Love of fine wine led Liz Studer to the Culinary Vegetable Institute
Culinary Vegetable Institute wine steward and mixologist Liz Studer is at the stove stirring a steaming brew of simple syrup, English and fern lavenders. The alchemy happening inside the enormous pot is destined for a future as a brand new, never before tasted specialty cocktail.
As wine steward, Studer decides which wines to stock in the wine cellar, and pairs wines with the dishes at every Culinary Vegetable Institute dinner event. She said she chooses “food friendly wines, mostly Old World.”
Customized Specialty Cocktails
Studer also creates original specialty cocktails for dinner events, each drink based on the featured ingredient of the meal (as well as a themed non-alcoholic “temperance cocktail.”) For instance, a sweet potato latte blended with honey from the Culinary Vegetable Institute. Marigold tea with honey and whey. Or a blend of vodka, rum, amaretto, lemon balm and peach vinegar with tiny cardamom potato pearls floating on top.
“That one was my first stab at molecular gastronomy,” she said with a smile.
Studer concocted a riff on a Bloody Mary that she dubbed “Verdi Mary” for a dinner featuring cruciferous vegetables. In place of tomato juice, she strained a combination of lettuces, mustards, arugula and edible leaves.
From Music to Mixology
Born in Bellevue, Studer earned a bachelor’s degree in flute performance from Ohio State where she also minored in French, “which is helpful in the wine world,” she said.
Studer said a college job serving at the Olive Garden first exposed her to the world of wines. “It was the first place I worked where the wine wasn’t Riesling or Boone’s Farm,” she joked.
After graduating from The Ohio State, Studer attended the prestigious Longy School of Music of Bard College in Cambridge, Massachusetts. To earn money, she continued working as a server, and had her first exposure to fine dining restaurants.
At Cambridge’s Temple Bar, Studer had a manager who “was really into wine,” and who taught her about Old World wines from primarily European regions. “Those are still the basis of my list.”
At Marco, on Boston’s North End, (a ten-table restaurant with a James Beard Award-winning chef at the time), Studer tended a five-foot bar featuring an all-Italian wine list. “That’s where I really fell in love with fine wine,” she said. It’s also where she met her first true love ─ a 2003 Brunello di Montalcino.
She also serendipitously experienced squash blossoms there ─ the legendary signature flower that launched The Chef’s Garden. It was kismet, she said. “So, it’s all come full circle.”
Studer’s next stop was Boston’s Bin 26 Enoteca in Beacon Hill, which housed a 300-bottle collection of mostly Old World wine. The restaurant’s certified sommelier had a wine tasting with the wait staff prior to every service, and Studer said tasting wine is all part of the job. “You have to love it if you’re going to sell it,” she said with a shrug.
Studer returned to Bellevue in 2010 for family reasons and felt like her Boston experience didn’t fit anywhere. “I thought, here I am, a classical musician trained in fine dining and fine wine, in Bellevue Ohio,” she said. “What am I going to do?”
Then a Sandusky chef, Jesse Harris, took her for a tour of The Chef’s Garden. The visit was eye-opening. “I didn’t know this was right here in my backyard,” she said. “How did I not know this?”
She recalls recognizing the names of chefs and restaurants on the boxes in the packing room and was even more impressed with the farm’s emphasis on soil quality. “Soil is so important to wine,” she said, “the terroir, and sustainability.”
A few years later, she found a new home at the Culinary Vegetable Institute. “I haven’t looked back since,” she said.
Going For It
Creating an original specialty cocktail takes Studer a week or two to figure out. Some ingredients are more challenging than others, too, like the Milanese Flipping Beans cocktail she whipped up for the legume dinner.
“I thought, ‘how am I going to make a bean cocktail?’” she said. “Then Charlotte Voisey, head of ambassadors at William Grant and Sons told me how to use whipped chickpea water in place of whipped egg whites.”
The joy, passion and excitement Studer exudes when talking about her work is palpable. “It’s never repetitive. Never gets boring,” she said. “It’s great to specialize the meal for people and make it a really unique experience.”
Studer multi-tasks at most Culinary Vegetable Institute events. She tends the bar and personally serves guests her specialty cocktail, effusively explaining the ingredients and her process. She also supervises the front of house and trains and coordinates the service staff. And, like her mentor, she conducts a wine tasting before each meal.
Wine Road Trip
After creating a color-changing drink for this interview (recipe below), Studer was driving to Vermont for a weekend with an old friend. She said the two of them used to sit for hours, talking and laughing and drinking cheap rosé. They’re planning to keep up the tradition at their reunion, but Studer is definitely bringing the wine.
“Really good rosé.”
(In case you’re wondering, as for the flute, she still performs in the wind section of the Firelands Symphony Orchestra.)
Green chamomile tea-infused ice
1 ounce rosé wine
½ ounce of Hendrick’s gin
1 ounce of lavender-infused simple syrup
1 ½ ounces of lemon juice
Fill a tall glass with crushed chamomile ice
Pour in each ingredient except the lemon juice (it will be pale green)
Add lemon juice and stir
As the lemon juice infuses the cocktail, it will turn the drink a vibrant rosy pink
Garnish with lemon bergamot