food & wine benefit for veggie u

VegUI think my head has been in the clouds. How can I call myself a foodie and daily profess my love of food to you and yet not be fully aware of The Chef’s Garden and The Culinary Vegetable Institute? Sure, I’ve heard of this place near Sandusky and knew bits and pieces through various things I’ve read, but never really took the time to fully understand just what a gem this place is, who the people were behind it, what they are doing for chefs all over the world and most importantly, how they are helping kids right in my backyard. That all changed last year when I was invited to participate in one of their monthly dinners at The Culinary Vegetable Institute  and then made it my mission to learn all I could, specifically about Veggie U which you may recall became a big focus of the blog earlier this year (and will again in the winter).

For the past 8 years, The Culinary Vegetable Institute and The Chef’schefs Garden host a fundraiser to support and promote Veggie U. This year we were lucky enough to attend the Food & Wine celebration with over 30 participating chefs and wineries offering tastings throughout the night on the grounds of the farm under one big (read: HOT) tent. Despite the heat (and bugs), it was a simply outstanding event. We ate, drank, ate some more, made some new friends, reacquainted with old ones, and then ate and drank once again. Truthfully, this was a fabulous event and evening – we had a ball and will continue to attend and support Veggie U and its mission of helping kids make better food choices and understand where their food comes from for years to come.

In between alfood2l the good eats, chatter and laughter, we learned a  little Cleveland  food scoop.

I ran into the ladies behind The Lounging Gourmet.
I ran into the ladies behind The Lounging Gourmet.

After meeting and briefly talking with Jeni Britton Bauer of Jeni’s Ice Cream, she shared that she’s working on a cookbook that will spill all her delicious little secrets and is actively scouting out Cleveland for a location (maybe by this spring?). Speaking of cookbooks, you may have heard that the Sawyers are working on one too – and getting fairly close to sharing plans for restaurant #2. Finally, ran into a former classmate of mine, Scott Kuhn, who shared that he’s in the process of a major renovation of an old building on the other end of Chagrin Falls (was formerly private property up until now) for a microbrewery (he’s hoping it will mirror some of his favorites in Portland). Much more to come on this.

foodMy favorite dish of the night was a tie between the braised pork belly from chef Craig Deihl at  Cypress in Charleston (I’m heading outside Charleston for vacation this August, will have to make a trip to check out his restaurant) and squash blossoms stuffed with sweet corn, Chevre and spicy peach chutney via chef Michael demoDelligatta from The Inn at Verailles. Wow. Wow. Wow. I was not familiar with him or this inn, but what an impression this dish made. I also enjoyed the watermelon and cucumber salad from Three Birds and bison flank steak bahn mi with foie gras butter and your choice of toppings from chef Beej Flamholz. Best in show would have to go to Ann Blackwood of Kalahari. She had at least five beautifully decorated desserts with amazing detail. Personally, I didn’t care for the taste of the sweets but Jamie sure did, making a few stops for these tiny chocolate ganache bites with lavender flowers. Chef Jonathon Sawyer of The Greenhouse Tavern demoing his Ratatouille Provence along with Jay (also pictured above with chef Lee Ann Wong, Jay and Amelia) was also fun and informative.

Thanks to Michelle Demuth-Bibb of The Chef’s Garden for sharing some of the pics.