Every day, the Culinary Vegetable Institute welcomes a multitude of guests from all walks of life. Many of our guests show up in the form of respected clients and dear friends. An even greater number appear more sporadically, and less formally, throughout the workday.
When guests arrive at the Institute, they know they’re in for a treat. There are so many things that make the CVI unique. For guests who are dining with us, some of them are expected – such as world class food and first-class hospitality. Others maybe read about, viewed on our social media or experienced through a farm tour.
The thing that I personally love most about the Institute is slightly less tangible – that is, its willingness to embrace and its ability to transform every single person who graces its doors into a student. From visiting chefs to local delivery drivers, this is something I’ve been fortunate enough to witness firsthand, time and time again. This is something I have experienced myself.
No matter the reason for a guest’s visit, how much or how little one may appear to have in common with the last, I have consistently spotted a common thread between them. All of our guests depart more curious and more aware than they were when they walked in. If you’ve ever attended an event or stopped into the Institute yourself, you know what I’m talking about. Our diners experience this when they eat at the CVI.
Welcoming Open Concept Kitchen
Guests are welcome to walk through the kitchen after dinner and we commonly get questions about a featured course or ingredient or, sometimes, about the Institute itself.
Guests who stop in during the day often linger in the kitchen to watch and learn; some even jump in to help with one of the days projects for a few minutes before going on their way. There is always something interesting happening in the CVI kitchen and everyone is welcome. When I think about the number of people who pass through our doors on a weekly basis, I’m amazed. When I realize I get to count myself as one of those people – on a daily basis – I’m humbled.
I’ve been with the Culinary Vegetable Institute for just over one year. My culinary background before joining the CVI kitchen team was limited. Prior to the CVI, I was an office manager for a small company; before that, I worked with and galloped racehorses both in Ohio and Kentucky. While the prospect of starting over in a new industry was intimidating, it was also exciting. I expected to learn when I started at the Institute but I did not realize just how vast of a learning experience I would have and how far reaching those lessons would and continue to be.
The CVI provides a wonderful learning environment, both for those on the inside and those on the out. One of the reasons this is so is because of the way it’s set up. We are unique in that we are not a restaurant open for daily service, which affords us the time to really connect with each and every person who walks through our doors. That connection enriches both us and our guests and it’s a gift we do not take for granted. This also allows us to pause throughout the workday and learn from each other through conversations and the sharing of ideas.
What Sets the CVI Apart
I believe what really sets the CVI apart and allows it to be the learning hub that it is, are the people inside. These are people who are genuinely interested in the story you bring and who are extremely passionate about sharing what they do with you. Through my time at CVI I have learned that creativity is limited only by your own capacity to conceive. Mistakes are merely steppingstones, beauty can be found in the smallest of details, and perfection in the most imperfect of things.
Perhaps the biggest lesson of all, thus far, has come from the observation that, no matter who you are and no matter how far your experiences have taken you, the opportunity to learn something new is available to you every single day, right where you are. I’m grateful to have found such an opportunity at the Culinary Vegetable Institute and I look forward to the lessons that each day brings.
A Conversation With Kayla
What made you want to start cooking professionally?
My desire to start cooking professionally developed over time in a sort of roundabout way. I grew up baking with my mom and both of my grandmothers, and the kitchen has always been a form of escape for me. A couple of years back I experienced some health issues that turned into a blessing in disguise when they pushed me out of my comfort zone and into the kitchen.
I was in between industries at the time and searching for a new passion to run with. As I healed from the inside out through food, I fell in love with the challenge and the endless capacity for self-expression that I found in the kitchen. It just made sense.
What brought you to the CVI?
I was looking for a spot near me to get my foot in the door. When I came across a job posting for a dishwasher at the CVI and realized it was located in the next town over, I was thrilled. I researched everything I could find about the facility and stayed up well into the night preparing an application. I walked in for an interview and walked out with a job, both humbled and grateful. On my second day Chef Jamie pulled me into the kitchen. Everything since then has been a whirlwind, to say the least.
What has been your biggest success in the kitchen? What has been your biggest challenge in the kitchen?
My biggest challenges and my biggest successes in the kitchen seem to be one and the same. I’ve probably struggled more technically than anything. You want to do things well but you also need to do them quickly. There’s a fine line and there is so much to learn. My knife skills have improved as has my ability to multitask in the kitchen but, as with everything, there is endless room for improvement. For me, the jump to professional cook over this last year was a big one.
What makes the CVI stand out from other dining establishments?
Aside from the fact that we are only open for a certain number of events each month, I think we really stand apart in the type of events that we offer. Our events are very customized and there is something for everyone. Our menus are unique, as well. While they do feature ingredients from around the world, many of the ingredients we use are grown either in the CVI’s front garden or right down the road at The Chef’s Garden.
We also have a small kitchen team, with three of us currently on staff. It’s a unique and sometimes challenging situation but we’re like family and we work very well together.
What has been your favorite event at the CVI?
Each event is so different, so I don’t actually have one favorite. Instead, there are moments that stand out – so many moments. If I had to pick one event, I’d have to say my very first one – the Twelve Days of Christmas dinner in 2018. My first day at the CVI was day one of this three-day event. It was nothing less than magical. It was overwhelming in the absolute best of ways. I will never forget it.
Where do you see your future in culinary taking you?
My goal this past year was, more or less, to get my foot in the door and feet firmly planted in the world of culinary. I feel like I’ve accomplished this and so my goal for this new year is to have as many culinary related experiences as possible. CVI is the perfect place to do this. Experiences are something I’ve learned you can’t shortcut. I want to taste and see as much as possible this year. I’m still learning all of the avenues that are available to me in this industry. I strive to always have an open mind; I’m excited to see where the future will take me.
Do you have a guilty food pleasure?
Chocolate. It’s cliché but it’s true – I’d rather not live without it.