In Search of the Veggie-Culinary Experience

Fueling passion for growing and using great quality food ingredients is easy.  It’s all in the wrist… the educational wrist.

This month, I attended the Veggie U Food and Wine Celebration, the ninth annual food/wine event of the Culinary Vegetable Institute (CVI) in Milan, OH.  The CVI says “the combination of our commitment to sustainable agriculture and building strong relationships between farmer and chef make CVI a facility beyond comparison.”

There are several important components to this culinary picture, and it started 30 years ago with the Jones family farm in Huron, OH:

  1. The Jones family farm’s purpose and mission: “to grow vegetables slowly and gently in full accord with nature.”
  2. Out of the family’s love for farming arose The Chef’s Garden, dedicated to sustainable agriculture, an organization that has dedicated itself to “working in concert with outstanding chefs all over America” to provide the most high-quality produce available.  [Heirloom tomatoes are] “grown sustainably for flavor, not yield or shelf-life.”
  3. The CVI, founded by the family, is an institute surrounded by a working farm where chefs come to collaborate and retreat.  The Institute resides on 100 acres, the centerpiece of which is an 11,000 SF facility that includes a 1500 SF state-of-the-art kitchen, a 1426 SF dining room, an executive chef suite, a culinary library, root cellar, wine cellar, and experimental vegetable, forest and herb gardens.

The celebration, the focus of this post, was, in the tasting tent, a wonderful consortium of tastes of world-class restaurants and kitchens, including Cincinnati’s jean-robert’s table (Jean-Robert de Cavel, executive chef-owner), the Midwest Culinary Institute (chef Sean Nagy), and Cleveland’s Greenhouse Tavern (executive chef-owner Jonathon Sawyer).  Other participating restaurants were Salt at the Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island; Blue at the Ritz-Carlton Grand Cayman; Season’s Restaurant; Glitretind; Washington Place Bistro; American Greetings; Marcel’s Fine Dining; ZINC Brasserie; Circa 1886; and the Wyndham Playhouse, to name only a few.  Many vintners and wine distributors of high-end domestic, Italian, French and Argentinian wines offered tastes of dozens of their best wines.

The demo tent hosted a panel discussion about the growth and development of sustainable agriculture and the growing trend of understanding and evaluating food source and quality.  The panelists were: Jonathon Sawyer, Ruth Reichl, author and Editorial Advisor to Gilt Taste (former editor-in-chief at Gourmet Magazine), Steve Ells, chairman and co-CEO of Chipotle Mexican Grill and farmer Lee Jones.  Ruth referenced “a generation of kids who care about where their food comes from”; Steve: [the need to] “force the issue about where food is coming from and the conditions the animals live in;” Jonathon: “a generation asking questions…”.

Two celebrity guests, Govind Armstrong, executive chef of Table 8 restaurants in Los Angeles and Miami, and Jeni Britton Bauer, founder of Jeni’s Ice Creams, were available to sign books.  Govind’s “Small Bites, Big Nights” is a luscious showcase of stylish, simple “little plates” for any intimate event or party.  Jeni’s “Splendid Ice Cream at Home” is a dream come true.  That salty caramel ice cream I covet is in the book.

There were cooking demos by Food Network’s Amanda Freitag and Aaron Sanchez, a silent auction, a Chinese auction and a live auction of chef dinners and food trips.

It was an evening filled with outstanding food, great wine and star-studded culinary talent, all for the benefit of celebrating the very best quality (and readily available) food.

More to come.

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