The Envelope, Please! Top 10 Posts for 2019

 Yes, we’re taking some inspiration from the Academy Awards where there is a moment of drama before each Oscar winner is announced—anticipatory seconds when the person announcing the winner needs to open an envelope.

In this blog post, we’ll be sharing the ten most popular CVI posts from the past year, along with an overview of what each post contains—and, best of all, you don’t need to watch us fumble to open any envelopes, and there are no long acceptance speeches to listen to before we move on to the next winner.

Inspiration for Creative Plating Techniques

 Culinary Vegetable Institute Chef Jamie Simpson shares unique insights into elements of creative food plating, using his edible study in circles as the example. With this plating technique, rounds of eggplant, tomatoes, potatoes and peppers are the stars of the show, with temperature, texture, balance, story and season playing equally important supporting roles.

“We first started with a round plate with lots of concentric circles, really simple, with a round sauce that kind of spills out as you pour it,” Chef Jamie said, referencing a creamy, velvety sauce of white eggplant with the sumptuous texture of just-melted ice cream.

As for the vegetables, “All of them were round, so it just made sense,” he said. “The potato galette is actually a bunch of little rounds that form one big round. The sauce piped down around the curled peppers that are placed on top of it are also round. And we can use natural shapes—leaves, flowers—that help, for me, to kind of break it up a little bit.”

“We look at various elements of design, all of them ultimately having a result,” he continued. “It kind of goes back to ‘every action has an equal and opposite reaction.’”

 What are Bitters, Exactly? Blends are Blooming in CVI

 In this next winning post, bitters are in the spotlight. These are alcoholic preparations made by infusing alcohol with botanical matter and, as the name implies, the final product is characteristically bitter, sour or bittersweet.

Originally developed as patent medicines and digestive aids, today’s bitters are predominantly used to flavor, enhance and balance sophisticated cocktails. The popularity of bitters is on the rise, and with it an ever-growing variety of new, unique, craft and small batch bitters options.

So, on a low shelf in the darkened CVI root cellar are rows of small glass bottles with handwritten labels containing liquids in red, amber, green, gold, umber, brown, orange. The tinctures are made from flowers, leaves, herbs, bark, vegetables, and whatever else might make a bigger, better bitters bar.

More specifically, tinctures on our shelves are made from marigold, root beer leaf, watercress blooms, mustard pod, lemon balm, carrot, lavender, basil, chocolate mint, lucky sorrel, thyme blossom, cucumber, English mint and even baby beets.

Dining Out Trends: Pop-Up Dinners

Diners are enjoying pop-up dinners around the globe, each with its own unique twist. In general, they are one-off events or temporary locations where creative chefs offer intriguing, adventurous dishes, often in quirky venues. Chefs sometimes participate in them to figure out what might make a successful regular item on the menu—and, at the CVI, pop-up dinners are at the heart of what we do.

In fact, when one of the CVI chefs, Tristan Acevedo, first walked through the doors of our unique culinary center, he noted how the CVI allows one-of-a-kind expressive experimentation, permission to NOT become boxed in, and the luxurious opportunity to really pause and consider all the nuances of an ingredient or process.

In other words, the perfect place for a pop-up.

If you haven’t been to such an event at the CVI, please consider it for 2020! We offer unique events where guest chefs of renown come to the CVI to cook culinary masterpieces in our 1,500-square-foot, state-of-the-art, two-story kitchen designed by Mark Stech-Novak—and to revel in our culinary library, root cellar, wine cellar, and experimental vegetable, forest and herb gardens.

You can find information about our upcoming events here.

Vegetable Carbs: Cooking Techniques and Other Insights

 Increasing numbers of restaurants, chefs and diners are focusing on plant-based dishes, either exclusively or as a growing menu percentage. So, it isn’t really surprising how we’re seeing more news coverage about swapping traditional grain-based carbs for healthy vegetable-based ones.

Trends reports are calling cauliflower and zucchini, for example, the “veggie doppelgangers for grainy rice and carbo-loaded pasta.” And, after reading that report, Chef Jamie said the following: “The application of terms like ‘pasta-like’ and ‘rice-like’ are just proof that vegetables are versatile, magical, wonderful—but often too-overlooked—ingredients.”

When mulling over how to use veggie carbs, Chef Jamie suggests that we stop thinking in terms of recipes, instead thinking “in techniques, which is where, perhaps, creativity really beings.”

Additional cooking techniques to consider as you add vegetable carbs to dishes and menus include the following: pureed, fried, fried, puffed, baked juiced, grilled, sheeted, pickled, charred, caramelized, smoked, carbonated, frozen, powdered, and fermented.

Plate to Plate: Potato Gnocchi Recipe

 Extracting all of the usable potential from every single vegetable is a daily goal and primary mission for Chef Jamie and his team—and adhering to a “zero waste” philosophy requires unwavering adherence to waste-reducing kitchen practices. But the challenge doesn’t stop there. Chef Jamie and his staff don’t just use everything. They transform ingredients that many others would toss in the trash. In this Plant to Plate feature, Chef Jamie makes a potato gnocchi recipe and, rather than discarding the peels, he uses them to infuse the dish with another layer of intense potato flavor.

Here’s the potato gnocchi recipe!

Vegetable Snacks: The Next Edition of Plant to Plate at the CVI!

 When we asked Chef Jamie his thoughts on transforming fresh vegetables into snacks, his first comment was “I love this space.” In part this is because it dovetails with his commitment to eliminating food waste—and, in part, because it provides even more opportunities to creatively use vegetables from The Chef’s Garden in delicious ways. This led to Chef Jamie’s second comment, which was, “I’m always looking for inspiration.”

You can, for example, use the ancient Chinese technique used to make shrimp chips and then apply that to turn peas, carrots, tomatoes or beets into an elegant snack. Or, you can make vegetable snacks with a jerky technique, turn yuca into a puff pastry texture, make veggie dips (meaning dips out of the vegetables) and so much more. Check out this post to find Chef Jamie’s recipe for puffed kale.

Sophisticated Mocktails Take Center Stage

Every CVI Vegetable Showcase event begins with a signature cocktail inspired by the evening’s featured ingredient from The Chef’s Garden. But, non-drinkers needn’t feel left out, because there’s always a non-boozy mocktail option that’s every bit as special as the hard stuff—a sophisticated mocktail.

Zero-proof beverages have come a very long way in the past few years. It used to be that the only offerings at a bar would be soda, a Virgin Mary, or Shirley Temples. Now, bars have tossed the maraschino cherries (for the most part) and, instead of simply excluding the spirit in a particular drink to make it non-alcoholic, they have made a push to craft beverages that are delicious in their own right. Right now, we are seeing a cultural shift towards moderation, and more health-conscious social dining and drinking. Zero-proof beverages are a great way to be more inclusive. Everyone at the dinner table, or bar, should be able to have the same kind of experience, with thoughtful, beautiful, well-prepared, delectable drinks—and, at the CVI, they can.

Fresh Asparagus Inspires More than a Meal

In May 2019, the Culinary Vegetable Institute held their Asparagus Showcase Dinner, and a handful of culinary students from Bridging Communities Regional Tech Center in Virginia joined the CVI kitchen team, as did three Chef for a Day participants.

So, how did the students from Virginia end up participating in our showcase? Well, Chef Lincoln Marquis is the instructor of the Bridging Communities program. About a year ago he completed a week-long stage at the CVI, and the experience made such an impact on him that he wanted to bring his students back to participate firsthand.

“I was very excited to be coming here,” he said. “It required a good bit of selling because this sort of field trip is not a standard thing that my school has done before. But I thought it was going to be such a valuable experience in many ways that I can never provide them in a classroom situation.”

If you’re wondering how it went, here’s the answer. “An experience like this shows you what you can do and what you can be,” Chef Marquis said. “It’s about being able to do something that you might have thought was impossible.”

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.

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. 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.”

But all went well, with Amanda and David saying 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.

Big City Chef Returns to Small Town Roots

 Renowned New York City chef and Vermilion, Ohio native Chef Scott Schneider returned to his old stomping grounds for a collaborative pop-up dinner with students from the Lorain County JVS Culinary Arts program, where Chef Scott’s own culinary career began.

Chef Scott, Chef de Cuisine at New York’s celebrated Ai Fiori restaurant, prepared a five-course meal at The Culinary Vegetable Institute showcasing seasonal vegetables from The Chef’s Garden, with the students as his sous chefs. Asked what advice he’d give to up-and-coming chefs, Chef Scott said tenacity, humility and being teachable are the most important skills they can bring to the kitchen.

“The advice I would give these young cooks is to stay humble and learn as much as you can,” he said. “Just because you went to culinary school doesn’t mean you’re a chef. You have to be willing to put in the work and hours to rise through the ranks and get the respect of your peers. Leave your ego at the door. The worst thing for a chef is a cook who thinks they know it all.”

And, we’ll close with this comment from Chef Scott about the CVI: “It’s amazing to see the products, taste, and ultimately cook with them at the CVI. There is no place like it in the world!