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.
If you’re too impatient for ripe red tomatoes, that’s just fine with us, because green tomatoes have unique potential all their own. So, rather than looking at them as unripe and unready for harvest, CVI Chef Jamie Simpson says you should consider green tomatoes as a completely unique fruit altogether.
“It’s a whole different ingredient,” he said, “like how green peppers are different from red peppers.”
Texture and flavor profile are the distinguishing characteristics that differentiate green tomatoes from their red counterparts. Drier, more acidic and bitter, they are also more durable for applications such as frying and pickling. For making his delicate green tomato chips, Chef Jamie applies multiple techniques to a single green heirloom tomato, creating two full trays of crispy, delicate chips to top a summer tomato salad.
The first key is shaving the tomato paper thin, translucent enough for light to pass through the flesh like pale green stained glass. After a quick pickle with apple cider vinegar, the slices are ready to be dried in the oven until they resemble little wagon wheels. Dehydrated, yet pliable, the slices are fried in oil until crispy, then perfectly seasoned.
TCG: Why are green tomatoes better for this recipe?
JS: They have less moisture, so they are easier to slice super thin, and easier to dehydrate.
TC: You sliced them on a legit deli-meat slicer. Isn’t that a little extra?
JS: It’s the best way to get them thin enough.
TCG: How are green tomatoes better for this from a flavor standpoint?
JS: They have less sugar, so they add a different flavor. They’re more vegetal than fruity.
TCG: You rejected a tomato that was a little pink inside. Why?
The 1980s birthed the first generation of celebrity chefs whose rock star status propelled superior-quality, homegrown, fresh ingredients into the spotlight. And, as luck would have it, The Chef’s Garden was waiting in the wings, poised to step into a crucial supporting role.
Author Andrew Friedman revisited that culinary flashpoint at the Culinary Vegetable Institute’s “Totally ‘80s” lecture series during a panel discussion and dinner on June 22 alongside two renowned guest chefs, Claudia Fleming and David Waltuck.
“The focus of the book is the chef’s profession, but one of the things that overlaps the story is the evolution of the sourcing network in the U.S.,” Friedman said.
“Chefs who worked in France and in London will tell you they had purveyors coming to their back kitchen door with stuff, telling them what was amazing today,” Friedman said. “It might be a rabbit, it might be produce that just popped. That network didn’t exist in this country at all.”
So, once they arrived in America, chefs steeped in European culture were sorely disappointed. “All of these people tell stories about going to the supermarket and seeing vegetables wrapped in plastic,” Friedman said. “Anyone from Europe found that horrifying.”
Determined chefs refused to settle for less than the best, and took matters into their own hands. “Chefs started going to great lengths to source this stuff themselves, phoning around the country to find things,” Friedman said.
French Chef Jean-louis Palladin was one of the chefs who took it upon himself to search out satisfactory fresh ingredients. “He would encourage American farms to grow certain varieties that he needed,” Friedman explained.
A fledgling farm called The Chef’s Garden became one of Palladin’s early purveyors.
“He was looking for those fresh ingredients and, quite frankly, he took us under his wing,” said Farmer Lee Jones. “He trusted in us, but he also encouraged us and, in a lot of ways, he really kicked our butts and said ‘get with the program ─ grow it without chemicals, grow it for the flavor, grow it for the integrity of the product.’”
Jones said the decade’s limited resources and selection in the U.S. positioned The Chef’s Garden for a golden opportunity.
“We were at the right place at the right time to be able to take advantage of recognizing those chefs’ needs,” he said. “Jean-louis Palladin recognized our commitment, our passion and our hunger to somehow find a way to survive in agriculture. And he knew that we were listening and that we meant business and that we were going to do everything we could to fulfill his needs.”
Chef David Waltuck said that, during his 30 years at his former New York restaurant Chanterelle, he sourced vegetables from the Hunts Point Cooperative Market in the South Bronx ─ one of the largest food distribution facilities in the world.
“I worked for many years with a very small vegetable purveyor who purchased stuff at the vegetable market at Hunts Point,” he said. “I couldn’t get haricot verts in New York, but they were bringing in haricot verts from France or Senegal. And they were beautiful, but that’s several steps removed from something that’s just been pulled from the ground.”
“Things that we totally take for granted at this point were extremely difficult if not totally impossible to obtain, even fresh herbs,” Chef David continued. “On a given day I knew I could get parsley, chives or thyme. But tarragon or chervil? And then baby vegetables and microgreens? There were no such things.”
Pastry Chef Claudia Fleming said that, early on in her career at New York’s Jams restaurant, ingredients were mostly flown in from the West Coast for the eatery’s California cuisine.”
“At Jams, we got vegetables FedEx’d to us from California every day,” Chef Claudia said. “There was nothing like it on the East Coast.”
She said restaurateur and Jams owner Jonathan Waxman did his best to change the situation.
“Slowly but surely Jonathan developed relationships with East Coast farmers,” she said. “He was able to communicate with farmers on the East Coast what it was that he was doing, and farmers bought into it, hook, line and sinker.”
“So I found myself in the middle of what felt like a revolution and it was incredible, it was really exciting,” she continued. “I saw things that I had never seen before, things that are here now at the Culinary Vegetable Institute. The vegetables were so beautiful ─ it was like jewelry. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Thirty-five years ago, baby patty pan squash were a novelty.”
Chef Claudia said the emergence of “hyper-local” produce quickly found its way into her pastries, as evidenced in her Totally ‘80’s dessert, a refined strawberry rhubarb shortcake filled with anise hyssop cream.
“Local and seasonal elevated the representation of what we thought of as simple American desserts,” she said. “So that was my trajectory and I am still doing that.”
The trend toward local and seasonal fresh ingredients in the U.S. is still going strong, according to author Friedman. And the network for accessing superior farm-fresh produce is no longer a problem. Much of that, he said, circles back to the 1980s’ surge of celebrity chefs and televised food programming.
“I think chefs talking about how important ingredients are is why we see farmers markets doing better than they ever have ─ I think that is where that demand comes from,” he said. “It comes from chefs starting 30 years ago on TV. You see them making these pilgrimages. You see them talking about it. You see someone bringing them a sample and them swooning over it. That has trickled down to the home kitchens. I think the ripple effect of this isn’t just in restaurants. I think it is across American life.”
At The Culinary Vegetable Institute, we focus on creating a unique dining experience for each and every one of our guests at each and every one of our events by never serving the same menu twice and by offering specially-created signature cocktails at these events.
Our chefs use a variety of ancient and contemporary culinary techniques that are creatively applied to quality ingredients to transform them into new flavors, textures, and colors that perpetually delight and invigorate everyone who steps foot into the CVI.
We work in seamless synchronicity with The Chef’s Garden, and the symbiosis between the specialty farm and our culinary center has created a template for chefs and farmers everywhere to follow. Plus, our chef-farmer relationship illustrates how listening to and learning from one another can lead to exceptional outcomes.
We are blessed with an incredible facility that adds to the dining experiences of our guests, an 11,000-square-foot facility built of locally quarried limestone, pine and cedar exterior with a wild cherry, black walnut, tulip poplar, oak and ash interior. It sits on approximately 100 acres of fertile land and includes a 1,500-square foot state-of-the-art two-story kitchen, a 1,426-square-foot dining room with 22-foot ceilings capable of seating 90, a root cellar, a wine cellar, experimental vegetable, forest and herb gardens, and much more.
The bottom line is that we focus on providing quality dining experiences at every event we host. We hope to see you at one or more of them—and now here’s information we’ve gleaned from around the web about other perspectives that focus on creating quality experiences for guests.
For that, we turn to the February 3, 1982 issue of the New York Times, where the writer states how “Great chefs and good home cooks understand that eating is both a physiological and a psychological act. Where one eats can be as important as what is eaten. The body responds in the most subtle of ways to surroundings—to harsh colors, bad lighting, noise or tension,” making those things important to avoid.
The article then ends with this simple but powerful statement: “Food should be the high point of the day.”
Sensory Dining Experience
As Farmer Lee Jones of The Chef’s Garden often says, people eat with their eyes first. So, before they’ve ever taken a bite, they’ve already started their dining journey. At The Culinary Vegetable Institute, we believe that how we plate our food is on key way to visually tell our culinary story, with our compositions always focusing on now.
Chef Jamie Simpson at the CVI first identifies a single theme to deliver his message through his narrative plating. The theme could be about a single ingredient, about a time, or about a place. Perhaps, for example, it’s about that exact moment in time when a pheasant hurries through fields of corn, preparing for winter by eating what’s available in his path. Or it may involve capturing that moment when peas and carrots are brilliantly overlapping.
No matter the specifics, Chef Jamie usually finds his most compelling stories when strolling through nature. Simply by walking through the CVI garden, he may envision a new way for the past to meet the present, and the result could be a “walk through the garden” salad. Narratives will naturally evolve as the seasons do, causing him to bridge ingredients together in a dish in a new way each time.
A walk through the woods will inspire a different dish. A walk through the farm? Another dish, entirely.
Even less romantic-sounding walk-throughs can inspire a menu, perhaps through the root cellar where pine nut miso may trigger a brand new way to look at a dish. Or perhaps beet vinegar will provide the inspiration, or the carefully preserved lemon—or the mixture of cabbage, ultra bok choy, garlic, cilantro and ginger. It just depends upon the moment, upon the story beginning to unfold.
You can even stroll through the walk-in freezer and find the single ingredient that will inspire the next culinary dream.
Take, for example, the turnip. “The turnip,” Chef Jamie explains, “can live high and low, left and right, wide and lean. It can sort of become this modular ingredient. I think it’s really dynamic. So, we do some raw turnip applications. Maybe some turnip leaf applications. Maybe some turnip flowers. As we work our way down, we’ll go into maybe a poached turnip, turnip purees. We get into the fermented turnips. We get into these big hard-core seared grilled turnips, and then we look for charred and blistered, those kinds of things. Petite turnips can live here, those that are also charred.
“And then you need a bridge, an ingredient to sort of bring it all together. In this case I’d choose goose liver or chicken liver or duck liver or some kind of iron-y thing. We could make a mousse from it. A big spoonful. You can take a little and bring it all the way through. You’ll experience turnip at every stage of doneness and ripeness of its life, kind of working your way down the line. Naturally, a fork will go to a specific part of the dish first, depending on the way it’s presented.”
How each ingredient looks, tastes and smells contributes to a dish. So does the texture on the tongue, the sound it makes upon chewing, and more. This year, The Chef’s Garden and the Culinary Vegetable Institute chose mixed carrots as the 2019 Vegetable of the Year, so we’ve been telling more stories about this particular vegetable during its spotlight year. When telling the story of petite mixed carrots, for example, we’d consider its intense, candy-sweet carrot flavor, its delightfully snappy crunch, its deep and vibrant colors, fresh, clean, earthy aroma, and vivid, feathery tops.
Other times, a cultural event serves as the centerpiece of the menu, like the Twelve Days of Christmas event that transforms the traditional holiday song into three consecutive evenings of a unique dining experience.
Going Beyond Great Service: Creating Memories
Important as the food is for a stellar experience, the quality of the service plays a crucial role, from the moment a guest is greeted with a smile to well-timed, courteous, attentive service throughout the entire experience. Servers must be able to answer questions, share compelling stories about the food, including ingredient sourcing, and otherwise provide the information that guests want and need, anticipating what will be desired and being prepared to satisfy those wishes.
And, as TheRestaurantExpert.com shares, the “key word is memorable”—which goes above and beyond simply providing good service.
“Great hospitality,” the article continues, “is about making each guest’s dining experience memorable . . . For something to really stick, it has to be anchored to a feeling.”
75 percent of people say that unique dining experiences are worth more (meaning, paying more for)
50 percent would pay more for the exact same menu if the chef interacted with them
A Deloitte report shares five specifics about what diners want in their experiences, with these bullet points quoted from the report:
Engage me: Interact with me in a friendly, authentic way. Be hospitable and genuine with me. Treat me as a person.
Know me: Remember me and my preferences. Anticipate my changing needs.
Empower me: Give me the ability to customize to my specific needs. Value my feedback and respond in an appropriate way.
Delight me: Create moments beyond my expectations that I will remember and share. Personalize my experience.
Hear me: Demonstrate awareness of the situation and acknowledge my needs. Listen to my unique needs.
Taking a closer look at Millennials, you’ll see a generation in which 53 percent of them eat out at least once a week, a 20 percent increase from any other generation. Plus, they—more than any previous generation—are “concerned with the story behind the products,” with one person quoted as saying, “I think it’s key to feed one’s heart in addition to one’s stomach when going out.”
Millennials like to discuss their dining experiences so, to provide quality ones, it’s important to make what you do worth talking about. This generation likes to “talk about the experiences that they’re having—not only for their own benefit, satisfying their own taste buds, or their need to be adventurous and try something new, but also a part of that social inclusion, that if they go to a new restaurant and try the newest burger, then they can talk about it and share it with their network.”
Plus, Millennials, overall, have a strong focus on sustainability, to do what’s best for the environment. So, discussing ingredient sourcing and how your kitchen reduces food waste can be a real plus.
Now take a look at another generation, the Baby Boomers, where more than half of them eat out each week and 66 percent of them enjoy trying new flavors, especially when they’re “added to perennial favorites.” They especially appreciate good customer service and, although few of them consider themselves full-time vegetarians, more than half of them want to boost the amount of fruits and vegetables that they’re eating.
Although marketing efforts have been largely targeted towards Baby Boomers and Millennials, members of the Gen Z generation have their own takes on what makes a quality dining experience; and, as a socially conscious generation, they often choose places that echo that social consciousness.
They often like to dine in large groups; like Millennials, they share their experiences with others, including on social media. They tend to be adventurous, enjoying “fusions, global cuisines and authentic ethnic foods. Gen Z-ers want to have an authentic experience with the culture, not just eat great authentic food—the atmosphere and service are equally important.”
Breaking Bread Together
A fascinating post by NPR shows that people actually feel closer to others who are eating the same foods as they do. More specifically, an expert shares, “food really connects people. Food is about bringing something into the body. And to eat the same food suggests that we are both willing to bring the same thing into our bodies. People just feel closer to people who are eating the same food as they do. And then trust, cooperation, these are just consequences of feeling close to someone.”
Plus, when we eat together, we’re more likely to pay attention to what we eat and realize when we’ve had enough—which means that people are less likely to “eat unhealthily when dining with others.”
When we plan our vegetable showcase dinners, the design process begins with the ingredient and place it on the highest pedestal. We classify traditional pairings and non-traditional pairings into columns titled: Meats. Fish. Grains. Herbs. Condiments. Alcohols. Vegetables. Spices. Nuts. Fats. Dairy. Then we consider preparations: Sauté. Fry. Roast. Bake. Grill. Ferment. Dehydrate. Juice. Freeze. Pulverize. Reconstitute. We look at every element of the plant as well, and question how we can incorporate every piece or part: Seed. Root/Tuber. Stem. Leaf. Bloom. Stamen. Fruit. We think about affinities of flavors and experiences in putting together combinations on the plate and dishes on the menu. Then the imagination kicks in, and we get busy in the kitchen.
Experience the ultimate expression of the vegetable! Each dinner in our Vegetable Showcase Series features one family of vegetables, harvested at the peak of its season and explores 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.
The evening includes a six-course dinner that will include wine pairing suggestions. The menu will focus on the seasonal vegetable with a meat and/or fish according to the whim of the moment.
You can find dates and specifics of each unique gathering at our events calendar. See you soon!
Although cuisines, menus, specialties, dining atmospheres and culinary styles vary greatly from restaurant to restaurant, the goal of dedicated professional chefs everywhere is to provide exciting menus that please their diners. And, at the core of every single exciting menu is the process of selecting thoughtfully sourced, quality ingredients—and, today, chefs are valuing food supply chain transparency more than ever before.
In fact, Food and Wine lists sourcing transparency on their list of the top 11 restaurant trends for 2019, and here’s why: “People want to know more and more about where their food is coming from. They don’t want to ignore what they’re eating anymore, which forces chefs to take a closer look at sourcing.”
Discussions at a 2018 conference held at the Michelin Star-holding Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne (EHL) led to a similar conclusion: that the “quality of produce remains ever-important but transparency—and traceability—is critical for consumers.”
What matters to consumers, one conference panelist shared, includes the following:
what they eat
where it comes from
how it was made
with what ethics it was made
Transparency, the panelist concludes, is the name of the game.
Before we explore transparent ingredient sourcing in more depth, here’s an overview of what can make sourcing quality ingredients more difficult than it should be.
Greenwashing: The Anti-Transparency Movement
We call this the anti-transparency movement because of how certain companies position their products as being more environmentally friendly than they really are, These misleading claims create a lot of noise and can waste the time of chefs who are looking for sustainable food sourcing options.
At Roots 2018, our keynote speaker, Andrew Zimmern, named greenwashing as one of the most pressing food issues to address today. The solution, at least in part, consists of food professionals openly discussing their issues with food supply chain transparency and sharing how they successfully, sustainably source their quality ingredients.
When it comes to fresh produce, the tenets of the farm to table movement/farm to fork movement can work well as a guiding light. They include:
specifically knowing where food comes from; it may once, for example, have been enough to know that a tomato was grown in the United States, but the farm to table movement emphasizes knowing very precisely who grew that tomato, where
also knowing, again very specifically, how that produce was grown; was it sustainably farmed, for example, without the use of any pesticides?
getting this produce directly from the farmer, not from a middleman
knowing that the farm of choice grows produce in line with the restaurant’s values
As a litmus test of how transparent a particular food chain is, chefs can check to see if they can talk directly with the people who are growing the ingredients used in their dishes. Better yet, check to see if you can go beyond that and actually form a relationship with the farmers, asking questions and making requests about what is being grown.
At the heart of farm to table—and therefore of transparently sourcing quality ingredients—is relationship. According to the New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station, the “goal is to develop relationships between stakeholders in a food system,” such as ‘farmers, processors, retailers, restauranteurs, consumers’ and more.”
Questions chefs can ask farmers who are growing the types of ingredients they want for their dishes can include:
What is your philosophy about sustainable farming?
How does that philosophy translate into daily practices on your farm?
Under what circumstances would you not follow these sustainability practices?
In what kind of situations do you use pesticides?
How do you treat your soil?
Does everything you sell come from your farm?
If not, under what circumstances do you act as a middleman for another farmer’s produce?
Will you let us know if a certain product was not grown by you?
When do you harvest your produce?
More specifically, what will the time frame be between when you harvest the produce and when it’s shipped to our restaurant?
What food safety procedures do you have in place?
How will the food be shipped to me?
What is the shelf life of your product?
How should your produce be stored upon delivery?
Am I able to tour your farm? If so, what can I expect to see and do?
Pay attention to what the answers are—and also pay close attention to how willing the growers are to respond. You can easily tailor most of these questions when sourcing meat, seafood, and just about any other ingredients needed.
Source of Ingredients and the Buy Local Movement
Sustainable food systems focus on reducing carbon footprints, so it’s only natural to consider food transport as part of your ingredient sourcing. Rather than focusing on miles involved, though, we invite you to think about the subject in another way. We’ll share highlights of a Roots 2018 conversation held right here on the grounds of the Culinary Vegetable Institute on the subject, including:
Farmer Lee Jones’s statement that “local” is the most bastardized term since “organic”
how the term “local” doesn’t even mean that ingredients are being grown locally
how food transport is not the biggest contributor to the carbon footprint
how transport isn’t the biggest part of energy or water use in the food supply chain
At the Roots culinary conference in 2018, Farmer Lee shared an anecdote that illustrated the first two bullet points. The situation began when an upstate New York customer shared how he couldn’t buy from The Chef’s Garden anymore because he was required to buy local. His restaurant was defining “local” geographically.
When Lee was in New York, he visited the former customer and received permission to take a look at his produce, where he could see the source of ingredients. What he found was that “local purveyors” were providing the former customer with:
haricot verts from Guatemala
cherry tomatoes from New Zealand
fruit from somewhere else entirely
Through this move to “local,” this man’s carbon footprint expanded by 3,000 times.
At Roots, scientific research was discussed that shows how food is grown has the biggest impact on the footprint—more than 95 percent of it. So, when sourcing ingredients, it makes sense to do the deepest dive at the literal source of those ingredients.
A shorter food supply chain does not automatically mean a less complicated one. Instead, this can make the entire sourcing process much more complicated. Using produce as an example, the reality is that there are far more restaurants in urban areas than rural ones; here is a quick visual (and accompanying chart) that shows restaurant clusters.
More farms, naturally enough, are found in rural areas—which means that literally buying local in bustling cities will mean that those restaurants will be greatly limited in their choice of produce, making it impractical to be sustainable by using the mileage definition of buying local.
Sustainable Ingredient Transparency
At the Culinary Vegetable Institute, we’re very fortunate to be part of The Chef’s Garden, which gives us a year-round supply of the best of farm-fresh produce. Besides having complete access to that top-shelf source of ingredients, we’re also fortunate in that we’ve hosted the Roots culinary conference for several years now and regularly collaborate with the most-forward thinking chefs today.
We also monitor the internet to see what other food professionals are saying about issues that matter, including creating a more sustainable food system—and we’d like to share some of what Open for Business has to say about making restaurants more sustainable, especially in regards to sourcing ingredients.
The site encourages seasonal menus, perhaps having four different menus for the four seasons and rotating in two new dishes every six weeks; the latter strategy is ideal for using ingredients, such as asparagus, with shorter growing seasons. This strategy dovetails best with fresh produce but can also work well in other ways. For example, “when fish or squid are in a period of regrowth,” one chef will “swap in smoked salmon. Operating this way requires a certain amount of flexibility and creativity on the part of the kitchen staff, but the quality is well worth the effort.”
The article also points out the importance of partnering with the right producers, choosing ones with clearly defined and communicated sustainable practices, ones that are producing food ethically. One person quoted in the article notes that, by following this procedure, 90 percent of his suppliers are family-oriented business. This allows the restauranteur to use “people who are still caring about what they do.”
Another restauranteur shares that, yes, it can take some homework when choosing your food producers, but it’s worth the extra effort to find ones where you’re confident in ingredient transparency and quality.
Foraged Food Trends
Another interesting trend is the use of foraged ingredients to supplement what’s being sustainably sourced. This can “spark a deeply personal connection to the earth,” with one forager sharing how this activity allowed her to truly understand how “everything in nature was cyclical, everything interrelated.”
Foraged ingredients can include anything from mushrooms to sea vegetables and seaweed, and from chokecherries to nettles, moss, lupin seeds and more. What can be foraged depends upon the season and geography, and how it’s used can depend upon the restaurant’s cuisine.
One restaurant in Poland takes this foraging philosophy to the limit, changing his menu weekly to “incorporate the freshest foraged ingredients from the countryside and his garden . . . [and] follow three different themes, or spirits. In spirit of time dishes, all ingredients are harvested within one week; for spirit of place, the food not only comes from one week but also only one of Poland’s natural habitats. The last, spirit of tradition, is usually invoked in winter. The components of these dishes have been smoked, dried, salted, fermented, pickled, or burned.”
This dovetails beautifully with how chefs at the Culinary Vegetable Garden celebrate moments in time and honors nature’s gifts, whether that’s when we tap syrup, cultivate honey, or host culinary events, each of which celebrates what is peaking at the exact moment in time of the event.
Food Transparency Trend: Sustainable Strategies
WeAreChefs.com provides sustainability “hacks” for chefs to help create a better food chain when sourcing ingredients, describing strategies that are also close to our hearts.
The article quotes Chef Jehangir Mehta, a regular at our Roots culinary conferences, and he encourages chefs to swap more plants for protein. His example includes adding 10 to 20 percent more mushrooms and onions to a burger, cutting back on the red meat.
Plant-based dishes can be pushed more front and center on menus, as well—with flavorful, nutritious “ugly” vegetables playing a role in ingredient purchases. The article encourages chefs to use their creativity—something they have a surplus of!—to rethink ingredient sourcing to include what might have been overlooked in the past. A collaboration between The Chef’s Garden and Mantra Artisan Ales, for example, led to an incredible new ale made from ugly carrots, one that debuted at Roots 2017.
Finally, the article shares how, when sourcing produce, to think about how you can use root to tip, including “beet greens, carrot tops and carrot and onion peels that might otherwise end up in the compost bin.”
One quoted expert calls this “mindful cooking.” We like that.
Join Us! Research and Development Retreats
At the Culinary Vegetable Institute, we offer special, intense culinary opportunities for food and beverage professionals to participate in research and development opportunities in conjunction with our parent company, The Chef’s Garden.
This will give your team the opportunity to have a private tour of the farm, to see how ingredients are sustainably farmed, and the Culinary Vegetable Institute team can provide specialized consultation regarding product use, menu development, and other services. Our environment and our expertise make us the premier culinary research and development location.
Named 2003 R&D Kitchen of the Year by Food Arts magazine, the experimental kitchen at the Culinary Vegetable Institute is handsomely furnished with the very latest in culinary equipment.
The Fourneaux de France is an exhibition cook station that is as stunning as it is functional. Manufactured in France by Bonnet, this beautiful unit features an electric grill, electric plancha, two gas burners and two electric burners. Also at your chefs’ disposal is an eight-burner Montague range with a combination convection/conduction oven, a salamander above, and a commercial wok.
We also offer an Alto Shaam Combitherm oven, which is a steamer, convection oven or combination of both. There is also a wood/charcoal grill-oven, a rotisserie oven, a commercial ice cream maker, plus VitaMix blenders, KitchenAid® mixers, Arcobaleno Pasta Extruder, Calphalon pots and pans as well as a full complement of Calphalon Katana Series knives.
In addition, we also have the finest outdoor cooking appliances for use in your chef challenge: EVO planchas and Viking® LP grills equipped with rotisserie and burners.
The amount of food being wasted in the United States each year is staggering. In fact, it’s the dirty little secret in the food and beverage industry today.
Rather than focusing on the discouraging statistics, though, we’re going to talk about food waste solutions—admitting from the get-go that foundational steps for reducing waste aren’t very romantic. To get a solid handle on understanding waste at the Culinary Vegetable Institute—food and food-related—in 2016, we took a deep dive. Into our garbage.
After an event at the Culinary Vegetable Institute, we decided to separate our trash. The largest items were, ironically enough, recyclable ones. So, as one step in our program to reduce food waste, we asked our waste management company to pick up our recyclables more frequently.
Next, we looked at weight, and the heaviest items included coffee grinds, scraps from plates, the tops of vegetables, peels, stock bones, mirepoix, and so forth. You get our drift. After seeing this waste, up close and personal, we immediately started a composting program. And, after taking those two steps—more frequent pickup of recyclables and composting—we discovered that there was so little garbage that our pickup frequency was cut in half.
We’d had four trash cans in the kitchen, and now we had just one—and, once we noted how we’d cut our garbage bag purchases by 70 percent, we knew we were on the right track.
But we’d created a new challenge. As we made daily runs to our compost heap, the compost was growing faster than what we could manage. And, at that point, Chef Jamie Simpson had this thought: “What if we got livestock to help us manage this?” We now have Heritage Breed Mangalitsa pigs, a rare breed that thrives on vegetable-based diets—ideal for us—a breed that’s exceptionally well suited for Northern Ohio winters.
Becoming a Registered Cannery
As we continued to gain control over food waste at the Culinary Vegetable Institute, we turned to help The Chef’s Garden with any potential waste they might be experiencing. Because of that, when the supply of a particular vegetable at the farm is larger than current demand, we have delicious produce to preserve.
Now a minimal waste kitchen, we are always watching for creative and innovative strategies that restaurants use to reduce waste, as well as information about programs created to reduce food waste. In this post, we’ll share some of what we’re seeing around the web.
Reducing Food Waste: Strategies for Restaurants
In February 2019, a report was released, titled The Business Case for Reducing Food Loss and Waste: Restaurants, that examined pre-consumer waste from 114 different restaurant locations from 12 different countries. They discovered that, when restaurants created food waste reduction programs, 76 percent of them recouped their investments within the first year. Over a three-year timeframe, the average benefit-cost ratio was 7:1, with the typical location saving more than two cents on a dollar through their efforts.
Researchers discovered that five strategies were the most effective in these food waste reduction programs:
Measure food waste
Reduce food overproduction
Rethink inventory and purchasing practices
Repurpose excess food
Measure Food Waste
Restaurants that quantified, as an initial step, how much food was wasted were also able to see where that waste was taking place. This allowed managers to identify waste hotspots and prioritize fixes. The report notes that sites using digital tools tended to get better data than those using manual measuring; the latter can often lead to underreporting of waste and doesn’t necessarily highlight all of the areas where waste can be reduced.
The success of food waste programs rely heavily upon staff engagement, with kitchen and service teams needing specific guidance about what’s expected. Guidance can be formal or informal, provided in a way that avoids any perception of blame-placing. If a staff member, for example, feels as though he or she is being blamed for food waste, then that person will likely become less engaged in being part of the solution. Because some of the most creative strategies come from kitchen staff, it’s important for managers to encourage collaboration and build rewards into the waste reduction programs.
Study results also indicate that:
when staff become frustrated, turnover tends to increase, and staff turnover creates an environment where food waste actually increases
to make food waste prevention a part of the restaurant culture, it should be included in the location’s training procedures and daily operations
As restaurant teams find where food waste is taking place, this helps them to determine how much food actually needs produced to meet demand. It isn’t usual for restaurants to discover that overproduction has been playing a big role in their food waste. Specifically, “batch cooking, casserole trays, and buffets tend to overproduce food relative to cook-to-order preparation.” A restaurant may be using these processes to save time and money but, if the hidden costs of food waste aren’t considered, then it may mean that another preparation method should be considered. Each restaurant will need to do its own analysis.
Rethink Inventory and Purchasing Practices
To further reduce waste, it can make sense to review historical waste information and see how your inventory management system can be adjusted to reduce waste. For example, if you need to order food from your suppliers too far ahead of time, how much becomes spoiled? How can you find a vendor that can provide supplies right when you need them? What is the shelf life of products purchased?
Repurpose Excess Food
No kitchen can perfectly forecast customer demand all the time. This means there’s significant potential for extra ingredients and leftover food. Each restaurant should therefore have a plan focusing on how to safely repurpose what’s available. Suggestions included in the report are:
unsold meat intended for breakfast may be a potential ingredient for lunch or dinner dishes
restaurants using a set cycle menu can add a rotating menu slot that allows them to feature extra ingredients
“Sites that incorporated previously unused food (for example, peels, seeds, skins, bones) into dishes were able to produce value from items that typically go straight to the waste bin.”
offer edible but unsalable food to organizations that distribute it to people who need the food, rather than throwing it away
The report also includes case studies of successful food waste management programs, including The Ship Inn’s, a pub in the United Kingdom. This pub began with a simple manual measurement system where they sorted waste into three bins—spoilage, prep, and plate waste—to get an overview of how food was being wasted in their establishment.
Recognizing a need for procedural changes, they made them one at a time. This gradual approach allowed the team to determine how effective each change was and created a sense of momentum as each new step was added. Plus, by giving the staff time to incorporate one change at a time, this can give them more ownership in the food waste reduction program.
After just four weeks of manual measurement, the following results were achieved:
84 percent of spoilage reduction: “through waste awareness among kitchen staff, resulting in improved working practices”
67 percent of plate reduction: “primarily through portion size options and removing garnishes, which have been popular changes with customers”
72 percent reduction of overall food waste
In the 2018 Restaurant Food Waste Action Guide, the non-profit ReFED estimates that, for every dollar invested in reducing food waste, restaurants can see about $8 in cost savings. The report also notes that, out of the 63 million tons of food waste in America, about 11.4 million of it is occurring at restaurants—at an annual cost of about $25 billion for the restaurants.
ReFED considers food waste to be a solve-able problem, but one that “needs big picture solutions, including significant funding, support from policy makers, innovation and education to change behavior.”
The report suggests that food waste reduction programs in restaurants could cut food costs by 2 to 6 percent, at a savings of about $620 million each year. How? Here are recommendations:
repurpose food prep trim/overproduction; lemon peels and kale stems, for example, can be ideal for cocktails
give diners more portion size choices, and encourage them to order the quantity of food that makes sense for them
use smaller self-serve plates; diners usually fill their plates or bowls by about 70 percent
They also reiterate that what’s measured gets managed. So, they encourage tracking food waste and then improving processes based upon what’s learned. As just one example, Aramark rolled out the use of a tracking/analytics platform for 500 large accounts. In just two years, the foodservice company has reduced food waste by 44 percent, preventing about 479 tons of food from ending up in landfills.
We’re going to highlight one more recommendation in this report, and that’s to use “imperfect” produce, also called “ugly” produce—and that’s exactly what’s at the heart of a Mantra artisan ale made from ugly carrots grown at The Chef’s Garden.
Ugly Vegetable Beer
Here’s the thing. “Ugly” vegetables taste as delicious as their perfectly formed siblings, and they have the same levels of nutrition. They just don’t look as pretty. And, a series of events, beginning in 2016, allowed The Chef’s Garden to collaborate with other passionate professionals to create a craft beer from imperfect carrots.
This collaboration is ultimately much bigger than the beer that was created, bigger than the carrot, bigger than farming and brewing. This craft beer is actually the ideal vessel to demonstrate innovation and how we can, together, tackle food waste challenges in our country.
At a high level, here’s what happened:
At Roots 2016, Jordan Figueiredo spoke about finding food waste solutions.
When Farmer Lee Jones was giving a farm tour to James Beard Award-Winning Chef Maneet Chauha, he shared his passion for using ugly vegetables to reduce food waste.
Chef Maneet is a founding partner of Mantra Artisan Ales.
After the farm tour, she discussed the possibilities of making ale with ugly vegetables with her co-founder, Vivek Deora.
The duo created an amazing artisan ale using ugly carrots from The Chef’s Garden.
Attendees of Roots 2017 got to sample this beer, a collective experience that led to further discussion about food waste reduction.
And, yes. The ale got a resounding thumbs up!
Food waste problems may never truly be “solved,” which means that people passionate about this challenge must keep finding creative strategies. In May 2019, we took Roots—our culinary conference—on the road to the Dallas Arboretum, with the event ending with a “Waste Not, Want Not” dinner.
Having a dinner of this type naturally opens up more conversation about how to tackle the problem of waste—and, if we’ve learned one thing on our journey to date, it’s that every step counts. Every single step plays a role in counting down to zero. Zero waste.
We started this post with a description of the steps we took in April 2016 to further reduce waste at the Culinary Vegetable Institute. Since then, we’ve continued to develop lines of defense before something is considered to be garbage. If you’re near the beginning of your own food waste reduction program, you could consider starting with how to deal with vegetable peels.
At the Culinary Vegetable Institute, we wash and scrub vegetables, rather than peeling them. But, if you want to peel them, here’s what you could do with them:
Dehydrate them to lower the volume and eliminate the need for freezer space to store them.
Put the dehydrated peels into a bag or box.
Once the quantity increases, put them into a dried mirepoix.
Use that mirepoix in stocks and broths.
You could, for example, dehydrate potato peels but dress them in oil. Bake them at a low temperature until golden brown, then steep them in just enough water to cover them, and you’ve got baked potato consommé. That, in turn, can be used as a cooking liquid, a potato glaze, a broth for gnocchi, and so forth.
We’d love to continue this conversation! If you’d like to talk to someone at the Culinary Vegetable Institute or The Chef’s Garden about food waste reduction, please contact Erica Sanicky.
Culinary students from Lorain County Joint Vocational School will share the CVI kitchen for a pop-up dinner August 24th with Chef Scott Schneider, Chef de Cuisine at New York’s Michelin Star-rated Ai Fiori restaurant. Chef Scott is a 2006 graduate of the school’s culinary program.
“I’m hoping that the students will appreciate the opportunity that they’re given to work at The Chef’s Garden and the Culinary Vegetable Institute with Chef Scott and Chef Jamie,” said culinary program director, Chef Tim Michitsch. “Hopefully that’ll motivate them to want to be like Scott and Jamie. Because, between the two of them, the knowledge they’re going to be exposed to and the talent and skills are unbelievable. So hopefully that will rub off on this generation.”
Student chef Megan Ratha, a high school junior, will be one of the students selected to participate in the pop-up dinner, according to Chef Tim. She is already familiar with the CVI kitchen after assisting with the 2018 Twelve Days of Christmas event, which left an impression.
“It was really nice to see all of the chefs working together and how busy it got. But, at the same time, it was organized,” Megan said. “And there were a lot of people there, too, and some of them talked to me. It’s really nice and you get to cook for a whole bunch of people and see their reaction to your cooking, and you’re like, ‘Oh, I did that!’ I feel like I was honored to be asked to go, because not everybody got asked to go help out.”
Megan said the most valuable lesson she took away from the experience was learning to make good use of her time. “Definitely time management,” she said. “I’m really bad at time management, so seeing how they listed the whole plan for the whole twelve courses was cool.”
Like Chef Scott, Megan has excelled in representing the school in numerous high level culinary competitions.
“We trained her for Skills USA competition, which is our student youth organization,” Chef Tim said. “She won the state competition so she’ll be representing Ohio at the national skills competition in Louisville, Kentucky. It’s a six-hour competition. She’ll have to prepare soup, salad, two different entrees and chicken stock, and there’s a bunch of other skills she has to demonstrate during the competition, so it’s pretty intense.”
Participating in competitions requires a considerable amount of effort above and beyond the basic curriculum, Chef Tim said. As a student, Chef Scott was characterized by his work ethic and hunger to excel.
“These kids didn’t have to be here until 7:40 a.m., and he was probably here at 7 o’clock in the morning, sometimes earlier if we did a practice,” Chef Tim said. “We did all of our training for competitions after school, so he would stay after school until 7 o’clock at night, and he had a job in the industry.”
Another one of Chef Tim’s former students, Chef Jessica Krause, was a contemporary of Chef Scott’s, graduating from the program a year after him in 2007. The two also attended the Culinary Institute of America together. Currently the banquet chef at Jack Casino in Cleveland, Chef Jessica said she’d welcome the opportunity to participate in the CVI pop-up with her friend and former classmate.
“If they need my help, I’ll help,” she said. “I’ll reach out if they need anything I can contribute. I’m pretty sure I’ll be there. It depends on the needs. I’ll be happy to do it.”
As a student, Chef Jessica had opportunities to work at CVI events alongside Chef Jamie and other accomplished chefs. “Being young, and being able to experience that ─ if you’re passionate about the industry it puts a desire in you to push and be better and to strive for greatness,” she said.
Heading into the August event, Chef Jessica (who is now a member of the program’s advisory board) shared some words of wisdom for the student chefs.
“It’s an amazing learning opportunity and opportunity to grow,” she said. “The more you work with experienced people, the more it broadens your horizons. Watch how they prepare things. Watch the way that they break down meats, the way they treat vegetables. The respect for the product is the most important thing. The respect for where the food comes from is something special, and it’s something you don’t get everywhere else. It’s amazing what they do there.”
Chef Jessica said the bond that she, Chef Scott and other LCJVS classmates formed during their student days has remained solid over the years. “We all have so much respect for each other that, if you need something, I’m gonna be there,” she said. “It’s been twelve years, eleven years since we graduated, and we all still treat each other like family. And maybe we only talk once a year, but that once a year is special.”
“This school breeds some amazing chefs,” she continued. “There’s so many of us that, if we hadn’t gone through this program, we wouldn’t be half the chefs that we are, half the people that we are, as well. Tim instills in his students respect and values and drive. Everybody respects him, and we all keep coming back. We pick up right where we left off. He makes that happen for us all. He connects us all together.”
Chef Tim said close-knit relationships are the nature of the hospitality business, and that the willingness to always help and lend a hand is a unique quality among chefs.
“I think in the hospitality industry, it’s different from other industries. We will go above and beyond for our colleagues and our friends,” he said. “If someone needs something, we’re there. We’re not afraid to work 18 hours a day. It’s not in our vocabulary to say it’s not my responsibility or it’s not my job. We give. That’s what we do. That’s what chefs do.”
Chef Scott demonstrated that spirit two years ago when participating with other alumni chefs during one of the school’s annual scholarship dinners.
“Scott did the pasta course, and the surprise was he had a pound of black English truffles,” Chef Tim said. “They were shaving black truffles on each pasta course before it went out to the customers ─ 250 people! Who gets a pound of English truffles donated?”
Eyes on the Prize
Chef Tim didn’t mask his emotions when talking about his students, both past and present, those who’ve reached the pinnacle of success and those just starting out.
“It’s hard to put into words what it means ─ it’s just special ─ it’s a special bond, a special relationship between myself, the educator, and Scott or other graduates and students that other people don’t realize,” he said. “I’m so proud of Scott and where he’s at. What he’s done. It didn’t come easy. He worked his ass off. But he hasn’t changed his course. He knew what he wanted to do. He knew where he wanted to go in his career. And he worked his ass off when he was in school and on the job, when he was in competition, in college, in industry, working in New York City. He had no patience for goofing off. He was like, ‘Chef is here to teach. I want to learn, because I want to get the prize. I want to be able to say I did the best.’ He called to tell me he got the promotions along the way ─ kind of like a father and son relationship, me just saying ‘Go do it, man! Do whatever you want!’”
At the Culinary Vegetable Institute, we believe that wedding ceremonies and receptions are meant to be unique expressions about the couples themselves and their personal love stories, plus their hopes and dreams. So, in this post, we’ve stayed away from sharing what colors are trending, what materials are popular for dresses and tuxedos, and what styles of rings are selling most often—because what’s best in each of those categories is what suits your taste and fulfills your dreams of your own big day. What’s “right” are choices that reflect the couple themselves.
Instead, we’re looking at four broader wedding trends and what experts are predicting about each of them—and then sharing how what the Culinary Vegetable Institute offers dovetails with those trends. Overall, according to MarthaStewartWeddings.com, the overarching wedding trend for 2019 is that couples want ceremonies and receptions that are more personal than ever before—and, of course, we agree.
More specifically, 2019 wedding trends included in this post include:
sustainability in wedding planning
unique seating (it’s about more than just where seats are placed!)
craft cocktails that express a couple’s uniqueness
Wedding Trend #1 Sustainability
The International Wedding Trend Report for 2019 names sustainability as the trend with the biggest momentum, while TheKnot.com notes how “it’s cool to care about the planet, especially on your big day.”
In general, increasing numbers of people are putting their eco-passion into practice by planning sustainable weddings. High-profile weddings that have recently set examples include the October 2018 wedding of Princess Eugenie of York when the bride banned plastics (linens and glassware look much more elegant, anyhow!) and the May 2018 wedding of England’s Prince Harry and his bride, Meghan Markle, when they asked guests to donate to a pollution-fighting charity instead of gifts.
Domino.com notes that having a sustainable wedding “doesn’t mean surrendering every luxury you had previously dreamt of in the name of saving the planet.” Instead, it involves making mindful choices that still allow you to celebrate your special day in unique and fulfilling ways.
One expert wedding planner polled in the Domino article note how more couples are serving “incredible vegan and vegetarian food at their weddings. When done well, plant-based menus present so many opportunities to ‘wow’ guests with a range of rich flavors, seasonal menus, and Instagram-worthy presentations.”
This could include zucchini noodles or cauliflower steaks—or something else entirely!
Perhaps the idea of a 100 percent vegan/vegetarian meal doesn’t appeal to you. If so, another one of the quoted experts notes how wedding receptions are “an opportunity to have incredibly fresh and seasonal ingredients while also lowering the environmental impact overall.”
As one more angle on this trend, as Delish.com points out, “Guests want to know the exact food origin and backstory. This year, we’ll see unique food stations with a more personalized sourcing story.”
At The Culinary Vegetable Institute, we use farm-fresh vegetables, edible flowers, herbs, greens and more that are sustainably farmed at The Chef’s Garden. There, the team recognizes and embraces traditional farming philosophies and techniques that have sustained farmers for generations, growing crops through a natural, environmentally friendly way,
Other sustainably friendly wedding ideas focus on decorating with herb plants, trees, and other greenery that can then be planted in the couple’s garden; using dried petal confetti that looks and smells wonderful, with these petals naturally biodegrading; and choosing vendors who have a sustainability mindset. By supporting companies that promoting sustainability, you’re automatically reducing your event’s carbon footprint.
Consider using edible flowers for your wedding favors, ones that guests can take home to enjoy. Or, as BusinessInsider.com suggests, you can offer a food- or drink-related favor, such as “artisan olive oils, custom hot sauces, and special spice blends.”
Pinterest also shares how sustainable weddings are in demand. In fact, searches for sustainable ideas for weddings have increased by 181 percent and, as Millennial and Gen Z-ers continue to wed, this trend is likely to continue to grow. This often involves, Pinterest explains, weddings where people can connect with nature.
The Culinary Vegetable Institute can provide exactly that kind of unique setting for a sustainable wedding, one customized exclusively for the couple. Our natural surroundings provide a beautiful ambiance, ever-changing with seasonal authenticity. The menu reflects the couple’s stories with ingredients they love, all presented in the singular and artistic style of our internationally renowned chef who has become widely known for his commitment to a sustainable kitchen.
Weddings at the Culinary Vegetable Institute are magical, creating memories as exceptional as the couple of the hour. If you’d like to talk specifics about your own special day, please contact us online.
Wedding Trend #2 Off-the-Beaten Path Venues
Today’s couples are looking for offbeat venues for their weddings and receptions, and also proudly sharing their nontraditional choices by including pictures of the venue on their wedding invitations. JuneBugWeddings.com follows along the same theme by pointing out how fulfilling your wedding day can be when you can find a “unique wedding venue that fits your vibe, has a cozy atmosphere, and that hasn’t been used by every couple in town.”
TheKnot.com also gives thumbs up to choosing an offbeat venue, and they especially recommend receptions that are the “ultimate mashup of fine dining and comfort food.” Examples they give are “root beer floats in champagne flutes, or mac and cheese cups topped with fresh lobster. The pairings and presentation possibilities are endless.”
If this appeals to you, then we invite you to consider the Culinary Vegetable Institute, which offers up an idyllic environment for outdoor weddings with an out-of-the-way location, complete with gorgeous flower gardens and a wooded natural landscape. Our rustic backdrop is perfect for the most elegant wedding—and the most laidback one, too.
Our chef’s suite is ideal for day-of preparations for the bride and bridal parties, and for a romantic retreat for your wedding night. This expansive suite includes the following: a fully equipped kitchen, dining area, bathroom with shower and Jacuzzi tub, fireplace and deck. You are welcome to bring in your own salon services to assist in your preparations. Non-alcoholic beverages and light snacks will be offered in the Chef’s Suite for the bridal party before the service.
There is additional lodging available, too, to accommodate wedding party members or families.
The celebrated kitchen team will work with you to create a reception menu that’s just your style, either outdoors under white tents or inside our vaulted, natural wood dining room. And, yes. We are experts in combining fine dining with comfort food!
Wedding Trend #3 Unique Seating
Multiple wedding blogs, including RuffledBlog.com, share how increasing numbers of couples are choosing to use in-the-round seating. Traditionally, of course, seating for ceremonies have been row-based, such as how pews are laid out in most churches. Ceremonies in the round, though, go beyond being just another way to place the seats. That’s because curved seating arrangements can offer up a much more intimate setup, one that “creates an atmosphere of infinity and invitation—plus, what better way to show off every angle of your epic wedding dress than this?”
Also trending: outside-the-box seating assignments. Brides.com points out how seating assignments can be quite fun as you go beyond standard place cards. In 2019, experts suggest that “seating charts can take on any form imaginable, from personalized acrylic slabs to leaves to gold animal figurines. The sky’s the limit, and your nearest and dearest can even treasure your pick as a post-wedding keepsake.”
Some couples are using images of animals to indicate where people should sit, and we’d like to suggest distinct choices of edible flowers to accomplish the same in a colorful and beautiful way.
At the Culinary Vegetable Institute, we believe that weddings should be the most personal expression possible as the bride and groom begin a new life today. Couple choose our venue because they know their event will truly be distinctive—because no two events at the Culinary Vegetable Institute are ever the same. And, if having unique seating arrangements are part of your personal vision, just let us know!
Our Culinary and Event Operations team will fulfill your vision of your ideal day, orchestrating the planning, coordinating vendors and services, set-up, managing the time and place, flow of the event, menu and all of the special details that will make it truly your own.
Wedding Trend #4 Craft Cocktails
BridalGuide.com shares how younger couples often gravitate towards craft cocktails, drinks that are “so beautiful they’re conversation pieces.” They especially highlight handmade craft cocktails that “pair different liquors with fresh flowers and seasonal produce for a unique sipping experience.” Many couples go even further, sharing their unique love story through signature cocktails created especially for them.
As another part of this trend, more weddings include stations “equipped with flavored syrups, fruits, edible flowers, and herbs for guests to add to the base of the cocktail themselves.”
Liz Studer, who serves as the wine steward and head of the Culinary Vegetable Institute’s beverage program, regularly creates signature cocktails for every event held in our unique venue. These cocktails showcase farm-fresh vegetables, edible flowers and fresh herbs that are sustainably grown at The Chef’s Garden, with Liz gaining inspiration for drinkable ideas through history, places, people and their stories.
She may use bitters that have been created by infusing alcohol with botanical matter, such as edible flowers, leaves, herbs, bark, vegetables, and so forth. More specifically, she has used marigold, root beer leaf, watercress blooms, mustard pod, lemon balm, carrot, lavender, basil, chocolate mint, lucky sorrel, thyme blossom, cucumber, English mint, and even baby beets. These bitters are then used to enhance and balance sophisticated cocktails—ones that embrace the philosophy of sustainable use of resources to invent out-of-this-world cocktails.
For an added layer of flavor, she often creates ice by freezing cold-water herbal infusions, perhaps by using lemon verbena ice. This adds another layer of flavor to her signature cocktails while also avoiding the ice of plain ice that, as it melts, dilutes flavors. She also steeps herbs in simple syrups as another layering technique.
Here are wedding trends we spotlighted in 2017 that might also interest you.
Unique Weddings at the Culinary Vegetable Institute
“We had our wedding at CVI and everything about the day was perfect! The staff have a great attention to detail—which meant nothing was forgotten. And of course—the food! Chef Jamie prepared an unforgettable meal custom to our requests and ideas. You cannot go wrong booking an event here. My husband and I didn’t want to leave and cannot wait to come back for a dinner or a class!”
To find more specifics about holding your wedding and/or reception at The Culinary Vegetable Institute, you can find information about each of the following:
ceremony reception and set up
cocktail hour and dinner
rehearsal dinner or brunch
The 11,000-square-foot facility, built of locally quarried limestone, pine and cedar exterior with a wild cherry, black walnut, tulip poplar, oak and ash interior, sits on approximately 100 acres of fertile land and includes a 1,500-square foot state-of-the-art two-story kitchen designed by Mark Stech-Novak. The facility boasts full audio-visual capabilities; a 1,426-square-foot dining room with 22-foot ceilings capable of seating 90; an executive chef suite with luxury amenities; a root cellar and wine cellar; experimental vegetable, forest and herb gardens; and more.
There are numerous picturesque places to take photos and, as just another option for your personalized wedding day, you can arrive in style in our Belgian Horse-drawn wagon! Farmer Lee Jones will drive the carriage harnessed with two stunning Belgian Horses. The carriage can then be made available to you and your guests for tours throughout the Culinary Vegetable Institute grounds.
We look forward to talking to you! Please contact us online or call 419.499.7500 today.
Zero-Proof Drinks Make Herbs, Flowers and Vegetables the Star
Shirley Temples are all grown up, thanks to the rising popularity of complex, sophisticated “zero-proof” craft cocktails, also called temperance cocktails or mocktails.
Every CVI Vegetable Showcase event begins with a signature cocktail inspired by the evening’s featured ingredient from The Chef’s Garden. But, non-drinkers needn’t feel left out, because CVI wine steward and mixologist Liz Studer always stirs up a non-boozy mocktail option that’s every bit as special as the hard stuff.
Studer said she draws inspiration from non-alcoholic beverages served in “temperance taverns” of the 18th and 19th centuries. Those drinking establishments became watering holes for people who vowed to abstain from intoxicating alcohol. So, rather than rely on strong spirits, innovative temperance bartenders turned to aromatics and botanicals such as dandelion, burdock, sassafras, mint, herbs, edible flowers and vegetables.
With so many potential ingredients from The Chef’s Garden at her fingertips, Studer has the raw materials she needs to infuse simple syrups and herb teas, to create vibrant vegetable juices, and muddle in intense flavors.
Garden to Glass | Zero Proof Cocktails - YouTube
TCG: How does “zero-proof” modernize the image of non-alcoholic bar options?
LS: Zero-proof beverages have come a very long way in the past few years. It used to be that those only offerings at a bar would be soda, a Virgin Mary, or Shirley Temples. Now, bars have tossed the maraschino cherries (for the most part) and, instead of simply excluding the spirit in a particular drink to make it non-alcoholic, they have made a push to craft beverages that are delicious in their own right. Right now, we are seeing a cultural shift towards moderation, and more health-conscious social dining and drinking. Zero-proof beverages are a great way to be more inclusive. Everyone at the dinner table, or bar, should be able to have the same kind of experience, with thoughtful, beautiful, well-prepared, delectable drinks.
TCG: When creating ingredient-specific custom beverages for a CVI event, how do you bridge the cocktail and the mocktail to tie them together? Or don’t you?
LS: For every event that we host here at the CVI, I craft a specialty cocktail based upon the star vegetable or theme of the night. With the CVI being an extension of The Chef’s Garden, every drink has some element of vegetable, herb or flower in the preparation. It could be a syrup or a juice or a garnish or a thousand different things. I recently made a cucumber sour mix for margaritas and was able to use that same sour mix with soda water for a cucumber spritz.
Proportions change to balance the drink, and the mouthfeel is different, so sometimes you have to play with it a little bit more to get it just right. Maybe it’s muddled herbs or a dash more syrup, but the overall goal is the same ─ design a delicious beverage, with or without alcohol, that will start our guests night off on a high note and that will lead perfectly into the chef’s first course.
TCG: Where do zero-proof drinks fit into today’s high-end beverage space?
LS: Some of the country’s best restaurants are embracing the idea of “temperance pairings.” Ronny Emborg’s Michelin-starred restaurant Atera comes to mind as one of the first to incorporate non-alcoholic beverage pairings. Cultivated drinks to enjoy alongside haute cuisine allow those who are not partaking in alcohol to have the same high-end dining experience, bite for bite and sip for sip. Also, bartenders are becoming more akin to culinarians in their approach to drinks. Working alongside the chefs, they can explore flavor and creativity a bit more than they can with a really stellar single malt on the rocks, for example.
TCG: How do botanical ingredients balance a drink in the absence of alcohol?
LS: In alcoholic cocktails, normally you start with a base spirit. You can blend other ingredients with your base, but the sheer strength of the underlying flavor scheme remains the same. In the absence of the spirit, some other element must take center stage. Botanical ingredients offer a plethora of colors, flavors, and aromas to stand in, and can be layered to create depth. Here, the understudy becomes the star. Now, this applies to cocktails turned into zero-proof mocktails, but it should also be said that botanical ingredients can and should be the focus right from the beginning. It’s a matter of shifting the mindset.
TCG: Do you find zero-proof beverages more or less challenging that alcohol-based drinks?
LS: This is a great question. I actually find zero-proof beverages to be more challenging. Wine grapes and styles have been paired with certain foods for such a long time that the basics are becoming relatively common knowledge. Cocktails have seen a renaissance by recreating and riffing on classics. When we develop wine and spirits programs, we stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before us, and further their ideas, albeit in our own way. When it comes to non-alcoholic beverages, though, innovation has most definitely not reached the same level. There just simply have not been that many people who have championed the zero-proof craft beverage movement. Fortunately, this does open up a huge opportunity for those willing to forge the path. Through the garden. Or the forest. Or the sea. Or wherever their vision takes them!
TCG: What unique advantages or possibilities do zero-proof drinks have compared with alcoholic ones?
LS: Well, the obvious advantage to zero-proof drinks you can try all ten on a menu and not fall out of your chair! Some chefs hold the belief that strong spirits dull the taste buds and olfactory senses, thus diminishing the overall dining experience. Zero-proof beverages would be just the opposite, used as a tool to further enhance the dining experience. For me, the advantage is in the challenge! The red-headed ‘Shirley Temples’ of the bar have now been brought to the forefront, and these purposefully-crafted drinks have been a way to further hone my craft, flex my creative muscles, and continue learning. Every day.
Too many cooks in the kitchen was a good thing at the Culinary Vegetable Institute’s asparagus Showcase Dinner on May 18. A handful of culinary students from Bridging Communities Regional Tech Center in Virginia joined the CVI kitchen team, as did three Chef for a Day participants. Add a mom snapping cell phone pictures and there wasn’t much elbow room to spare.
Chef Lincoln Marquis is the instructor of the Bridging Communities program. About a year ago he completed a week-long stage at the CVI, and the experience made such an impact on him that he wanted to bring his students back to participate firsthand.
“I was very excited to be coming here,” he said. “It required a good bit of selling because this sort of field trip is not a standard thing that my school has done before. But I thought it was going to be such a valuable experience in many ways that I can never provide them in a classroom situation.”
While her daughter Autumn piped crème fraiche onto the amuse bouche, Tamara Wright captured photos and reveled in her daughter’s obvious joy. Autumn is a standout third-year student in Chef Marquis’s program, with scholarship offers from some of the country’s most prestigious culinary institutions, including the Culinary Institute of America and Johnson and Wales.
“She said she would give it all up to work here,” Tamara said. “It’s been wonderful for her to be able to be a part of this, and she’s already talking about taking the train to come back and do Chef for a Day.”
“It’s an educational experience, as well,” she continued. “I just overheard her telling a guest that she was so filled with joy just to be here and how everyone in the kitchen not only stopped what they were doing to answer questions and to offer advice, but that everyone has a specific skill set that they’re willing to share. They’re willing to teach.
“It would be a beautiful thing for the rest of the world to experience this.”
Lessons From Beyond the Classroom
During the two days that his students were in the kitchen and touring The Chef’s Garden, Chef Marquis said he was thrilled to see how the experience was affecting his young protégés.
“The changes I’ve seen in my students just in the time we’ve been here ─ when you’re working in someplace like this, and you’re working with people who’re really paying attention to what they’re doing, and really understand that the work they’re doing is important ─ that’s a big change from most of the school experience,” he said. “Learning is important, but a lot of what you’re doing in a school situation is just practice. You’re going to do it and that’s it. In hospitality, it’s really important to have customers, and a lot of schools don’t necessarily have that. The whole meaning of it is that you’re not making it for yourself, you’re making it for someone else. And that’s a different thing for my class. That’s the thing that makes people want to be in hospitality.”
“An experience like this shows you what you can do and what you can be,” Chef Marquis continued. “It’s about being able to do something that you might have thought was impossible.”
Future Chefs Evoke Past Memories
While Chef’s Garden asparagus was the stuff of inspiration and new memories in the kitchen, it evoked nostalgia and a bittersweet look back in time for guest Shayanna Bleile and her aunt, Marcie, both from nearby Norwalk, Ohio.
“Three years ago in April my uncle passed away,” Shayanna said. “And the reason I invited my aunt to be here with me today is because our love for asparagus grew through him.”
Shayanna said her godfather “Uncle Bill” was a foodie and wannabe chef who was particularly fond of asparagus. His influence encouraged Shayanna to expand her palate and see food as an adventure.
“He took me in when I was 15, and I’d never experienced any kind of vegetables like that,” she said. “And he really influenced me to try and enjoy.”
Marcie said Uncle Bill’s taste for the finer things was a result of his job, which included frequent travel. “He traveled a lot, and he would go to Chicago and Newport and all these big cities, and to all these nice restaurants, then he’d come and try to cook the dishes,” she said.
Marcie’s asparagus memories reached back to the time before she and her husband brought Shayanna into their home.
“Before Shay came along, he asked me to go to the store to get some steaks and asparagus,” she remembered. “So I came home with the biggest pieces of asparagus I could find. He looked at me and he goes, ‘Marcie! You get the thin ones! They’re tender! You don’t want the big asparagus!’ We just kind of giggled about it, but it was just a thing, you know. Whenever he’d send me to the store he’d say ‘Get the thin asparagus!’”
Chance of a Lifetime
One of the three Chef for a Day participants summed up his own experience as “the chance of a lifetime.”
“I had the chance to sit down for the dinner, but I didn’t want to,” he said. “I’m having too much fun.”
Is an empty plate a blank canvas or a blank page? Are chefs painters or storytellers? Do their culinary compositions flow from a palette or a pen? For CVI Chef Jamie Simpson, story is everything.
“It’s not about pretty plates. It’s ‘what are we currently experiencing right now,’” he said. “Maybe we should start there, you know? And really look at ‘how do we start with a single story, a single theme to deliver a message?’ That’s kind of how I look at it.”
That single theme could be anything, he said ─ a time, an ingredient or a place, for example.
“Say it’s about peas, and the overlap in seasons between peas and carrots,” he said. “If it’s just a single ingredient, or a single overlap of seasons that allows us to tell a story, then we’ll just find ways. Sometimes it’s a moment. Like, the pheasant makes haste through the corn fields, eating every single thing that moves in its path, getting ready for winter. And that’s a thing. That’s an opportunity to tell a story and build a dish.”
Ideas and Inspiration
Rather than scrolling through Instagram for ideas, Chef Jamie said he finds the most compelling stories in nature.
“If I want to get inspired, I’m going to go outside,” he said. “Walk through the farm. Walk through the garden. Through the woods. Any part of it.”
Chef Jamie’s “walk through the garden” salad is a constantly evolving narrative. “It’s the day, the season, depending on the walk,” he said. “It depends upon what’s going on out there right now. So, right now, I’d say cherry blossoms. I see crocus coming up. The very early parts of fennel. Little chive plants are about to pop ─ all kinds of really cool things out there. How do you bridge all of those together in a dish?”
A “walk through” dish can be inspired by less idyllic locales, as well. “You can walk through the root cellar or you can walk through the freezer,” he said. “We do a dish we call ‘Walk Through the Walk-in.’ It’s leftovers.”
Sometimes a single ingredient can be the plot of the story.
“Imagine a linear path through a plate that’s a composition on turnip,” he said. “The turnip can live high and low, left and right, wide and lean. It can sort of become this modular ingredient. I think it’s really dynamic. So we do some raw turnip applications. Maybe some turnip leaf applications. Maybe some turnip flowers. As we work our way down, we’ll go into maybe a poached turnip, turnip purees. We get into the fermented turnips. We get into these big hard core seared grilled turnips, and then we look for charred and blistered, those kind of things. Petite turnips can live here, those that are also charred.
“And then you need a bridge,” he said, “an ingredient to sort of bring it all together. In this case I’d choose goose liver or chicken liver or duck liver or some kind of iron-y thing. We could make a mousse from it. A big spoonful. You can take a little and bring it all the way through. You’ll experience turnip at every stage of doneness and ripeness of its life, kind of working your way down the line. Naturally, a fork will go to a specific part of the dish first, depending on the way it’s presented.”
Chef Jamie said he is encouraged by fellow chefs charting a path toward story-centered plates.
“More and more chefs today are really trying to tell a story,” he said. “And I think that’s really important. For some of them it’s about the local habitat, the local farmers, their food, their history. For some people it’s about their heritage. For some people it’s all about preservation of something like sustainable seafood practices or working with green light items that are invasive species or whatever.”
“Diners are looking for those stories, too,” he continued. “I think Blue Hill is such a good example of that in New York. Dan Barber is such a storyteller. So much so that it’s one course into the next and into the next.”
Specific geographical and cultural regions can be rich storytelling opportunities, as well.
“My attraction to Ben Shewry (Attica, in Melbourne) is his ability to tell stories,” Chef Jamie said. “His story is growing up in New Zealand, raised in Australia, not accepted by Australians, but accepted by indigenous people of Australia, and sharing food through the aboriginal lens at an extremely high, high level. Not a lot of people can tell that story.”
“I had one dish, and it was like the history of Australia by way of tart,” he continued. “It was three tarts, and one was about 200 years ago when it was kind of untouched land, and it was all native ingredients, really interesting, cooked in traditional indigenous ways. And then it was the English sort of thing with the blood sausage and pig. And then it was the Jewish – the neighborhood that the restaurant’s in is like a little Jerusalem, essentially. It’s a very Hasidic region. So then it was schmaltz and chicken salad and stuff on the tart.
“It was a cool way to tell that story of that particular place, on that land, of what it was like 200 years ago, a hundred years ago, and then today. The English one, the blood sausage one, was pitch black. It was a black tart shell with a black sausage. It was almost sad.”
The plating of a dish can even tell a story about discovery, such as Swedish scientist Ellen Hendrén’s research on bioavailability, digestion and carrots.
“She found that bioavailability of beta carotene in carrots is only three percent available when eaten raw,” Chef Jamie said. “Blended, it can go up to 21 percent. When you blend it and cook it, it goes to 27 percent. When you blend it, cook it and add fat, it’s 39 percent. So you’ve gone from three to 39 percent absorption rate. We told that story with a dish.”
To make the dish, Chef Jamie cooked a blended carrot soup and then froze it inside carrot-shaped silicone molds, then dipped into carrot cocoa butter. The butter formed a hard outer shell to contain the soup as it melted and was ultimately released when guests broke in with spoons, spilling the soup onto a bed of ground and roasted purple carrot and butter “soil.”
Besides being a whimsical dish showcasing the versatility of carrots, Chef Jamie said he intended it to articulate and encapsulate a path of discovery. “I was talking about Ellen Hendrén, and Sweden, and her research on bioavailability and digestion in carrots,” he said.
With constant access to ample farm-fresh vegetables from The Chef’s Garden, Chef Jamie said that, sometimes, he’d rather not make a plate too precious, and instead tell a story of family and abundance. And he’s proved that a dish like that doesn’t have to be served on a plate to be well-plated.
“We did a welcome dinner for a team building event,” he explained. “The goal of the welcome dinner is to establish a sense of place, a sense of season, a sense of respect, and set a tone for the rest of the week. So we try to have a little fun. We try to put some really great simple dishes out ─ vegetables perfectly cooked. So we’re at course five of maybe seven courses. That’s plate after plate. Let’s break it up a little bit.”
“We wanted to tell a story about our pigs and the vegetables they eat,” he continued. “And we did this barbeque cart buried in food. And we roll it out to the middle of this dining room and we serve it family style. It was a whole separate dinner, essentially, with different music. And everybody got up and took pictures and was part of breaking this big roasted pig down, distributing vegetables. It was a big change of pace, and I think, successful. It was a really good opportunity to bring a group of people together.”