in the culinary world.

Last year Mizrahi appeared on Food Network’s Chopped and came away as the champion for that episode, with $10,000 which she donated to a local charity.

“I love doing competitions,” said Mizrahi. “I first got involved three years ago when I was asked to enter a burger competition, sponsored by Harley Davidson and Weber Grills. Out of 3000 competitors they took three and I wound up winning first place. That was the beginning for me.”

On Chopped Mizrahi faced three male competitors, all of whom had to prepare “Gastro Pub” food from the ingredients in the mystery basket. Twenty-three at the time, she was one of the youngest Chopped Champions ever.

Mizrahi grew up in Guadalajara, Mexico and moved to Atlanta, Georgia, when she was twelve.

“I am Mexican and Jewish – both cultures are extremely influential when it comes to food,” Mizrahi said. “They carry their traditions from generation to generation through recipes. I always found myself in the kitchen with my grandparents making holiday meals. Cooking was not only something I enjoyed doing but it was a great escape.”

Mizrahi moved to New York and enrolled in a four-year program at the Culinary Institute of America. After graduating she worked with a couple of chefs who were opening restaurants. While Mizrahi dreamed of someday opening her own restaurant, she had no idea of how to make that happen until she decided to move out of Manhattan.

While working for Gianni Scapin, the chef owner of Market Street in Rhinebeck, Mizrahi connected with an old friend Ann Marie Pallan, a member of the Monte family who owned and managed Gurney’s Inn Resort and Spa in Montauk, which they were about to sell. Pallan found a building for sale in Amenia, the former home of the Cozy Corner restaurant. Ironically, the building resembled the original Monte’s building in Brooklyn. Taking this as an omen, the Monte family agreed that this would be a place to start a new venture. Mizrahi was invited to join the family and became Executive Chef and manager of Monte’s Local Kitchen & Tap Room. It was a dream come true for everyone.

Monte’s opened in December 2014 and became an immediate hit with both locals and weekenders. Mizrahi is taking advantage for the Amenia’s roots as a farming community and stresses the farm to table concept.

“We try to stay as local as possible,” she said. “I think people are more aware of the importance of eating healthy and have become much more knowledgeable about what goes into the preparation of food. In the spring and summer we have a program called Farm of the Week where we feature a different local farmer every week.”

Mizrahi and the Montes are thrilled at the response and are pleased to be part of the community.

“I am so happy when someone leaves the restaurant saying it’s the best meal they’ve ever had,” said Mizrahi. “That’s when I know I’m fulfilling my dream.”

Mizrahi’s magic touch is evident in the menu which features everything from everyone’s favorite Baked Mac and Cheese to Taconic Bourbon Glaze Duck and Slow Roasted Salmon, plus a group of specials based on what is freshly available.

The restaurant is located at 3330 Route 343 in Amenia and is open Wednesday to Friday from 4:00 PM -10:00 PM, Saturday from12:00 PM to 10:00 PM and Sunday from12:00 PM to 8:00 PM.