Preserving the Flavors of Summer- Squash Blossom Powder

Preserving the Flavors of Summer- Squash Blossom Powder

The idea sparked from extra squash blooms that had overgrown in our fields after a few days of heavy rain. While taking photographs of the giant star-shaped blossoms, Chef’s Garden photographer Michelle Demuth-Bibb asked if anyone had ever dehydrated squash blossoms to preserve them. We thought this was a great idea! The blossoms were set in the dehydrator overnight at a low temperature. The blooms shrunk a bit and the stems became crisp and rigid.IMG_4438IMG_4445

Next we shook the blooms into a tamis and ran them along the screen into a bowl. The blooms gave way easily and created a brilliant ochre-colored powder, with bits of the green veins adding rustic color. The powder is bitter on the tongue at first but gives way to a pleasing toasted squash blossom flavor somewhere between roasted pumpkin seeds and fried potato.IMG_4448IMG_4462

The remaining stems and stamens when dehydrated take on the consistency of potato chips and popcorn but with a pure squash flavor that is concentrated and delicious! We also think that these could be steeped in water to make a uniquely flavored tea or broth.

More than likely this will be a technique used for excess blossoms. Dehydrating 50 blooms into powder only yielded 13 grams of product. The stems weighed in at just over 17 grams. Squash Blossom powder might be the next saffron!

A Puerto Rican Dinner at The CVI: Food, Music, and Culture

A Puerto Rican Dinner at The CVI: Food, Music, and Culture

1743708_10206307932754189_3909880434070309154_nJune 13th, The Culinary Vegetable Institute is excited to host a special pop-up dinner from two of the CVI’s interns from Puerto Rico, Dario Torres and Mariel Carrasco Garay. The team will be preparing a lively and spirited Puerto Rican dinner of traditional recipes with the modern culinary flair they have honed during their work in the kitchen at the CVI.

Puerto Rican cuisine has strong foundations in the traditions of the many cultures that have taken root on the small island. It is a melting pot of West African, Spanish, and native Taíno cuisines that has a uniqueness and flavor all its own. However, modern day Puerto Rican food hasn’t experienced much innovation over the years. Creating a menu around a cuisine with so many roots and a rigourous set of rules can be a complicated task. Mariel will be the first to admit that the refined and composed plates of the traditional recipes they are working on wouldn’t be recognizable to say, her grandmother or her neighbor. Dario promises that although the look and feel might be different, this is Puerto Rican food at the core: fresh, invigorating, and full of soul.

Puerto Rico is a farming country rich with warm climate vegetables and tropical fruits. Pig, cattle, goat, and chicken farms dot the landscape, but sugar cane is the predominant crop for farmers.

A booming tourism industry along a coastline of lush sandy beaches brings crowds of hungry mainlanders to dine on island classics like mofungo, a hearty stew served over the ubiquitous fried plantains, delicious pasteles, a tamale made with green bananas, and mondongo, a rustic tripe and vegetable stew. Puerto Rico also boasts some of the world’s best seafood. Traditional dishes are served all over the island in almost the same fashion, eliminating the need for modern flair and making the rules of the cuisine almost taboo to break. In most homes, the cooking is a family matter and the recipes have been handed down from generations past. I asked Mariel if a modern twist on Puerto Rican food would go over well in the prideful kitchens of the restaurants in her home town.

“In Puerto Rico it’s not necessary for chefs to worry about the modern techniques because our ancestors already had great techniques of their own,” she says, “the chefs today don’t try to do anything different at all. There are hundreds of restaurants, traditional restaurants, and they all serve a version of mofongo or fried pork or chicken chicharrones…again and again all over Puerto Rico. Their system is ‘That’s what the people buy, so that’s what I’m going to make.’ Here in the States, we have more opportunities to get people to enjoy our food that have never tried it before. We want to show them how to respect our traditions, our culture. It just depends on how you look at it,  how you present it differently from everyone else.”

Dario adds, “We want to make food for people who want to go out and enjoy a piece of fish or meat, but we need to show the people how to respect not just the meal, but the culture, the ingredients, the work of the people behind the food. Its beyond cooking. We want our guests to enjoy moments.”

Dario and Mariel have been traveling and working together for several years as an inseparable team. Leaving Puerto Rico with knife rolls and chef jackets, they joined the kitchens on luxury cruise ships and travelled the world with a cook’s itinerary, studying local cooking traditions and tasting their way through local markets and restaurants.

Eventually they made their way to the midwest to find work in the Cleveland food scene. It was here that they were introduced to the products from the Chef’s Garden and the events happening at The Culinary Vegetable Institute. Eager to continue to learn, the pair dedicated themselves fully to the farm, the internship program, and the work going on at the Institute. Again, traveling with not much more than their knife rolls, chef’s coats, and a wealth of cooking know-how, they launched into a months-long quest to learn the cutting edge techniques of contemporary cuisine under the tutelage of CVI Executive Chef, Jamie Simpson.

This type of “traditional versus modern” contrast is just one of the many avenues of forward-thinking food philosophies that are explored in The Culinary Vegetable Institute’s Culinary Internship Program. The Institute was set up to encourage chefs to explore, educate, and experiment with fresh produce from The Chef’s Garden, the farm that maintains the program, and to elevate simple concepts and classic techniques into modern day models. Interns are encouraged to push their own boundaries and culinary skills, to record the results, and push things forward in their own repertoires as well as educate and inspire other chefs.

The Traditional Puerto Rican Dinner, one in a series of Pop-Up Dinners at the Culinary Vegetable Institute, will be June 13th at 6:30 PM at 12304 Mudbrook Rd (OH-13), Milan, Ohio. Tickets are $60 with a cash bar. For more information or reservations, please contact 419.499.7500 or go to 11016714_903043306406499_5627344354102450274_n

Rave On, Ülfet!

10661668_10152797799164138_4351733427046094454_oWavelengths are funny things. Weird squiggly lines that are running around us at all times that we never see, coursing through our bodies, bouncing off of everything around us, redirecting their energies. We are amongst them at every second of our lives but rarely give them a second thought.

I think they are fascinating because I love sound. Music, specifically. I love when sounds and notes come together, matching harmonies…these are all frequencies of those squiggly lines, vibrating through the air around us in different shapes and resounding against a membrane focused on interpreting them and sending them off into the inner workings of the brain…

Wait. I’m nerding out here. This isn’t what I’m trying to say…

Have you ever felt a sort of comfort with another person that defies explanation? I don’t mean love here specifically, but a comfort where everything seems to fall into place: the pace and tone of conversations, the relaxed movements, the syncopation of your steps, perhaps. Those moments where experiences start to elevate moods simultaneously and everything seems to swell and crescendo in some cosmic synchronization. It’s a great feeling, a really unique moment in the human experience. Making a connection with someone, a kindred spirit, is very much like falling into sync with a wavelength. I think I’ve heard a cliché about it somewhere…

The first time I met Ülfet Özyabasligil Ralph was at the Culinary Vegetable Institute. She had just returned from Istanbul. I had been on vacation there several weeks prior to our meeting, so we had a lot to talk about right from the get-go. I immediately felt comfortable with her. When we spoke I knew that she had an incredible passion for knowledge and food and as we seemed to talk at increasingly louder volumes about flavors and cuisines over the sounds of the music in the kitchen, I realized she had a deep and dedicated appreciation for the sounds of techno. It was constantly on and at rave-level volume in the kitchen. We were instant friends.DSC_7127

As our friendship continued, Ülfet became a mentor to me. The more we spoke and worked together in the kitchen at the CVI, the more I felt comfortable exposing my weak points as a chef, and without judgement or ridicule, she was quick to step in and correct my movements or offer an idea, forcing me gently to change my perspective and tighten up my techniques. Always with a smile and a hint of mischief, and to the ever-present pulsing thumps of techno, she started to build up my skills and my confidence in the kitchen one day at a time. Our wavelengths had come together, and we were one fluid squiggle, sounding the same note.

Fast forward a few months and the same wavelengths were resonating, only at a faster pace. I learned her methods in the kitchen and tried to be standing by with an ingredient or a utensil before she knew she needed it. This is the chef equivalent of finishing someone else’s sentence. I mimicked her movements, her style, her techniques. Her mentorship continued and my confidence grew. We learned a lot about each other over simmering pots of stock, flying feathers of plucked geese, soft breathing mounds of unshaped bread, and strong cups of hot coffee in the mornings. We became a team, alongside our chef, Jamie Simpson.

But, and you can enter whatever cliche you’d like here, things don’t always last forever. Ülfet is leaving the CVI to take the message of the Institute out and into the world. The CVI has truly been a place that she loves dearly, and she glows with pride when she talks about her experiences here.

“When I got here I had a goal to learn,” she says, “but everything totally exceeded my expectations. I got to work with all of the great chefs, and work for the ROOTS conference, and just being part of that, it’s like a fairy tale. It’s like every cooks dream.”

“I admit that I am very young in the culinary industry. It has only been 5 years since I finished cooking school. But literally in this one year here, I have learned what people would spend 20 years of their lifetime trying to learn. I compressed all of that into one year and I am  very fortunate in that sense.”

Ulfet started her work at the CVI when Executive Chef Jamie Simpson called his old schoolmate, Ülfet, to ask if she could come help with the growing workload that he had taken on alone.

“I am very honored to be the person that he called for help, and I am very grateful and humbled by the experience.”

Since her time at the CVI, Ülfet has helped spearhead and promote several projects with chefs and interns, taking the most pride in the Bee Sustainable project and helping raise her beloved Mangalitsa pigs. Looking to the future, she can see many more projects connected to the kitchen.

“My dream for this place would be for this kitchen to be the best Research and Development kitchen in the world, like NOMA or Nordic Lab,” she beams, talking about the potential of the CVI, “I mean, this is the Culinary Vegetable Institute. I think we need to combine ourselves with that world. Cookbook writers, they can come here and test their recipes and take pictures. This is a perfect place for that. We need to continue to bring chefs here to see the CVI and to taste products from Chef’s Garden.”

She adds, “This is a place for chefs, like a monastery for chefs, and the kitchen is heaven. I see chefs coming in every week and there is food, of course, but there is also laughter and joy and intelligent conversation about food. Thats what this place should be. Thats what I would like to see.”

Ülfet will be back for the ROOTS conference this fall and will be doing some work off-site for The CVI, but before she leaves, she has planned a Mediterranean themed Earth-to-Table Dinner with her Executive Chef, Jamie Simpson. The dinner, she explains, is an homage to her home in Istanbul, Turkey.

“The menu reminds me of Spring and the sun, like the sun rising over the Aegean Sea or the Bosphorus River. Spring is always a celebration in Turkey.  Everybody is outside because they are done with winter. They go get some fresh fish, all the farmers markets are busy, and everybody gets together outdoors. Its a celebration of sun and getting together.”

Getting together… I think this is a good  place to go back to the wavelengths. It seems that many of us at The Culinary Vegetable Institute and The Chef’s Garden have at some point fallen in line with the wavelength that Ülfet emits. She has a way of getting everyone together as a leader, a teacher, and a friend.  It is near impossible to escape her enthusiasm and her love for the farm and the Institute. As she moves on from here, I am sure that wave will continue to be felt by everyone. You know,  it takes a wavelength of light 8 minutes to travel from the Sun to the Earth, but it seems to only take an instant for Ülfet’s wave to pick you up and take you along for the ride.

IMG_9626-2You can purchase tickets to Ülfet and Jamie’s Earth to Table dinner by calling 419.499.7500 or visiting



We like to think of the CVI FoodLab as a think-tank of ideas. Some of those ideas are good, some are not so good, some are just really weird. But we are always thinking, testing, experimenting, and always willing to work with the results.

For the last few months we have been focused on how we can utilize our natural resources around the Institute to come up with something unique and delicious. So, armed with a hand drill, spikes, buckets, butcher’s twine, and a hammer we set out to start tapping the Black Walnut Trees scattered around the woods on our grounds in search of sap.DSC_8450

According to the Carry Institute of Natural Science, all trees produce stockpiles of sugar during their growing season to be used in Spring to regrow their leaves. Some of those sugars are stored in the tree’s trunk in what are called rays.

If you look at the stump of a tree, you will see the unmistakable multicolored rings. Perpendicular to the rings, the rays, or sugar cells, run from the center of the tree to the bark. These rays consist of living cells that hold sugars that trees use for building new cells or for repairing damage from a woodpecker or other pest. These rays are also the source of the sugar for making syrup.

  DSC_8458  DSC_8462
The cell configuration in sugar maples is just right to allow sap to flow in the Spring. However, not all species of trees are so easy to give up the goods. For a sugar maple, the ratio of sap to syrup is 40:1, which by way of quick math means that it would take 10 gallons of sap to make one quart of syrup! Now take a Birch tree, for example, and the ratio climbs to 80:1! Our Black Walnut trees fall in at about 67:1.DSC_8473

Once the tree is tapped, physics and nature are what drain the sap from the tree. Nights with temps below freezing followed by days with temperatures in the 40s and 50s are what make the sap flow. The freeze-thaw cycle causes changes in atmospheric pressure, which forces the sap to move. At night, when the temperature cools, gasses dissolve into the sap fluid, causing a decrease in pressure in those cells. The fluid in the wood freezes, compressing the gases in ice. As the temperature increases the next day, the ice melts, the sap beings to warm up, and the gases expand, forcing the sap to run out of the tree and into the collecting bucket. If the temperatures remain below freezing during the day or well above freezing at night, those pressure differences will not occur and the sap will not flow. As you can see, there is obviously a window that needs to be met for maximum sap retrieval. We may have missed it by a few weeks this year, but we will know for next year exactly when to get started. Even though we got into the trees a bit late, we are still collecting about 6 quarts a day! The sap is thin and watery and tastes sweet with a hint of walnut skin in the finish.

photo (2)Once the sap is collected it is boiled down. This is where chemistry is important. As the sap boils, pure water evaporates and the sucrose concentrates. This produces a lot of steam. During the boiling foam will rise to the surface every few minutes and must be skimmed off. This foam is the product of a chemical reaction that occurs as the sap heats, it’s an impurity that is harmless but doesn’t taste so great. It is called niter, and will make your finished product gritty and unpleasant. It is mostly made of potassium, calcium, silica, magnesium, sodium, and other minerals found in sap. The proper temperature should be about 219 degrees F and 66 brix on a refractometer. 

Once the skimming and boiling is done, usually after about three hours, you are left with a rich brown and delicious syrup, somewhere in color between honey and maple syrup, with a slightly nutty flavor and a natural sweetness.

DSC_8749_2Overall we collected five gallons of sap from the walnut trees around the CVI, and cooked it over open coals to boil the sap down. What we were left with was slightly more than a pint of incredible walnut syrup! The syrup is dark in color, almost like a thin molasses. The flavor is sweet and nutty with hints of smoke from the fire we built to boil it down.

Even thought we got a late start in tapping the trees, this project was an enormous success for us. This syrup is completely unique and has left us wondering what other trees we need to tap next season. Rest assured you will see this luxuriously nutty treat on dishes at the CVI this spring, summer, fall!


Clear Walnut Sap. Walnut Cracker. Walnut Powder. Nocino Gelee. Thyme. Walnut Syrup


—Ülfet Özyabasligil Ralph

                         April 2015

Welcome to CVI Food Lab at Culinary Vegetable Institute!!!

Welcome to CVI Food Lab at  Culinary Vegetable Institute

The concept of CVI Food Lab came together not too long ago inside the Culinary Vegetable Institute at the Chef’s Garden. It was dreamt up by the CVI’s team of Executive Chef Jamie Simpson and Chef de Cuisine Ülfet Özyabasligil, who have the unique privilege to live and work everyday on the farm and in the Institute, surrounded by birds, sun, and the sweet smell of flowers. Days go by fast around here! Everyday there are fresh ideas and new culinary experiences. Each morning brings another kind of work to be done and another chance to learn as we experiment, with the delicious products harvested from the Chef’s Garden. We share our conclusions with each other and with the rest of the culinary community as we decode the mysteries and the science behind the traditional and modern methods of culinary tradition. At night we say goodbye to our kitchen, to the moon and the stars, as the ideas swimming inside of our heads seem to whisper, “Tomorrow is waiting”!

–Ülfet Özyabasligil, 2015



The 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 was designed from a basic concept of the Jones Family.

15090403748_f27a0ed8a7_cSitting on approximately 100 acres, the Institute includes a 1,500 square foot state-of-the-art two story Kitchen designed byMark Stech-Novak with full audio-visual capabilities for demonstrations; a 1426 square foot Dining Room with 22 foot ceilings (capable of seating 90); an Executive Chef Suite with luxury amenities; accommodations for visiting chefs’ teams; a Culinary Library; Root Cellar and Wine Cellar; and experimental vegetable, forest and herb gardens.

Visiting chefs can utilize the CVI’s facilities and gardens for educational, team-building and retreat purposes. With the farm nearby, chefs can experience The Chef’s Garden planting and harvesting methods, pick vegetables themselves and return to the CVI for relaxation or to experiment in the kitchen.

We wanted to share the article recently published on Lake Erie Living 2015 Travel Guide. Take a few minute break and read it, get to know us better!! If you have any comments, questions, or just to say “hello” we would love to hear from you..


Chef’s Garden petite vegetable display.

“The dream of being waited on by a personal chef can come true at the Culinary VegetableInstitute (CVI), a state-ofthe-art, chef-focused learning center in Milan, Ohio, that also offers an exclusive farm stay in its country lodge for overnight guests. Set overlooking a wooded riverfront on 100 acres of farmland, the private retreat, with king-size bed, Jacuzzi, stone fireplace and kitchen, was designed to house visiting chefs from all over the world who turn to the CVI for culinary inspiration. It’s a place where they can do R&D while they get some R&R. “This is the playground for the top dogs in the field,” says chef de cuisine Ülfet Özyabasligil Ralph. “They can pick whatever they want on the farm and create, cook and eat.” But when the guest suite isn’t occupied, it’s available to anyone looking for a one-ofa-kind, bed-and-breakfast experience down on the farm. 15090418948_54cd764975_cThe beautiful property is crisscrossed with hiking trails that are accompanied by a soundtrack of chirping songbirds and raptor sightings. The canoe propped up on the greenhouse can be taken out on the river for a scenic paddle or fishing excursion. Guests can wander through aromatic herb gardens and flowerbeds filled with flowers begging to be picked. In fact, a sign at the entrance reads: “please do pick the flowers.” Inside the lodge, you could spend hours curled up with a book in the comfy massage chairs. CVI’s extensive library is packed with cookbooks from celebrity chefs who found their way to this part of Ohio, which is otherwise most well-known as the birthplace of inventor Thomas Edison. 15090253209_b0c2676f45_nWhile there’s plenty to keep a guest occupied, the focus is on the food, which is overseen by culinary geniuses Özyabasligil Ralph and executive chef Jamie Simpson, who will dream up dishes that are as visually stunning as they are delicious. While the meals are customized to the guest’s liking, the focus is always on sustainable products and homegrown specialty herbs, vegetables and edible flowers that the farm regularly ships to some of the finest restaurants around the globe. One thing is for sure: The morning meal won’t look like your typical farmhouse breakfast. During a recent stay, the chefs prepared a sinful take on eggs auberge served on the lodge’s wraparound porch. With eggs from the henhouse, Simpson poached the yolks, which he returned to the shell, followed by whipped egg whites folded with maple syrup and sherry. He topped the whole thing off with caviar and a fresh cutting of chives. Then came a plate of thinly sliced Surryano ham. “This ham came from Berkshire pigs in Surry County, Virginia, that are fed locally grown peanuts,” Simpson explains as he places it on the table. “Surry does two things well: pigs and peanuts. It’s a natural marriage.” More food arrives, including fresh baked croissants, a slab of oozing honeycomb from a neighboring farm next to a hunk of creamy, house-made camembert cheese garnished with edible marigolds.

15090244519_13e20b398b_nThen Simpson pours a peach pit bellini, which has an intense flavor that comes from cracking open peach pits and macerating the internal nut in vodka until the infusion takes on an almond cherry flavor. The vodka is mixed with freshly pureed peaches and topped with champagne.There are plenty of reasons to raise the glass at this moment. A tour of the farm after breakfast helps solidify the connection between the food we consume and where it comes from. While the farm has a crew to care for the crops, Özyabasligil Ralph and Simpson have their own small plots in which to experiment with different plant varieties, such as Peruvian corn, quinoa and millet, which they use to make their own flour. Working the land may not have been in their job description, but the chefs believe the knowledge they’ve gained ultimately benefits the farm, not to mention the guests who will eventually eat the products grown here, whether it’s fresh bread made from homegrown millet flour or a shaved vegetable salad with herb dressing.

15273888311_02f166352b_n“We cater to our guests,” says Özyabasligil Ralph. “It’s their sanctuary. There’s good food in a natural setting that’s so relaxing. What else could you need?”








Thank you Laura Watilo Blake for the wonderful article and the beautiful photographs.



March Madnezz!!!

As the warmer weather begins to sneak into March, it also brings new life to the bee hives tucked away in the pine trees at the Culinary Vegetable Institute. The bees have been tended to all winter with warm syrup and fondant to eat, and the bees seem to have survived our long winter! The hives are buzzing and the bees are doing their early spring cleaning flights to keep the hives clear of disease and sickness.

How did the bees survive over the winter? It started in the fall, when the queens began to lay eggs of larger winter bees. These winter bees. These winter bees are responsible for keeping the queen warm during the coldest months. Summer bees may only live 4-6 weeks, but winter bees are bred to survive the entire season, sometimes for up to 6 months. The bees warm the queen by forming a “cluster” around her, a concentrated bundle of bees that flap their wings and shiver to raise their body temperature and turn, keep the queen warm (temperature can reach up to 90 degrees Fahrenheit!) at the core. To keep the entire hive alive, bringing the bees on the outside of the cluster inwards so that no bee succumbs to the cold.


Obviously all of this buzzing, flapping, shivering, and repositioning ames up precious energy, and the bees need to eat honey to survive. The worker bees in the late summer and fall left a surplus of honey for the winter bees to eat, and the CVI Food Lab helped put by feeding the bees warm syrup all winter long, which the bees processed into honey for food. This cooperation amongst the bees and their “keepers” helps to ensure that the bees stay healthy throughout the winter, and that the queen survives to start a new brood of pollinators come spring.

As the hives begin to come alive, the first point of action for the bees is food. While the queen takes to laying new eggs, the other bees are out foraging for nectar and pollen to feed the new brood. March can be the hardest time of the year for a hive, it’s a tightrope situation between laying eggs to establish a thriving colony and making sure there is enough food to keep the new colony fed and healthy enough to forage. !


The Chef’s Garden has devoted 80 acres of land to plants that provide bees with optimum nutrition. We have selected specific cover crops and scheduled plantings to ensure a constant blooming source throughout the warm seasons. The proper balance of nutrients ensures that every edible crop hand-harvested at The Chef’s Garden is full of flavor and high-quality nutrition. Providing a plentiful, diverse, and long-lasting source of food within easy reach of the hives offers the same benefit to the bees. And the effort is undoubtedly worth it for all of us!


Jamie & Ülfet love to spend time with the bees and make sure they are getting the best care!