Culinary Vegetable Institute Blog - A culinary retreat for chefs
The Culinary Vegetable Institute at The Chef’s Garden is the farm’s world class educational, research and event facility designed to inspire every person who walks through its doors. Their mission is to share their knowledge, host culinary events, research new techniques and learn about vegetables from the culinary center’s devoted team of chefs and growers.
From Garden to Glass, It’s all About the Fresh Veggies
“Same old, same old” isn’t in Liz Studer’s vocabulary. For her, innovating and experimenting with plant-based beverages is all about finding what’s new and what’s next.
One of Studer’s responsibilities as wine steward and head of the Culinary Vegetable Institute beverage program is to routinely create signature cocktails for every CVI event ─ cocktails and other libations crafted to showcase specific farm-fresh vegetables, flowers and herbs from The Chef’s Garden.
“You don’t always need a knife and fork to taste wonderful things,” she said.
Never the Same Way Twice
“Our menu changes every time we do a dinner ─ it’s always different,” Studer said. “That’s pretty uncommon. It really fuels the creativity and allows me to take a different approach to things all the time. It starts with that main theme, whatever’s in the spotlight at that moment.”
Easier said than done. But Studer isn’t one to back away from a challenge.
“This has pushed the envelope further, it’s definitely very challenging,” she said. “I don’t think any other bartender in the country has probably been like, ‘Hey, we’re doing a legume dinner. I need a cocktail made with legumes!’ It’s insanely challenging.”
For those who choose to imbibe, a bespoke, one-of-a-kind signature cocktail is a guest’s introduction to each vegetable-themed dinner at the CVI (along with an alcohol-free version). Studer said the featured beverage is strategically positioned to set the stage for the meal that follows. “It’s another added layer to really nail down the theme and set the mood,” she said. “It’s always at the beginning of the dinner, so you want it to blend into that first course. It’s going to be something that’s balanced and something that’s tasty, and that’s going to relax you a little bit, but still keep your keen edge to enjoy the rest of the dinner.”
It’s All About the Fresh Veggies
Studer said there is no exact formula for concocting brand new beverages. At the CVI, her only hard and fast rule is that the drink be “plant-based” or “veggie-centered.” She did share some general guidelines though, some “sciency stuff” that usually helps kick-start the process. Begin, she says, with four basic elements: a spirit, an acid, a bittering agent and something sweet. Then, play.
“It’s about finding that balance between the bitter and the acid and the spirit and the sweetness of what you’re going for,” she said. “What else can you add in a small dose that will give it an extra layer of depth? What is your bitter element? Maybe it’s floral. Say I want to make a signature cocktail with marigolds. What’s the best way I can use it? I’ve made marigold syrup before. I’ve made marigold tea. I’ve rolled the stems so it’s just aroma. The basis of creativity is taking everything you know, and asking ‘how can you see it differently?’ It’s a lot of experimentation.”
Studer is always interested in sleuthing out new drinkable ways to incorporate ingredients from The Chef’s Garden. Making tinctures from Chef’s Garden edible flowers, leaves, herbs and vegetables has enabled her to craft unique and inspired bitters blends. She has plans to create her own vermouths, too, as a way to use leftover herbs, wines or brandies.
“A lot of my leftover wines will go to the back (into the kitchen), which then are used for cooking purposes,” she said. “They’ll reuse those somehow. A lot of their herbs will go into kombuchas, which I’ll use in the beverage program.”
Inspiration is Everywhere
Being open to inspiration whenever and wherever it strikes is vital to the creating process, Studer said. History, places, people and stories can all spark drinkable ideas.
“You look to people around you, key elements, themes, things you’ve done in the past, things you’ve always wanted to do but haven’t had the opportunity to try yet, definitely nature, science, art,” she said. “It’s a little bit of everything from everywhere.”
Studer’s young son Tiberius has been an unwitting resource.
“The other night we had breakfast for dinner,” she said. “I made pancakes and sausage. And I busted out the spinach because I was making myself egg salad. I just had it out on the table, and he starts eating spinach, and he’s dipping it in his maple syrup, and I was like, ‘Wow, I wonder if that’s any good.’ So I tried the spinach and the maple together and I thought, ‘You know? This could work.’”
And the wheels in Studer’s mind started turning and sifting through ideas for a beverage to accompany an upcoming spinach-themed dinner.
“I could do a bacon wash with bourbon, because our first course has bacon in it, too,” she said. “And maybe do spinach juice with vermouth. That’s how I’m going to incorporate the spinach. Green foam? Maple somehow in there, too, maybe mixed with the bourbon, or in the foam. I haven’t played with it yet. I’ll probably try to add some sort of saline element to bring out the flavor of the spinach. Adding those flavor-enhancing elements brings balance to the cocktail, but they bring out the flavors, too.”
No Place Like Home
Studer said The Culinary Vegetable Institute is the ideal outlet for creating, exploring and expanding the possibilities of innovative beverages.
“Look at all of the equipment we have upstairs,” she said. “No bar or restaurant has that kind of stuff. And the few that do are doing day to day service. Here we’re definitely not hampered by day to day service or a set menu. Our menu changes every time we do a dinner. It’s always different. That’s pretty uncommon. It really fuels my creativity and allows me to take a different approach to things all the time. You don’t get bored making the same old specialty Manhattan five hundred times. And it allows me to have some lead time beforehand to really perfect something before we present it to the public.”
“We’re really blessed to have all the fun toys and all the time to play with the toys, and a beautiful platform to showcase the fresh herbs and vegetables and all the other stuff,” she said. “It’s pretty unique. There’s no place like this in the country, that’s for sure.”
The best resources in the kitchen, though, are Chefs Jamie Simpson, Tristan Acevedo and Dario Torres, she said.
“I couldn’t work that equipment without them. I never would have tried that liquid nitrogen thing (potato tapioca pearls) if it wasn’t for Tristan’s help,” she said. “I’ve taken a lot of cues from the kitchen. It’s a beautiful moment in time here because you have all of these people with all this experience and high standards and level of expertise, and we’re all kind of mixing and melding a little bit together to make these unique experiences. Having the caliber of chefs that we have upstairs in the kitchen, they set a standard, and I’ve got to live up to that standard, too. They’re great teachers. That’s for sure.”
Practice Makes Perfect
Studer is first to admit that some experiments are more successful than others, and many take a few trials to perfect.
“I’ve definitely failed a few times at things,” she said. “Not everything works. And that’s OK. A lot of it is happenstance and chance and dumb luck, too. I’ve thrown stuff together that doesn’t taste good. And what do you do? I dump it and try again, you know? Rarely is my first attempt ever the final one. It’s always an evolving thing, right up until service. You never really know ‘til about five minutes before lineup.”
The best marker of success, Studer said, is honest feedback from longtime CVI guests.
“You know these people and you’ve formed these relationships,” she said. “To have them really give something a thumbs up, to have them be like ‘Hey, this is your best yet!’ ‘Hey, this is a killer pairing!’ ‘Hey, that didn’t quite work so well!” It’s not just some random Yelper off the street. The people who come all the time, who are supportive of me, who support what we do here ─ it gives you a good feeling. ‘Hey, I’m growing. Hey, I’m learning. Hey, we’re getting better!’ You don’t want to hit this plateau of the same old thing. No, we’re going to try and do it a little bit better.”
Dinner’s over and it’s time to figure out the tip. Is fifteen percent enough? How about twenty? Twenty five? Step away from the math.
At the Culinary Vegetable Institute, the gratuity equation always adds up to zero. And even though our top notch servers are totally worth it, we politely ask that our guests not tip them, because we firmly believe that is our responsibility.
“They can still make good money, but that’s purely based on tips,” said CVI Chef Jamie Simpson. “So the harder they work, the more tips they get. The more they sell, or upsell, the higher the check average, and the more tips they get. That model pushes employees to raise check averages for a business. That, I kind of understand. But if a business can’t afford to pay an hourly wage to their staff for whatever reason, then the pressure is on the guest to help cover that person’s salary with money, and that’s not fair to the guest. You can’t honestly expect the customer to pay for the salary of the person waiting on them, directly, discretionarily. It’s not a fair model. Because if a cook messed up a hamburger, a server’s not getting tipped or paid today? That’s not fair.”
Sharing the Love
Chef Jamie said the standard hospitality model is flawed because it doesn’t compensate contributions from other members of the restaurant staff who have a hand in serving the customer. So about a year ago, the CVI abandoned the old restaurant model and built a 20 percent service fee into event pricing.
“We decided to try and shape a model where everyone who contributed to the event was paid equitably,” Chef Jamie said. “The idea was, how do we build in a service fee that is equally distributed to the dishwasher and the front of house, maintenance and housekeeper? It’s an opportunity to tell our guests why we have it included, because it’s for the men and women that they don’t see that made a difference in their night.”
CVI Wine Steward Liz Studer echoed Chef Jamie’s thoughts on fair dissemination of the service fee. She calls it “sharing the love.”
“There’s a lot that goes into creating these events that people don’t see behind the scenes,” Studer said. “It’s not just the kitchen putting food on a plate, or a server dropping it off at your table or me pouring wine. It’s housekeepers and people moving tables and people washing dishes and people answering phones and greeting you at the host stand. Having the built-in service charge, we can then take that pool and distribute it between everyone who’s made the magic happen.”
“There’s a huge discrepancy in our business,” Studer continued. “You might have a prep cook working 12-hour days. And then you have a knowledgeable server coming in and working a 6-hour shift and walking away with $300 [in tips]. I think that is what this hospitality included is really trying to fix.”
Longtime CVI server Amy Bogard agreed it was high time to consider the contributions of everyone. “I feel very happy that the kitchen is compensated fairly,” she said. “I never felt good about that, just because of how much they do. All of the servers feel that way. We’ve talked about it. They work so much, and they’re here all week, and they’re invested. It’s something I think needed to be done a long time ago.”
Pros and Cons
Chef Jamie said the “hospitality included” system was a relatively easy sell among members of the CVI team. “It wasn’t hard for people to get behind at all,” he said. “That’s what I thought was going to be the hard part. We were worried about this crazy exodus or something like that. It’s definitely a road less traveled.”
That’s not to say the pay it forward process was completely friction-free, though.
“We’ve had turnover here since we’ve changed things,” Studer admitted. “You’ll have people that definitely leave, seasoned people who are used to getting their income in a certain way. It’s always a difficult thing. It’s hard for a lot of front of house people to swallow, because it’s so different from what you’re used to. You’re used to that tip on a $ bill. Maybe you’re tipping out the bar or tipping out the bussers, but the rest of that is your tip. It’s yours to keep, legally. With this model, you’re not going to see that same amount. It feels like a pay cut to a lot of people.”
The switch also necessitated upping ticket prices by 20 percent.
“People definitely felt a little bit of sticker shock in the beginning, because you’re not used to seeing that 20 percent already on top of it,” Studer said. “But if you go out to eat you’re paying that 20 percent, if you tip the full 20 percent. It takes getting used to. We’ve been doing it for over a year now, and we’ve only had one or two people we’ve had to explain it to.”
Besides leveling the playing field financially, Chef Jamie said, “Hospitality included” is also meant to enhance the guests’ overall experience.
“The best part is, at the end of the meal, nobody even has to see a check. They just get up and leave,” he said. “They’ve already paid for the event, sometimes weeks or months before. So there’s no bill. There’s no calculating money to put on the table and how much to leave the server because it’s already done. How psychologically great.”
The system is “psychologically great” for CVI servers, as well, according to Amy Bogard. Having the freedom to personally touch base with her table guests before they leave for the evening wasn’t always a luxury.
“For the servers it alleviates the stress,” Bogard said. “I feel like I can be more pleasant. I can take time to talk to them if they have any questions about the dinner. It’s certainly helped the flow and the relationship, I think, on both ends. Before, I couldn’t do that. I couldn’t wish them a safe drive or anything like that because I was so concerned about getting everything written up. This alleviates that hurdle.”
Putting a Price on Hospitality
So what can a CVI guest expect in return for their 20 percent up-front service fee?
“You’re here, you’re our guest, just like you’d be a guest in someone’s home,” Studer said. “We want you to feel comfortable, we want to make you feel welcome, like you’re a part of something magical.”
Hospitality is at its most magical when it goes unseen and unnoticed, according to Chef Jamie. “It doesn’t need to be like a show,” he said. “I don’t think hospitality has to be served in your face. It just happens. Somehow the silverware is completely different. I just had six pieces of flatware in front of me. We’ve eaten two courses, and then somehow, there’s more silverware on the table. I don’t need to notice that I’m out of water. And I don’t need to notice that the person is filling the water up. But as long as the water’s never empty – and somehow it’s never empty – that is perfect. That’s like magic. I love those touches like that.”
“I think hospitality doesn’t happen to you, it happens for you,” Chef Jamie continued. “Our servers are empowered to do anything they can to make someone’s night more magical.”
Conjuring that kind of magic takes real life practice though, so Studer routinely schedules training sessions to reinforce protocols and etiquette for CVI servers. The sessions include practical things (like which side of the guest to serve from), as well as communications tips to make guests feel welcome and at ease.
Making a guest feel welcome and comfortable is a responsibility that falls squarely on the shoulders of the servers, Studer said. “We’re the face. We’re the first person that the guest sees. A server is the first person that they’ll look to,” she said.
Amy Bogard takes that responsibility seriously. “I try to reassure them,” she said. “You are my table, I am here for you to take care of anything you need. You are my group. We’re a little family tonight. I think that’s another great thing about being here. We’re big enough to provide a big beautiful experience, but small enough to be personal and know our guests.”
Being as informed and prepared as possible goes a long way in engendering guests’ confidence, Studer said. That’s why CVI servers also convene prior to each event to go over the menu, and to sample the wine pairings for each course.
“Having a staff that’s knowledgeable, that feels supported from the ground up is very important to making people feel comfortable,” Studer said. “We’ll go through the guests at that time, too. Is it anybody’s birthday? What are people’s allergies? We’ll go through the list of people just to kind of know who’s in the dining room. You see a lot of very familiar names. We have a lot of clientele that are coming time and time again.”
No matter who is on the guest list or how many times they’ve visited, server Bogard said there is no hierarchy at the CVI. “Here, everybody is a VIP,” she said. “I always think everybody that comes in here is special. I’m going to treat everybody – that special table, the people that just come in for the first time, the people who’ve been here five times – as VIPs.”
“When people come here, it is a big thing for them,” Bogard continued. “Whether it’s an anniversary, whether there’s a special event that they’re celebrating, whether it’s just two parents with kids who just need to get out of the house for a night and are getting dressed up for the first time in six months. It is a big deal for them, just as much as it is for somebody celebrating their 50th anniversary. I think as a staff, overall, everybody kind of looks at it like that. Every single person that comes in here is important, and we want to give them the best experience possible.”
CVI hospitality even spills out into the parking lot.
“For most events there is a driver at some point in the parking lot, sitting in a limo or bus or something,” Chef Jamie said. “So we always prep up enough to make extra food. And when we see there’s a driver, it goes unsaid , we pack up one of each course in a to-go box and, at the end of the dinner, someone from the kitchen staff runs out with flatware and a bag and gives this person a $150 meal. They have no clue that there’s like, plated dishes in these little flat boxes. They’re beautifully composed and garnished and sauced and there are really nice plates in these things. We don’t do it for the thanks. We do it to say thank you.”
To help you experience the fullness of the Culinary Vegetable Institute and what it has to offer to chefs, diners, and other visitors and guests, we want to take you back in time, back before the Culinary Vegetable Institute existed in its present state. In fact, we’ll go back to when it didn’t exist at all, other than in a captivating glimmer in Mr. Bob’s eye.
To make that happen, we invite you to enter our virtual time machine. What it looks like, specifically, is up to you and your imagination – but, because it’s connected to the Culinary Vegetable Institute, you can rest assured it’s got the latest and greatest in cutting-edge equipment and gadgets, welcoming and comfortable, providing you with an experience like nothing you’ve ever experienced before (or likely will experience, ever again!). Plus, no matter how many of you climb into the time machine, two things are certain:
There is enough room for everyone and for his or her perspectives.
Each of you will have your own unique and marvelous journey.
Now, folks, let’s step back in time. (Be careful! This first step in the time machine is set a bit high—but that’s okay because, at the Culinary Vegetable Institute, everyone shares a helpful hand.)
Here goes . . .
“Well, Dad,” Farmer Lee said, “the good news is that we’ve got a couple of new chefs who want to tour our farm tomorrow. Fortunately, I was able to get them rooms at a hotel that isn’t too far away.”
“Oh,” Mr. Bob said. “Oh . . . that’s, um, good.”
“Dad?” Farmer Lee said, a bit concerned. “Is something wrong? You seem a bit, I don’t know. I bit distracted.”
“It’s nothing,” Mr. Bob said. “I was just thinking how wonderful it would be if. Well, if. Oh, never mind.”
“Tell me, Dad.”
“Really, Lee. It’s nothing. And, as you know, these fields sure don’t plow themselves.”
“Dad! We’ll get to the fields in a minute. Nothing you think about is ever ‘nothing.’ Nothing!”
“Okay. If you insist. Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could build a place where chefs could stay? I mean, build it right here. They could visit us, we could show them what’s growing in our fields in that exact moment in time, and then they could bring the produce back into an incredible kitchen, and just play, play until they got tired. They could sleep here, and then get up to play all over again.”
Wow. Just wow. As you might imagine, as the fields got plowed that day, visions of culinary sugarplums danced in many, many heads in Huron, Ohio.
And that, my friends, is how the seeds of the Culinary Vegetable Institute, affectionately known as the CVI, came to be planted.
“We’d been bringing chefs out to the farm for years,” Farmer Lee explains, “and, after they’d tour the farm, we’d make sure they had nice hotel rooms. But, with Dad’s vision – one we called a one-year plan that took ten years to bring to fruition – we now had a place where the most forward-thinking, open-minded chefs could experience the farm and our amazing produce, while playing with the latest and greatest in tools and toys for chefs, experimenting without limitation and without any expectations over outcomes.”
Lee compares the CVI to a Willy Wonka factory for chefs, a world where pure imagination can—and does—flourish. Willy Wonka’s world, as you might remember, was filled with incredible shapes and sounds and colors and contraptions, and so is the Culinary Vegetable Institute.
And, thanks to the magic of YouTube, you can re-remember what Willa Wonka’s magic was like.
Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory - Pure Imagination Scene (4/10) | Movieclips - YouTube
“The reality is that chefs become chefs,” Lee says, “because they love the magic of food, of being creative. But, the more successful they get, the more they find themselves spending time dealing with HR, PR, and just about any and every other acronym dreamed up, leaving little time for what brought them to the craft in the first place. And, when they come to the Culinary Vegetable Institute, they can return to the roots of their passion, to the source of what brought them to this industry in the first place: their ability to create.”
Lee remembers when a very well-known chef brought two sous chefs with him to the CVI. “As they were tasting product,” Lee said, “this amazing chef’s hands were literally shaking. He said that he felt like a kid in a candy shop, saying his mind was ready to explode with new ideas.”
One of the chefs at the CVI, Tristan Acevedo, wholeheartedly understands. “I remember when I first walked into the Culinary Vegetable Institute,” he said, “and I instantly knew that I was in the happiest place on earth. As a line cook, the romance of cooking can quickly get lost in the day-to-day grunge, but the CVI is a unique opportunity, one like no other.”
Reasons why, Tristan says, include the following:
the respect you receive and the workplace culture
the luxurious opportunity to really pause and consider all the nuances of an ingredient or process
the chance to exercise different parts of your brain, to let cooking be an intellectual yet creative pursuit
the ability to NOT become boxed in
“Cooking, at its highest form,” Tristan says, “is both physically stimulating and mentally tantalizing, and the CVI provides a sort of elevator that allows cooks to reach a level of expressive experimentation that, in other environments, may take 10 to 15 years to achieve.”
And, before we move on, here is what one guest chef, Amanda Cohen from New York City’s award-winning Dirt Candy restaurant, shared with us. Chef Amanda was the first vegetarian chef to appear on Iron Chef America, when she and Chef Masaharu Morimoto went head to head using the unforgettably incredible cruciferous vegetable, broccoli.
Amanda first heard about the CVI when buying fresh vegetables from The Chef’s Garden. “These vegetables are just amazing,” she says, “and we began talking about how I could make my way to the CVI.” And, make it she did, creating a fabulous meal at the CVI.
She has no one particular favorite vegetable from The Chef’s Garden, but she loves the baby versions. “They are teeny, tiny, and so cute that you want to snuggle up with them,” she says, adding that she imagines the miniature vegetables being harvested by adorable, magical elves.
Nuts and Bolts of the CVI’s Creation
We’ll now briefly return to the story of how the CVI came to be.
Farmer Lee notes that the Culinary Vegetable Institute could not have become a reality without the support of numerous amazing chefs, including Thomas Keller, Charlie Trotter, Daniel Boulud, Alain Ducasse, Ed Brown, Jean-Georges Vongerichten, and others.
“We’d taken the blueprints for the CVI to New York,” Lee remembers, “and people were blown away by the idea. They lent their names to the project, served on our advisory board, and helped to solicit so much kitchen equipment and more that all was literally donated. Even today, companies that produce for chefs make sure we have the sexiest toys at the CVI, a place that serves as the symbiosis site for chefs and farmers.”
This culinary center was designed so that there are no barriers between the kitchen and the great room, and you’re welcome to stroll into the kitchen at any time. “I must warn you, though,” Lee adds, “if you’re there for more than three minutes, you won’t get kicked out—in fact, you’ll be embraced—but you may also be asked to put on an apron and join in the fun.”
The CVI is a melting pot, one where passionate people meet others who are equally as excited, people who are down to earth and approachable. “I hear so many stories about people who connect when they come together at the CVI in ways I can’t necessarily explain,” Lee adds. “There is just so much in this world that we just don’t understand.”
Vegetable Showcases: These feature one family of vegetables, harvested at the peak of its season, where chefs explore every possible iteration of the plant. Our CVI team will use every part at every stage of its life in preparing flavors, textures and temperatures that are both familiar and wildly inventive.
Uncorked Food Wine Pairings: This allows us the opportunity to look at the world of food and wine pairing from the perspective of the quintessential vegetable farm. Vegetables are moving toward the center of the plate, with flavors, textures and cooking methods that play a significant role in the overall impression of a dish.
Chef Jamie shares just one way he and his team implement a zero-waste policy. “We don’t really peel vegetables. We wash and scrub. If we had peels, hypothetically, we would use them. With all of those peels, we would dehydrate them. That does a couple of things. It lowers the volume for us, it allows us to use them whenever we want to. It does not require a resource like a freezer. They’d be chucked into a bigger bag or box. And, as they increase, that dried peel ─ carrot peel, onion skins, celery peels, garlic root, whatever random parts and pieces ─ end up in what we call our dried mirepoix. And dried mirepoix gets fortified into stocks and broths.”
Now, THAT is zero waste.
Rainbow of Perspectives
The CVI reminds us of the ancient folk tale of India that shared how six men, born blind, had an intense curiosity about elephants. These men were told, according to the Peace Corps, that elephants could “trample forests, carry huge burdens, and frighten young and old with their loud trumpet calls.”
Why, then, did the Rajah allow his beloved daughter to ride such a creature? One decided that the elephant must be a powerful giant, while another said this creature must surely be graceful, gentle enough to allow a princess to ride on its back. The third one warned that the elephant’s horn was so sharp that it could pierce a man’s heart—while a fourth explained that an elephant was really an oversized cow, with tall tales created by people who loved to exaggerate.
The fifth was sure that the elephant was magical, while the sixth one questioned the existence of this animal at all. The village grew tired of their bickering and led the men to an elephant that they could actually touch. That, unfortunately, didn’t end the debate because each of the men touched the elephant in a place that confirmed already-held perspectives.
The man who’d thought the elephant must be a powerful giant touched the immense side of this mammoth-sized animal, confirming his perspective. The man who envisioned a graceful animal touched the elephant’s limber trunk, while the man who warned of a sharp spear touched the pointed tusk. So, both men continued to believe what they originally thought.
The fourth man, who believed an elephant was an oversized cow, touched a leg, confirming his belief. The fifth, who thought the elephant was magical, touched an ear, and imagined a magic carpet flying over mountains, while the sixth–who questioned the existence of the elephant— touched the tail and envisioned a piece of rope.
We’ve discovered that different people appreciate different aspects of the CVI, just as these men did with the elephant – and here’s more interpretations for you to consider.
Chef Jamie Simpson Shares Insights
Yes, he says, the CVI has a world-class kitchen with a dynamite staff and a beautiful event center. Yes, the garden is shaped like Farmer Lee’s bow tie and, yes, the light shines beautifully into the private dining room. Chef Jamie also suggests that sharing feedback from interns at the CVI is illuminating, so here are snippets:
“As a volunteer in my first few visits to the CVI, I loved walking around the corner past the stairs and into the kitchen. It was a moment of anticipation and excitement. I knew that, every time I turned that corner, something different was going on in the kitchen: new faces, new foods, new products, sometimes people I had only read about and dreamt of meeting, with genuine hospitality and warm welcomes. It has always felt like a second home.”
Another intern noted the following, among other stream-of-consciousness impressions: the glow of the greenhouse, morning coffee, the anticipation of people walking around that corner, opportunities to teach and share and exchange thoughts, picking flavors from the front garden, the fireplace, the dinner bell, plating art, the sound of sweeping, rotating frames of bees, muddy boots, muddy pigs, ramp season, morel season, walnut season, asparagus season, tomato season, slow food, shadows, light and more.
“The CVI,” Lee adds, “brings people and their ideas together, like-minded people who share trials and tribulations, and celebrate successes. The potential for collaboration is magnified as people discover new and interesting ways to connect with one another in an environment that isn’t pretentious or uptight. Chefs and other professionals who are under so much pressure in their daily lives unwind in the beauty of nature.”
Finally, we’ll close with thoughts from another CVI chef, Dario Torres.
“Welcome to a place,” Chef Dario says, “where everything is edible. Everything wants to be sampled. The garden is longing to be consumed. Her motto is ‘try me.’ Who knew mere leaves could carry so many flavors?” (Does anyone else notice echoes of Farmer Lee’s Willy Wonka comparison here??)
“Here,” Dario continues, “the potentiality is prized more than the actuality, it is given preference. It is necessary for some sort of actuality to materialize in order to have something to serve. But the potentiality holds sway. Potentiality in two ways: before the creation begins, and once a plate is sent out. Whatever elements went onto that plate still retain their power of potentiality, to be expressed another time, with another dish. But that one tomato can never be set on the table again. Other tomatoes, equal tomatoes, but never the same tomato.
“It’s not a question of whether there is something more. It’s a statement that there is something more, and we are on the chase.”
We Invite You to Join in the Conversation
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Chefs for a Day Join CVI Valentine’s Day Dinner Team
Amanda Yoho cashed in her Christmas gift certificate and spent February 9th as “Chef for a Day” at the Culinary Vegetable Institute. Amanda shared the experience with her boyfriend, David Stopher, who surprised her during the holidays with the opportunity to be part of the CVI kitchen team.
The two Clevelanders, who work in the software and tech industries, share an interest in food and cooking together, particularly on Saturdays. “Saturdays are when we do our more adventurous dinners,” Amanda said, adding that they like to challenge their culinary acumen by cooking dishes and recipes from other countries, cuisines and cultures. As a result, their Saturdays often include trips to Cleveland’s West Side Market to hunt for ingredients and ideas.
“We bought a whole fish at the West Side Market and put it on a salt block and tried to figure out how that would work,” David said. “I can remember we did a duck confit that Amanda put together that was really good. There was coq au vin that we tried at home. We try to do a lot of different things. Some of them go better than others, but it’s all part of the process.”
A Whole Different Beast
Amanda and David said they enjoy entertaining and cooking meals for friends, so they were excited to share the love and help cook a romantic Valentine’s Day dinner for the happy couples seated throughout the CVI dining room.
“It’s fun for the two of us to have a dinner and sit down and make something that we really enjoy,” Amanda said. “But it’s a whole different beast to sit down and invite eight friends over and try to make some kind of a dinner that works, and the timing is okay. It adds a whole different angle of complexity. So that’s actually another really cool thing about coming here. You not only get to see what it’s like to make dinner for you, but for you and twenty other people.”
David and Amanda knew ahead of time that their kitchen skills would be held to high standards. “We came to the dinner [at the CVI] last night,” David said. “So, we know how it is supposed to look.”
Amanda said she fully appreciated the attention to detail required to assemble such intricately composed plates.
“When we cook at home, we definitely pay attention to things like plating or finishing stuff,” she said. “We did have a small dinner party with a couple of friends, and I remember very distinctly that I had finished putting some things on a plate, and one of our friends went to help take the plates to where we were sitting to eat, and David went ‘Oh, no! No! No! No! She has to sprinkle something onto it first!’”
A Little of Everything
Buttoned into crisp white chef’s coats and black aprons, with intense looks of concentration on their faces, Amanda and David worked elbow to elbow with the rest of the kitchen team, led by Chef Tristan Acevedo and Chef Dario Torres. They had a hand in preparing and plating every course on the menu, cracking lobster shells for lobster bisque, and flashing their knife skills by thinly slicing New York strip steaks for the main entree. “I’m going to be a little bit nervous to see how it goes when things start coming out that we had a hand in,” Amanda said. “I’m going to be like, ‘I hope we didn’t mess that up’ because we’re not going to be the ones that get blamed for that.”
They manned plating stations, helped assemble and garnish, ran plates from the warmer and even learned to use some of the CVI’s high-tech equipment. “There’s a lot of really scientific and techie kinds of things that happen in a kitchen that you might not otherwise expect until you really get in there,” Amanda said.
“We came here looking for some insight and an experience of what it’s like to be a professional chef,” David said. “The chefs have been great here, sharing some of the science behind what they’re doing. Unless you have an outfitted commercial kitchen in your house, you’re not going to have this experience.”
“What we’re really looking for is to push the boundaries of what we know,” Amanda added. “It’s nice to keep learning and find new and interesting things that you can do.”
Beyond kitchen skills, Amanda and David’s education included farm-fresh vegetables, herbs, edible flowers and edible leaves from The Chef’s Garden, as well. “The ingredients here are more interesting versions of the stuff that I see in the grocery store,” Amanda said. “The carrots are in five different colors and are really tasty and interesting. The Brussels sprouts are green and purple and tiny and look perfect. I’m just not used to seeing it in such a raw but still beautiful and interesting form.”
The Icing on the Cake
The dessert course was an extra added bonus for the couple as they had the good fortune to work alongside visiting guest pastry Chef Melania Castegnaro of Washington D.C.’s Ridgewells Catering. The couple helped Chef Melania assemble the elements of her elaborate “Textures of Chocolate” creation, which included pliable chocolate ganache, pistachio mousse, warm chocolate cake, aerated chocolate, chocolate tart, passionfruit sorbet, vanilla Pop Rocks candies, Chef’s Garden citrus lace, citrus begonia and chocolate mint, and an edible love note.
“Working with Melania and getting a chance to be able to interact with the visiting chef has been really cool,” Amanda said. “You could really see her passion for the dessert. When we first got there, she was like ‘Taste this! Taste this! Taste this!’ So, we got to eat a bunch of chocolate as soon as we got down here this morning.”
As part of Amanda’s Christmas gift experience, David also reserved two nights in the CVI’s Chef’s Suite.
Both Amanda and David said their Chef for a Day experience far exceeded their expectations. “We knew it was going to be a delicious meal, and we knew we were going to get to see some really cool stuff in the kitchen,” Amanda said. “But, really, since we got here yesterday, everybody has been so friendly and so welcoming. It’s just like being at someone’s house for a dinner party or just hanging out friends.”
By evening’s end, the couple looked spent, but energized. “I guess we did okay,” David said. “We didn’t get any complaints, and nobody sent anything back.”
“And we both still have all of our appendages!” Amanda said with a laugh.
If your rice is covered in mold, it’s garbage, right? Or is it?
That depends upon the mold. If it’s aspergillus, you’re probably onto something good.
Aspergillus is a fungus whose spores are present in the air we breathe. And, rice that is inoculated with aspergillus becomes koji ─ the essential fermenting agent for making miso, a staple in Chinese and Japanese food cultures for thousands of years.
What is Miso, Really?
Traditionally, miso is made from fermenting soy beans. Once the peas and koji are combined with water and salt, the mixture is shaped into balls, pressed into a crock, covered and stored for years at a time until it is ready to use.
From a health standpoint, miso and other fermented foods such as yogurt and sauerkraut are rich sources of probiotics that enhance digestion and improve gut health.
The process of preparing hand-made miso hasn’t changed much since its ancient origins, except now you can buy packaged koji on Amazon.com, and you have the help of time-saving kitchen gizmos like an Irinox® blast chiller to quick chill the miso mixture, and a Pacojet® processer to whiz it into a silky smooth paste. “This is where ten thousand years of tradition meet ten years of equipment,” said Culinary Vegetable Institute Chef Jamie Simpson.
Tradition aside, Chef Jamie said you can miso just about anything.
TCG: What are you using today?
JS: Carolina Gold rice and Sea Island red peas, both from our partner Anson Mills®.
TCG: So, what is koji, exactly?
JS: It’s a firm, granular aspergillus grown on wet rice, then dried and packed.
TCG: What else have you miso-d?
JS: We did celery root and white soybean. We did pine nuts.
TCG: How long did it take until you could use it?
JS: It took about a year, and then lasted about three years.
TCG: Besides soup, which pretty much everyone has heard of, how else can you use miso?
JS: You can use it for marinades, rubs, sauces. It’s added as a glutamate to a lot of things.
JS: That umami taste.
TCG: How long did you ferment the batch you’re using today?
JS: We made it December 12, 2016. So, a little over two years.
TCG: When you took off the cover, it was moldy and, frankly, it looked pretty gross.
JS: You have to cover the surface to inhibit surface mold, but you’re always going to get some. But it’s not like black mold.
TCG: Is it safe to eat, even after you’ve scraped it off?
JS: Of course.
TCG: It seemed like you put a ton of salt into it.
JS: In China and Japan, they originally used salt to preserve it. Then the aspergillus did what it does, and it just got better over time.
TCG: Is it supposed to be super salty?
JS: It won’t be. When all of the sugars come out of the beans, it’s balanced.
TCG: How do you know when it’s ready to use?
JS: If you open it too soon, it smells like fingernail polish.
If someone says, “Wow, that meal really tasted great!” we know exactly what he or she means—and we’d probably be tempted to try those same dishes ourselves. The same is true when someone says that a dish “just didn’t taste right,” making it more likely that we’d not order something else off the menu.
And, in this post, Culinary Vegetable Institute Chef Jamie Simpson helps us to reverse engineer what “tasting great” really means. He’ll also share how he looks at flavor profiles and food texture development as he creates dishes that range from iconic ones to those that introduce a brand-new way to look at an ingredient. And, whether the dish being made is a classic one or one that pushes the culinary envelope, step one is always to toss out any stereotypes about the ingredients.
“Each time that one of us picks up a carrot, for example, in the CVI kitchen,” Jamie says, “I always remind them to throw preconceived notions out the window and to look at the carrot as if it’s the very first time they’d even seen one. If we decide we’re going to make carrot juice, it doesn’t have to include ginger. If we’re thinking about how the carrot might look on the plate, we don’t have to automatically picture orange.”
This means that Jamie and his team look at every single element of each and every plant being used, which can include seed, root/tuber, stem, leaf, bloom, stamen and fruit. They look at flavor affinities and how each flavor can be experienced while putting together combinations of ingredients for a dish, deciding what applications to use, and planning what dishes to include on a menu. “Then,” he adds, imagination kicks in and we get busy in the kitchen.”
To illustrate, Jamie suggests we look at the Vegetable Showcase Series at the Culinary Vegetable Institute. Each of these events spotlights one family of vegetables, where highlighted ingredients are placed on the highest pedestal. The Culinary Vegetable Institute team then considers traditional and non-traditional pairings for each of the dishes in this multi-course meal from these categories:
Although we’ll be exploring food texture in much more detail later in this post, for now we’ll note how preparation affects texture, and preparation methods that the Culinary Institute team considers includes (but is definitely not limited to):
“So,” Jamie explains, “for the spinach Vegetable Showcase dinner, we’d look at what vegetables and other ingredients live well with spinach and the different ways that we can develop them texturally to include both classic dishes—iconic ones that people can readily relate to—as well as ones that introduce diners to less familiar ways to use the ingredient.”
He uses saag , a popular Indian dish, to describe how he might introduce a less familiar dish to diners in a way that would still offer appealing flavors and textures. Traditionally, in saag, the spinach is cooked down until it’s basically mush. “This isn’t,” he says, “a delightful texture for most people in the United States.”
So, if he added stewed chicken and diced paneer cheese to his dish, he would then add fried spinach on top of the saag to add another layer of flavor and texture. “The fried spinach,” Jamie shares, “create a fun interaction and an element of surprise to the saag.”
This brings up another point—that what’s considered appealing flavor and enticing food texture is culture-specific. If someone grew up in a culture where saag was expected to be mushy, for example, they wouldn’t necessarily need the fried spinach on top (although they may still enjoy the surprise). “It’s important to push a bit with new textures,” Jamie says, “while also connecting people to what they enjoy.”
At the Vegetable Showcase event that highlighted spinach, held in January 2019, Jamie and his team ultimately combined slow-roasted lamb shoulder with saag, paneer, puffed amaranth, yogurt sauce and, of course, fried spinach. That was course five of a seven-course meal, one that:
opened with a spinach salad with olive, walnut, balsamic vinegar, salt pork, raw mushroom, red onion, hard-boiled egg and croutons
followed by a cracker and dip course, with the dip using artichoke, spinach and cheese
included a soup course with crème fraiche, caviar and warm spinach oil
had, as course four, a dish with oysters, clam and creamed spinach, plus mullet, tobacco onion, and spinach juice foam
included, as course six, white chocolate condensed milk
ended with a lemon grass and spinach dish that featured spinach cake, pink peppercorn, beet macaroon and toasted coconut
“When creating these dishes,” Jamie adds, “we gracefully push tradition aside in some of our more unusual dishes, while still adhering to what ingredient combinations we know will work on a chemical level. We also look for opportunities to add in elements of nostalgia to each of our menus.”
Balancing Flavor Profiles
Last year, at the Culinary Vegetable Institute, we shared insights into flavor using the metaphor of a dinner plate as a teeter-totter. To make a teeter-totter work as intended, riders must sit on opposite ends, right-sized to create a sense of balance. And, the same is true when it comes to balancing flavors: too much of one or too little of another can cause the dish to go off balance. So, it’s important to consider the five fundamental tastes (and, if you’d like, two additional ones):
When a dish is too spicy, you can boost sweetness to bring the dish back into balance. Or, if the dish is too sweet, adding something sour can be the solution. Too bitter? Add a salty ingredient.
And, here is how Jamie likes to look at the balancing of flavors. “A single dish might have five ingredients on it,” he says. “Look at those like notes as a chord. Each ingredient is a note. Each bite is a chord. Each dish is a song. The entire dinner as a whole? That is your album.”
He adds how you need to take temperature, mouthfeel and aroma into consideration, as well, and also achieve the right amount of salinity. “Know when to under-season and when to season more aggressively and make conscious decisions with texture and temperature.”
In that 2018 post, we shared some of Jamie’s favorite balanced pairings, and they bear repeating. They include:
As part of creative flavor development, Jamie loves to consider a culturally classic staple—say, potato salad—and imagine different forms this staple can exist in. Experimentation needs to come in as far as quantities of each ingredient used in proportion to what else will exist in the dish. “You may discover,” he says, “that you need to really tone down one ingredient, so it doesn’t obliterate another, being especially careful in the application.”
Food Rheology and Texture
“Rheology” is a word that describes the consistency of a particular material and how it flows, and it’s a relevant concept when describing how a substance will behave in a dish. At one extreme, water flows easily and quickly, while ketchup needs a shake, press or push to move. And, because food rheology is so closely tied with the concept of food texture, we decided to bring you information from around the web on food rheology and texture.
FoodCrumbles.com, for example, dives into the concept of rheology and shares the definition of a related term: viscosity. This is the resistance of a material upon application of a certain stress; high viscosity materials are thicker than thin ones, for example, with honey having a higher value than water. Viscosity depends upon temperature for most materials, including sauces with a low viscosity when warm and a higher one when cooled down.
And, here’s a related concept, this one well explained in Popular Science: psychorheology. This is how we perceive a food’s rheology and, to understand this concept, the writer asks us to envision sour candy coated in a rough sugar. You’ve seen that before, right?
The reason that’s done is because people perceive rougher foods as being sourer, even though the actual taste itself isn’t different. Although in everyday language, we might use the words “flavor” and “taste” as though they mean the same thing, “taste” is how we register sweet notes, sour ones and so forth through chemical sensors located on our tongues. Flavor, though, is the “entire experience of the taste, the smell, and the textural properties. When you play with texture, you’re playing with flavor.”
According to the Texture Analysis Professionals blog, “texture is often considered the poor relation of taste and smell (US research found that textural awareness was often subconscious).” The blog post goes on to say, though, that people typically take texture for granted until it’s wrong, such as when someone bites into “gummy mashed potatoes, leathery dried apples, and limp celery.” Then, the “way they feel on the tongue, lips, hard palate, or teeth—is offputting.”
Telegraph.com offers more insights into food texture, calling it the “most important element of our cooking,” second only to seasoning. It serves as the “delivery mechanism for flavour,” with a good meal mixing up “things that snap and things that melt or flow.” Additional examples include that:
“Graininess is desirable in parmesan, but a disaster in hollandaise.”
“Waxy potatoes are divine but waxy chocolate is horrid.”
Good texture includes a “joyous wobble of a good jelly and the glossy plumpness of a triple-cooked mushroom.”
Bad texture includes “sauces that turn from velvet to corduroy, of bitty consommé and meat stewed to a rag.”
FOODStuff South Africa, meanwhile, shares how texture is actually essential to identifying foods. They quote a study in ScienceDirect.com that revealed how only 40.7 percent of participants could accurately identify what they were eating when the foods had been pureed and strained. Removing textural cues, then, significantly changes the tasting experience.
The most sought-after notes of texture include, the post says:
Least appreciated textures include:
And, Jamie reminds us again that, when it comes to food texture, cultural expectations matter. In the United States, he says, we might use aloe in a smoothie, bringing other textures alongside of it while, in other cultures, you might get a whole bowl of aloe. In the United States, you usually can’t go as far with bitter flavors as you might in another culture because Americans just don’t perceive this flavor profile in the same way as people might in other cultures.
At the Heart of it All: The Right Ingredients
We invite you to register for one of the upcoming events at the Culinary Vegetable Institute as we provide unique dishes and menus that show the limitless possibilities that exist when chefs and farms work in synchronicity. Events include our Valentine’s Day event where you can cozy up next to the one you love to enjoy a romantic dinner, with our roaring fireplace, candle-lit dining room and a special menu of culinary classics.
Or, what about our March 9th Vegetable Showcase event featuring farm-fresh carrots and potatoes? That night, we will explore the possible and the seemingly possible alike! We’ve love to see you there.
“Zero waste” is a buzzword that is popping up more and more frequently in conversations about minimizing the volume of trash we generate as individuals, groups and societies. In the CVI kitchen and many others, zero waste is not, nor has it ever been, a trend. It’s an intentional, conscientious strategy to stretch budgets and be good stewards of the environment. But, just as importantly, maintaining zero waste in the kitchen presents chefs with a continuous creative challenge. What can we do with this?
Culinary Vegetable Institute Chef Jamie Simpson could be the poster boy for zero waste; he’s that passionate about it.
“We have several lines of defense before anything is garbage,” Chef Jamie said. “First, is it recyclable? Then, obviously, we’ll recycle it. Is this container usable for something else, long term? Okay, that’s an easy solution for a usable container. You look at food waste, ask is this edible? Is it delicious? That, then, goes back to guests in some way. Is it nutritious, say, for pigs? Then it’s going to go to the pigs. Is it compostable? And then, if it’s none of those things, it’s garbage. Which is nothing.”
(Chef Jamie and his staff maintain a drift of hogs ─ eleven currently with a litter imminent ─ to not only consume kitchen scraps, but to provide pork products for CVI events.)
How Little Things Can Add Up to Zero
Creative zero waste solutions come about gradually, and you don’t need to raise your own hogs to do it.
“If you’re at home, or if you’re a small restaurant with a real tight staff, or even a big restaurant, and you take just a single item, one waste item, and you explore the practical applications with that item ─ that’s where the CVI’s strengths are in that new ideation concept,” he said.
“We don’t really peel vegetables,” Chef Jamie said. “We wash and scrub. If we had peels, hypothetically, we would use them. With all of those peels, we would dehydrate them. That does a couple of things. It lowers the volume for us, it allows us to use them whenever we want to. It does not require a resource like a freezer. They’d be chucked into a bigger bag or box. And, as they increase, that dried peel ─ carrot peel, onion skins, celery peels, garlic root, whatever random parts and pieces ─ end up in what we call our dried mirepoix. And dried mirepoix gets fortified into stocks and broths.”
Potato consommé, for example, is essentially potato stock made from steeping dried potato peels and a few other ingredients in water, like tea.
“We don’t throw away potato peels,” Chef Jamie said. “We essentially dehydrate them, but we dress them in a little bit of oil, and then we’ll bake them at a low temperature till they’re golden brown. Then we steep them in just enough water to cover them, and it makes this really amazing baked potato consommé.” (The spent peels go to the pigs, of course.)
The consommé can be incorporated any number of ways ─ as cooking liquid or potato glaze, or as a rich potato-flavored broth for gnocchi made from the peeled potatoes.
“It’s a more intense potato flavor that adds another layer of potato-y potato-ness. And it’s important,” Chef Jamie said. “Those are little things that won’t show up on a menu. They’re things that guests will never know, but will experience.”
Chef Jamie said communicating the virtues of re-purposed food takes finesse when presenting the concept to CVI guests.
“We talk about it in the dining room all the time,” he said. “The way you deliver that is really important because you’re almost saying, ‘we’re feeding you garbage.’ So instead of saying that we took food scraps and turned them into sauce, we say we consider the entire ingredient as delicious and appropriate to use instead of considering it as waste.”
Foraging For New Ideas
Foraging for plants on the wooded CVI grounds is another unique opportunity to thwart waste. The property is rife with a broad range of edible mushrooms, “But the big ones get fibrous,” Chef Jamie explained. “Technically edible. Texturally impossible.”
So when he was presented with a forest floor full of the “big ones,” he and his team took to the woods and gathered nearly 20 pounds of overgrown fungi.
“It just so happened that that week the Noma book came out, and we got our copy of it,” he said, referring to The Noma Guide to Fermentation. “We were flipping through it and there’s Dryad’s Saddle shoyu. It’s this pheasant-back mushroom that we had tons of. And when they get big, they get really hard and chewy. And we were like, this is perfect!”
Perfect for what? Fermented mushroom water, of course. “It’s essentially made from the property, using Aspergillus and koji to help in the fermentation process, and making a fermented mushroom water, which is like our soy sauce,” Chef Jamie explained.
The concoction was left to ferment in the CVI root cellar from October until Christmas, then was filtered with all of its liquid extracted from the remaining mushroom pulp. “It’s rich and aromatic and umami all day,” he said. But the experiment wasn’t over yet.
“Now the question is, what do you do with the pulp? Now, what? We have three liters of the stuff,” he said. “You could certainly stop here. We just turned a beautiful product into something that’s completely usable ─ a 100 percent entirely edible, drinkable, rich liquid. Now we have two and a half pounds of pulp left. What do you do with it? It’s salty. It’s obviously fermented. It’s got this great aroma. Texturally, it’s pulp. So we dehydrated it and ground it into a really fine flour, and it’s going to be our mushroom powder for the year.”
He said the mushroom powder can be used to flavor pastas and marinades, as a dry curing or aging rub, or as “seasoning for anything.”
Riding the Wave
“Tristan calls it riding the wave. And I like that,” Chef Jamie said, referring to CVI Chef Tristan Acevedo. “You get this product in, and then it becomes something, and then it becomes something else, and then it becomes something else. But, meanwhile, to become that something else you had to get something else to make it something else, and now you have overage of that something else. There’s this constant evolution that just doesn’t end. There’s never no inventory. And inventory is always becoming more inventory as long as you stick to those principles of what else? Or now, what?”
At the end of the day, though, Chef Jamie said that the very best zero waste solution is planning ahead.
“The best way to avoid finding ways to utilize waste is an hour of planning before,” he said. “Go through your refrigerator and look at your inventory. Know who you’re cooking for. In restaurants it’s the only way to operate. You place orders based on inventory. The entire system operates on that, ideally.”
Plant to Plate | Gnocchi with Vegetable Peel Consommé - YouTube
Extracting all of the usable potential from every single vegetable is a daily goal and primary mission for Culinary Vegetable Institute Chef Jamie Simpson. Adhering to a “zero waste” philosophy requires unwavering adherence to waste-reducing kitchen practices. But the challenge doesn’t stop there. Chef Jamie and his staff don’t just use everything. They transform ingredients that many others would toss in the trash. In this Plant to Plate feature, Chef Jamie makes a potato gnocchi recipe and, rather than discarding the peels, he uses them to infuse the dish with another layer of intense potato flavor.
Whether it’s “root to tip” or “snout to tail,” making the most, literally, of every food resource is what makes the Culinary Vegetable Institute kitchen hum. Even when it comes to a few humble potatoes, it all boils down to sustainability.
TCG: How do you implement zero waste solutions?
JS: We have several lines of defense before anything is garbage. First, is it recyclable? Then, obviously, we’ll recycle it. Is this container usable for something else, long term? Okay, that’s an easy solution for a usable container. You look at food waste, and ask, is this edible? Is it delicious? That then goes back to guests in some way. Is it nutritious? Say, for pigs? Then it’s going to go to the pigs. Is it compostable? And then, if it’s none of those things, it’s garbage. Which is nothing.
TCG: So, how are potato peels not pig food?
JS: We make this really amazing baked potato consommé for gnocchi that’s made from the peeled potatoes.
TCG: In what ways do you prevent waste coming into the kitchen?
JS: Some suppliers, we just don’t use. Not because of the product, but because of the packaging. It’s like, Styrofoam packing peanuts in a four-foot box for a 6 oz. item, and there are four boxes and they’re Styrofoam lined.
TCG: What waste-saving solutions do you think would help with that?
JS: I’m digging the corn starch packing peanuts. Because they’re completely edible, I don’t feel bad about it going out and getting rained on, because it’s just turning into a cornstarch slurry and becomes food for some microbes. I’m into it. I’ve seen a couple of companies really going hard with those.
TCG: What about non-vegetable foods? How do you avoid waste with, say, meat?
JS: So, I honestly hate beef tenderloin. I hate it. And it’s a prime cut that is coveted by a lot of people. And it gets a lot per pound, and I have no interest in it. I’ll take a cow full of bones over a cow’s weight in tenderloins. Seriously. Delicious. Even something as delicious as offal, or less than prime cuts. What is garbage? If I’m serving other ingredients that I think are just as delicious or more interesting or more whatever, to someone else that’s garbage? Who gets to make those calls?
TCG: Have you ever tried to extend the potential of something that didn’t work?
JS: We tried a 40-gallon crock of pickles, and we just kept adding other stuff to it. It was a huge crock. But it wasn’t even fit for pigs. It was a really big experiment that seemed reasonably safe. It didn’t work. And it was a lot of food waste. And we couldn’t use it as compost because it would kill all the microbial growth. It confirmed our commitment to experimenting in small batches, but to really go hard when you know it’s scalable.
TCG: What if you do have a whole lot of something? How do you handle the volume?
JS: For example, we brought in palettes of pumpkins for the Roots conference (in September). There were a couple pumpkins that rotted early, so some of the soft pumpkins went to pigs, some rotten pumpkins went to compost, and the good pumpkins went to guests. And we just threw one away. And it was a good one for a long time and then I stuck my finger through it and it grossed me out.
Potato Gnocchi Recipe
For the gnocchi:
Peel 6-7 medium potatoes. Set peels aside.
Quarter the peeled potatoes and boil in salted water until tender.
Strain cooked potatoes into a mesh sieve and gently break them up to dispel moisture and preserve fluffy texture.
Work potatoes through the sieve with a silicone spatula onto a lightly floured countertop.
Whisk two eggs in a bowl held over the steam from the potato water, to warm them.
Grate ½ c. parmesan cheese over the mound of potatoes and add herbs.
Pour the wet mixture onto the mound and incorporate with a scraper/chopper.
Dust with flour and gently work the dough until it just holds together. The texture should be soft and pillowy.
Roll out dough into three or four 1-inch cylinders.
Cut each roll into uniform 1-inch pieces and place them on a sheet pan lined with parchment.
For the vegetable waste stock:
Toss potato peels with a few drops of olive oil.
Arrange on baking sheet in a single layer and bake at 350˚ until crisp and golden.
While they bake, stem and peel 8 small mushrooms, reserving stems and peels.
Chop 2 cloves garlic, reserving peel.
Trim leaves and blooms from mustard stems, reserving stems.
Place baked peels in a medium-sized bowl and add boiling water just to cover. Add all reserved stems and peels. Cover bowl with plastic wrap.
Steep peels for 10 to 20 minutes. Liquid will turn a red/brown russet color.
Strain the potato peels and trimmings from the broth and adjust salt.
To cook the gnocchi
Boil salted water in a large heavy pot.
Lightly roll each dumpling in a dusting of surface flour.
Test-cook one dumpling first before adding the whole batch.
As you add gnocchi, maintain a low gentle boil, leaving enough space for water to circulate around them. The dumplings will sink, and then “swim” to the surface.
Once they rise to the top, skim the dumplings out and set aside.
Heat butter in a pan and sear dumplings on one side.
Ladle broth into a shallow bowl and gently arrange gnocchi and mushrooms.
Garnish with black truffle emulsion, mustard blooms, micro parsley, micro lovage, grated truffle, pepper and parmesan cheese.
Increasing numbers of restaurants, chefs and diners are focusing on plant-based dishes, either exclusively or as a growing menu percentage. So, it isn’t really surprising how we’re seeing more news coverage about swapping traditional grain-based carbs for healthy vegetable-based ones.
In 2018, for example, Nation’s Restaurant News (NRN) published an article titled “Chefs Swap Carbs for Veggies as Diners Eat Lighter.” Two vegetables specifically highlighted as the “darlings of the dinner table” are cauliflower and zucchini, with NRN calling them “veggie doppelgangers for grainy rice and carbo-loaded pasta.”
NRN also published a report in December 2017 that listed using vegetables as pasta or rice alternatives as the seventh hottest trend.
“The application of terms like ‘pasta-like’ and ‘rice-like,” Chef Jamie Simpson says, “are just proof that vegetables are versatile, magical, wonderful – but often too-overlooked – ingredients.”
When Chef Jamie is creating a new dish, he likes to ask himself the following question: “What is a vegetable and what does it represent?”
Take, for example, the carrot (the vegetable that Chef Jamie and Farmer Lee Jones named as the 2019 veggie of the year). “Beyond working well in center-of-the-plate entrees, it’s also a salad, an herb and a spice. It’s a hot soup. It’s a cold soup. It’s a braised item, it’s a noodle. It’s frozen for dessert, it’s a cake, it’s a drink.”
As he expounded upon the versatility of the carrot as his example, Chef Jamie pauses. “I might argue,” he notes, “there aren’t any animals this widely applicable to the table.”
Vegetable-based carbs, then, go far beyond pasta, far beyond rice. “We can stop thinking in terms of recipes,” he adds, “and think in techniques, which is where, perhaps, creativity really beings.”
Additional cooking techniques to consider as you add vegetable carbs to dishes and menus include:
When asked if Chef Jamie had anything else to add to this pretty comprehensive list, he said, “and so on and so on and so on. It’s endless, with this list being a casual, healthy reminder that using vegetables as carbs doesn’t end at noodles.”
In The Chef’s Garden blog, Farmer Lee Jones shared his thoughts on this veggie-carb trend, as well. Specifics that caught his eye in the NRN article included these benefits:
the “obvious health benefits,” ones that don’t require diners to make a sacrifice with flavor
“the shape of the smaller zucchini forms the most perfect ribbon noodles”
zucchini noodle dishes are a “runaway hit”
the “creative aspect of it all”
riced cauliflower “became an instant hit”
And, we’d also like to thank Farmer Lee for this shout-out: “I’d be remiss,” he said in his comments, “if I didn’t share how our incredible team at the Culinary Vegetable Institute and the CVI’s creative guest chefs have been contributing to these trends for years, being way ahead of the curve.”
We invite you to register to attend one or more of our events in 2019 where we celebrate the beauty and versatility of vegetables as we capture a single moment in time.
Rustic Homemade Vegetable Pot Pie is Rich in History and Flavor
Say “pot pie” and the two words conjure up feelings of hot and hearty stick-to-your-ribs goodness, velvety gravy and the tantalizing aroma of meat and vegetables nestled inside tender buttery pastry.
So, if your only pot pie experience has been the half-frozen-in-the-middle kind with the gummy crust, MSG-laden gravy, mystery meat and questionable vegetables served in a foil tin, you’ve been done a terrible injustice. You’ve missed out on the richness of simple “peasant food” ─ a delicious dish made from a short list of ingredients that happen to be on hand in the kitchen, pantry, cellar or larder. Pot pies, like soups, have always been an ideal way to eliminate food waste and make use of odds and ends.
There’s nothing wrong, of course, with a highfalutin’ fancy pie filled with gourmet ingredients. They’re certainly delicious, but they also kind of spoil the spirit of a traditional rustic dish served the way our ancestors intended.
Multi-Cultural Comfort Food
A long list of ethnic cultures boast their own unique version of the pot pie ─ African empanadas with ground beef and spicy vegetables, English steak and kidney pie, Irish hand pies with sirloin, cabbage and potatoes, Australian meat pies with minced beef, tomato sauce and a dash of vegemite, German Fleischkuechle (deep-fried dumplings stuffed with seasoned ground beef), and the Michigan pasty, seasoned only with salt and pepper, and served with either gravy or ketchup, depending upon which side of the debate you happen to be on.
“Nothing is off limits in a pot pie,” says Culinary Vegetable Institute Chef Jamie Simpson. “From cabbages to Romaine, pumpkins to summer squash and even squash blossoms, tomatoes, carrots, potatoes and peas. This is a great way to utilize vegetables in the peak of their season in a dish any family can get behind.”
No Limits to Homemade Pot Pie Potential
You can consult a recipe if you want to, and we’ve provided one here, compliments of Chef Jamie. But making a pot pie is more of a method than a set of rigid instructions. All it takes is some basic kitchen skills, a few fresh and simple ingredients and your imagination.
Chef Jamie created this recipe for vegetable pot pie for the CVI’s recent Twelve Days of Christmas dinner event. Notice he didn’t specify exactly which vegetables to use. And that’s as it should be. Chef Jamie is an ardent supporter of eradicating food waste in the CVI kitchen, reflecting the true spirit of pot pie history and the noble respect for always making the most of what you have.
Vegetable Pot Pie Recipe
⅓ cup butter
⅓ cup onion diced
2 ½ cups of small diced vegetables
⅓ cup all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
1 ¾ cup chicken stock
⅔ cup milk
1 sheet of puff pastry cut to fit the top of the baking vessel
1 whole egg
Preheat oven to 375˚
In a medium-sized sauce pot, sauté all vegetables with the butter, taking care not to brown them. Add the flour, salt, and black pepper to the pot. Stir to evenly distribute the flour throughout the vegetables. Remove the pot from the heat and add the chicken stock and milk. Bring the ingredients up to a boil, stirring frequently. Don’t let the bottom of the pan scorch or stick.
Transfer the filling to an oven-safe container (this can be coffee cups, ramekins, soufflé cups, cereal bowls, whatever you have). Drape the pastry over the filling and edges of the cup, trimming as needed. Brush the top of the dough with a single egg whisked with a touch of water. This will produce a dark, rich, glossy finished crust. Top the crust with a touch of salt.
Bake at 375˚ for about 30 minutes until pastry is cooked and filling is hot. Allow to cool for a few minutes at room temperature before serving.