Chefs for a Day Join CVI Valentine’s Day Dinner Team

Amanda Yoho cashed in her Christmas gift certificate and spent February 9th as “Chef for a Day” at the Culinary Vegetable Institute. Amanda shared the experience with her boyfriend, David Stopher, who surprised her during the holidays with the opportunity to be part of the CVI kitchen team.

The two Clevelanders, who work in the software and tech industries, share an interest in food and cooking together, particularly on Saturdays. “Saturdays are when we do our more adventurous dinners,” Amanda said, adding that they like to challenge their culinary acumen by cooking dishes and recipes from other countries, cuisines and cultures. As a result, their Saturdays often include trips to Cleveland’s West Side Market to hunt for ingredients and ideas.

“We bought a whole fish at the West Side Market and put it on a salt block and tried to figure out how that would work,” David said. “I can remember we did a duck confit that Amanda put together that was really good. There was coq au vin that we tried at home. We try to do a lot of different things. Some of them go better than others, but it’s all part of the process.”

A Whole Different Beast

Amanda and David said they enjoy entertaining and cooking meals for friends, so they were excited to share the love and help cook a romantic Valentine’s Day dinner for the happy couples seated throughout the CVI dining room.

“It’s fun for the two of us to have a dinner and sit down and make something that we really enjoy,” Amanda said. “But it’s a whole different beast to sit down and invite eight friends over and try to make some kind of a dinner that works, and the timing is okay. It adds a whole different angle of complexity. So that’s actually another really cool thing about coming here. You not only get to see what it’s like to make dinner for you, but for you and twenty other people.”

David and Amanda knew ahead of time that their kitchen skills would be held to high standards. “We came to the dinner [at the CVI] last night,” David said. “So, we know how it is supposed to look.”

Amanda said she fully appreciated the attention to detail required to assemble such intricately composed plates.

“When we cook at home, we definitely pay attention to things like plating or finishing stuff,” she said. “We did have a small dinner party with a couple of friends, and I remember very distinctly that I had finished putting some things on a plate, and one of our friends went to help take the plates to where we were sitting to eat, and David went ‘Oh, no! No! No! No! She has to sprinkle something onto it first!’”

A Little of Everything

Buttoned into crisp white chef’s coats and black aprons, with intense looks of concentration on their faces, Amanda and David worked elbow to elbow with the rest of the kitchen team, led by Chef Tristan Acevedo and Chef Dario Torres. They had a hand in preparing and plating every course on the menu, cracking lobster shells for lobster bisque, and flashing their knife skills by thinly slicing New York strip steaks for the main entree. “I’m going to be a little bit nervous to see how it goes when things start coming out that we had a hand in,” Amanda said. “I’m going to be like, ‘I hope we didn’t mess that up’ because we’re not going to be the ones that get blamed for that.”

They manned plating stations, helped assemble and garnish, ran plates from the warmer and even learned to use some of the CVI’s high-tech equipment. “There’s a lot of really scientific and techie kinds of things that happen in a kitchen that you might not otherwise expect until you really get in there,” Amanda said.

“We came here looking for some insight and an experience of what it’s like to be a professional chef,” David said. “The chefs have been great here, sharing some of the science behind what they’re doing. Unless you have an outfitted commercial kitchen in your house, you’re not going to have this experience.”

“What we’re really looking for is to push the boundaries of what we know,” Amanda added. “It’s nice to keep learning and find new and interesting things that you can do.”

Beyond kitchen skills, Amanda and David’s education included farm-fresh vegetables, herbs, edible flowers and edible leaves from The Chef’s Garden, as well. “The ingredients here are more interesting versions of the stuff that I see in the grocery store,” Amanda said. “The carrots are in five different colors and are really tasty and interesting. The Brussels sprouts are green and purple and tiny and look perfect. I’m just not used to seeing it in such a raw but still beautiful and interesting form.”

The Icing on the Cake

The dessert course was an extra added bonus for the couple as they had the good fortune to work alongside visiting guest pastry Chef Melania Castegnaro of Washington D.C.’s Ridgewells Catering. The couple helped Chef Melania assemble the elements of her elaborate “Textures of Chocolate” creation, which included pliable chocolate ganache, pistachio mousse, warm chocolate cake, aerated chocolate, chocolate tart, passionfruit sorbet, vanilla Pop Rocks candies, Chef’s Garden citrus lace, citrus begonia and chocolate mint, and an edible love note.

“Working with Melania and getting a chance to be able to interact with the visiting chef has been really cool,” Amanda said. “You could really see her passion for the dessert. When we first got there, she was like ‘Taste this! Taste this! Taste this!’ So, we got to eat a bunch of chocolate as soon as we got down here this morning.”

As part of Amanda’s Christmas gift experience, David also reserved two nights in the CVI’s Chef’s Suite.

Both Amanda and David said their Chef for a Day experience far exceeded their expectations. “We knew it was going to be a delicious meal, and we knew we were going to get to see some really cool stuff in the kitchen,” Amanda said. “But, really, since we got here yesterday, everybody has been so friendly and so welcoming. It’s just like being at someone’s house for a dinner party or just hanging out friends.”

By evening’s end, the couple looked spent, but energized. “I guess we did okay,” David said. “We didn’t get any complaints, and nobody sent anything back.”

“And we both still have all of our appendages!” Amanda said with a laugh.

Interested in Trying this Yourself?

Here’s more about being the Chef for a Day at the CVI!