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.”
How Guests Perceive Quality Dining Experiences
According to an EventBrite survey:
- 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.”
Unique Dining Experiences at the CVI
One of our specialties is the Vegetable Showcase Series.
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!