Cookbook authors Sarah Black and Cara Mangini tag-teamed in the Culinary Vegetable institute kitchen on September 8 to create an Earth to Table dinner featuring recipes from their award-winning cookbooks using select farm-fresh vegetables from The Chef’s Garden.
If you’re avoiding gluten or are in the mood for a juicy ribeye, this probably wasn’t the dinner for you. But, if an imaginative feast of vegetables and homemade bread are up your alley, then you were definitely in the right place.
Cannot Live by Bread Alone
Black’s One Dough, Ten Breads and Mangini’s The Vegetable Butcher served as blueprints for the meal pairing Mangini’s “produce inspired” vegetarian fare with the alchemy of Black’s bread-baking wizardry.
The intoxicating scent of fresh bread felt like a warm embrace as guests entered the Culinary Vegetable Institute, coming in from the damp and rainy weather outside. (The heady aroma was potent enough to be an appetizer all on its own!)
While Black tended the ovens, Mangini and Culinary Vegetable Institute’s Chef Jamie Simpson built elaborate arrangements of fall crudité on rustic wooden wheels. The raw, farm-fresh vegetables were coupled with impossibly vibrant red beet hummus and red pepper Romesco sauce, and Turkish carrot yogurt dip. Black’s arm-length breadsticks − some sculpted into roosters − accompanied the vegetables.
Neither Black nor Mangini are new to the farm or the Culinary Vegetable Institute. Black visited about a year ago to teach a day-long, hands-on bread baking workshop. Mangini first experienced The Chef’s Garden when her now-husband Tom Bauer (a Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream partner) brought her here from California to show her the splendor of Ohio farming, and farm to table eating.
“I was hooked,” she said. “It all started here. I knew instinctively that Ohio is where I needed to be.”
Farmer Lee Jones credits The Chef’s Garden’s farm-fresh vegetables as the love potion that brought the two together for good. “They came here straight from the airport,” Farmer Lee said. “In three hours, he had her eating out of his hand.”
Black, who grew up in Ohio, called it “kismet” to meet and collaborate with Mangini in a celebration of gifts from Ohio’s rich farmland. “This is where I learned about the integrity of work,” she said.
Paying it Forward
The warm, welcoming atmosphere was perfect for a farm to table event founded on the generosity of two chefs who hold their secrets loosely and who relish the opportunity to share their recipes and knowledge. Their cookbooks are the perfect vehicles for doing just that.
“That’s my goal,” said Mangini. “For people to go home and make the vegetables.”
In addition to her baking book, Black is a member of the Seminary Hill Farm kitchen team in Delaware, Ohio, on the campus of Methodist Theological School in Ohio, near Columbus. There, she “does all things bread” such as baking for farm dining events. She is also an instructor at the school, teaching hands-on, participatory bread workshops. (Her next class is Saturday, Oct. 20th.)
A Spirit of Calm
Black’s demeanor is gentle, almost Zen-like. She glides serenely through a melee of chefs and their assistants, a flurry of busy servers, a dish crew muscling full racks of plates, glasses and silverware, and curious guests wandering in and out of the open kitchen to sneak a peek of the action and snap a photo or two.
Black seems to exist on a whole different wavelength – a spirit of calm amid the storm – neither hustling nor bustling. (She gives no indication that she’s been on her feet since she started prepping dough at 7 a.m.) She readily shares photos and explains her breads and process, in no rush, giving no indication that there is a dining room of guests who are hungry for more.
Black unfolds a linen cloth wrapped around a loaf of Nan-e-Barbari, a Indian flatbread. The loaf is sliced to reveal an intricate toasted matrix of large, lacy nooks and crannies. She takes a moment to deliver a quick lesson.
“That’s called the cell structure,” she explains. “I like to get that cell structure to where it gets crispy.” The bread serves as a kind of utensil, she said, as the holes make perfect reservoirs for sauces and vegetables. Deep seams running lengthwise along the top of the bread are typically “stitched” with poppy seeds. “But, because of the dinner we wanted to do something green,” she said. “So, I stitched it with rosemary.”
Black said she and her two assistants spent a couple of hours plucking the rosemary leaves from their stems and anchoring them into the grooves. “It’s very time intensive,” she said.
Historically, nan-y-barbari was baked in simple, no-tech stone ovens. But Black said the Culinary Vegetable Institute’s sophisticated Rational® Delta cooker was up to the task. “We bake it in whatever oven is available and get different results,” she said.
A Woman on a Mission
In contrast, Cara Mangini is in energetic perpetual motion, attending to elements of several dishes at once. No stranger to multi-tasking, in the past few months Mangini has given birth to both a new baby and a second location of her vegetable-forward, “produce-inspired” restaurant, Little Eater in Columbus. Mangini’s book, as well as her restaurants, are “celebrations of vegetables in their prime,” highlighting seasonal, local and organic ingredients.
“I’m so excited to be sharing this moment of the year with you,” she told the crowd. “Our hope is that this meal connects you to the moment of the year when summer meets fall, at the height of the harvest.”
Mangini said the impetus for writing her book was to make vegetable preparation readily accessible, “intuitive and second nature” for any cook who uses her book as a resource.
“It’s my mission to put vegetables right in the center of our plates,” she said. “We should focus on what’s on the plate, not on what’s missing.”
All in the Family
Mangini’s ironically-titled book is a nod to her family’s history of traditional butchery.
“I come from a family of Italian butchers,” she explained. “My great grandfather and my grandfather were all traditional butchers, and I’m vegetarian. So, I’m the vegetable butcher.”
She “butchered” tomatoes, beets, eggplant, green beans, Romano beans, carrots, snow peas, radishes, basil and a mix of baby kales cut into ribbons. To the kale she added in jalapeno-pickled golden raisins, corn nuts and Manchego cheese before gently massaging the fresh greens with avocado-scallion dressing. She plated the salad family style in tall mounds surrounded by upright triangular slices of Black’s spelt focaccia, like Christmas trees decked out with ornaments of sliced rounds of beet, potato, kale and toasted cheese.
Chef Jamie and his team seemed content to play a supporting role for a change and assisted the two chefs with their duties, including the task of scaling the recipes in order to feed more than 70 dinner guests. He said it took some adjustment to work from specific recipes.
“They cook differently because they’re in recipe development,” he said.
Dinner guest John Nunnari, Executive Vice President of Business Advisers of Cleveland, said the Earth to Table event was his first meal at the Culinary Vegetable Institute. “It seemed like a good one to try, with these two chefs,” he said. “I thought it was going to be good, but it’s better than I thought.”
He was particularly enamored with the beet hummus. “I could live on that,” he said. As for the array of edible flowers on several of the dishes and breads? “I couldn’t stop popping them into my mouth.”
Be sure to watch the Culinary Vegetable Institute’s calendar for more variations on the farm to table theme!