Per Se Meets CVI

We had one of the most anticipated nights at the CVI Food Lab at Culinary Vegetable Institute on February 5th, 2015. Collaboration between Chef Eli Kaimeh of Per Se and Chef Jamie Simpson of Culinary Vegetable Institute crafted masterful dishes which were served to thirty very special guests, featuring Steelite International plateware. The harmony between chefs and the flow of the menu was orchestrated and executed perfectly. When I look back I see white and blue aprons, chefs who are dedicated to their craft, respect each other, and focus on two common goals, creating the perfect plate and perfect experience. As guests were leaving, their happiness was reflecting from the walls, mirrors, windows, soft touches to chefs shoulders to say thank you or shaking hands and telling them how humbled they were by the meal they just received.

This night made me think deeply about the kind of story that we are all writing and telling of life. I thought about what of this evening we would share and what made it so magical. Was it the food? Was it the drinks? Yes to all on some level but to me it was honestly the chefs who were in the kitchen, the guests who were in the dining room and the laughter, smiles, warm fire sparkling on the corner, it was happiness . Those things make moments like this one so much better and more magical than I think we plan as we put together details of an event, especially to us chefs!!!! Hard work well received.

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I invite you to watch “A Walk Through The Chef’s Garden”, the dish created by Jamie Simpson for the evening..

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When we speak of magic we should speak of those moments that were the purest. When the stars were bright, when the laughter was loud those are the most magical moments in life! “Food Brings People Together” right here at CVI Food Lab..

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Project Carrot

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As we come out of our second annual Roots conference and and are all still very inspired, we decided to bring you a tasting menu of our beloved root: The Carrot. Under utilized and extremely versatile, our carrots are not like your farmer-johns-down the-street. These deserve a presence aside from mirepiox and directly in the center of your plate.
First course. Champagne. Schramsburg Blanc de Blancs. Chantenay carrot juice. Micro carrot top. carrot bloom.
This drink speaks for itself. Much like a mimosa, the sweet juice from the chantenay carrot is an immediate refreshment only elevated by the effervescence and offset acidity from the champagne.
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bread and butter. fried carrotsepal. granulated carrot.

what is a sepal you might ask? A sepal (/ˈsɛp(ə)l/ or /ˈsiːp(ə)l/) is a part of the flower of angiosperms (flowering plants) that cradles the blooms. The term sepalum was coined by Noël Martin Joseph de Necker in 1790, and derived from the Greek σκεπη, meaning, a covering.
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peas and carrots.
salted and lightly blanched long carrots. English pea emulsion.
Speaking of the English, I want to share with you a story about carrots and night vision. An urban legend states that eating large quantities of carrots will allow one to see in the dark. This myth developed from stories about British gunners in World War II, who were able to shoot down German planes at night. The rumour arose during the Battle of Brittain when the Royal Air Force circulated a story about their pilots’carrot consumption in an attempt to cover up the discovery and effective use of Radar technologies in engaging enemy planes, as well as the use of red light (which does not destroy night vision) in aircraft instruments. It reinforced existing German beliefs and helped to encourage Britons who were trying to improve their night vision during the blackout to grow and eat the vegetable, which was not rationed like most other foodstuffs. A “Dr. Carrot” advertising campaign encouraged its consumption.
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baby round carrot soup. carrot butter. dried cobalt carrot peel. paprika.
According to a study by Ellen Hedrén at the department of food science in Sweden, only 3% of the beta-carotene in rawcarrots is released during digestion.  This can be improved to 39% by grinding, steaming, frying, roasting, and adding fat. What this is telling us in a “carrot shell” is that for actually absorbing the available nutrients of the carrot, we should cook it and we should add fat. #FoodforThought
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The dehydrated and rehydrated carrot.

Drying carrots are a great way to save space and weight in your root cellar. We learned recently at this years Roots Conference by Cortney Burnes of Bar Tartine that they’re also an amazing addition to broths.
This particular dried carrot was rehydrated in carrot juice and broiled. We will take a closer look at this concept of fortifying flavor in the very near future.
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composition: Micro carrot top. Pickled carrot and mustard seeds. carrot fluid gel. petite carrotcarrot top emulsion. rawcarrot. dried carrot. cobalt carrot jelly.
spiral sliced carrot. sweet and sour glaze.
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Extruded carrot Rigatoni with carrot Bolognese.
Here we’ve taken the juice and cellulose of the whole carrot, adjusted its ratios, and forced them through the Arcobaleno pasta extruder. We finish the pasta with a very meaty yet vegetarian white balsamic and carrot bolognese. Recipes to come.
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duo of carrot cake
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Opportunities to Fail

We walked through the packing room corridors towards another cooler. The ten of us attending the weekly marketing meeting at the Chef’s Garden took turns clambering inside the refrigerated closet bundled into our winter coats and hats. The cooler was packed from floor to ceiling with black plastic totes full of gorgeous carrots, yellows, oranges, reds, purples, and pinks. Again there was the sweet smell of a giant farmer’s market in the air, the aromas of earth and soil, a pleasant perfume of fresh air and life. These totes held beautiful bunches of heirloom carrots, their green leafy tops poking out from underneath each other. Totes on an opposing wall hold dozens of newly harvested young beets that looked like boxes of Christmas tree baubles covered in a fine dust. These were also multi-colored with deep hues of purple, golden yellow, pink, and red….a deep, earthy, rich, and burgundy red, the type that pours out onto the cutting board as it stains it with an earthy ink.

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The Chef’s Garden is overflowing. A strong fall growing season has led to an abundance of young carrots and beets that were harvested well into early winter, so far into December that the vegetables had time to mature into deeper colors and develop a high sugar content, leading to an incredible concentrated flavor like no other carrots or beets on earth. You can smell the sugars in the air, hovering among the thousands of pounds of vegetables.

Moving this much product is a challenge, a challenge that requires the choreographed efforts of many team members working as a unified front. The marketing department is aware of this and are gearing up for the pre-Christmas push, one of the busiest times of year for restaurants and therefor also the busiest time of year for the farm.

From the moment the vegetables leave the soil here, they require a very specific amount of care before they reach a chef’s kitchen. Chefs know us for a consistently delicious and beautiful  that we deliver every day. The wheels are always moving at the Chef’s Garden, and someone somewhere on the farm at every moment of the day is caring to our produce to make sure there is never a delay in getting our vegetables into the hands of the chefs at some of the best restaurants in the world.

While having this much of an abundance of product can be viewed as a challenge or a misstep, Farmer Lee Jones looks at it quite differently. Sure we have an excess of carrots, but they are the best carrots in the world! Let’s take the time to inspire our customers with possibilities and give them a superior product! This year these root vegetables are better than last.  In 2013 Ohio suffered one of the worst winters in recorded history with unseen amounts of snow and ice. We are fortunate this year to have a late snow season and the result is a product that only comes once in a very long while. Farmer Lee directs the meeting with enthusiasm and pride, and the team sets out to move the vegetables before the end of the holiday season.

The task handed to the Culinary Vegetable Institute, the kitchen and event center attached to the farm at the Chef’s Garden, was to assist in marketing the excess by preparing and photographing some new and exciting dishes that highlighted our young carrots and beets.  Our focus is to communicate new ideas, new techniques, and new methods for elevating our vegetables past just delicious. In the case of making a marketing tool, we have to utilize a different skill set than one we would normally use for making food for diners. Setting up a dish for food photography is a commonplace task in the work of a skilled chef, and in the hands of Chef Jamie Simpson, Executive Chef Liaison at the Culinary Vegetable Institute, it is perhaps one of the most important skills that he has in his set, and certainly one of the skills he is known most for. The delicate art of plating.

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Jamie understands that food prepared for a photo shoot not only has to look good, but it has to draw the observer in to “taste” the food in their head. The old adage claims that “people eat with their eyes first,” implies that a well plated dish is a treasure in and of itself and that diners can “taste” food before it even reaches the tongue. This is why chefs use techniques and methods that create striking visual effects with food. If it is done well, really well, it is an absolute marvel to experience. In the arena of food photography, the chef must remember that every component in a dish is fighting to be noticed and coveted, that each ingredient has to jump from the page and into the minds of the viewer to demand admiration and attention.

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Jamie’s job is to highlight the products grown at The Chef’s Garden in a new and creative way without losing sight of what the product is in it’s natural form. Imagine a beautiful bunch of carrots, freshly rinsed and firm, an enticing shade of sunset orange. There are dozens of preparations for making that carrot delicious: roasted, sauteed, braised, boiled, mashed, juiced…we could
go on and on. But which of these makes the carrot the most appealing visually? Blitzing it into a puree or a soup or a sauce may highlight the color and look incredible and delicious on a stark white plate, but what about the carrot in its original and most beautiful form? Taking a picture of the plain vegetable in this respect seems pedantic and textbook. The true art here lives at an equal distance between these two points and a chef’s ability to work there comfortably. Jamie Simpson shines in this environment. He was born to do this work. He has an ability and a raw talent at making the ordinary transition into the extraordinary. Today he tackles this by making a carrot soup, pureed until heavenly smooth and poured into a carrot shaped mold lined with a carrot gel that hardens like
ice. This is placed atop a salad of caramelized carrot shavings browned to look like a neat pile of freshly unearthed soil. When the “carrot” is gently nudged with a spoon it breaks like the yolk of a soft boiled egg and the delicious soup pours out into a sweet and succulent pool over the carrot “soil”. The flash goes off, the image is captured, and it’s perfect for highlighting the product. It is innovative, modern, and disciplined. This is cooking at its highest level, a master at the canvas, a conductor at the podium. The kitchen team is proud, the marketing team loves the image, and we all move on to the next project.

This is certainly not to say that there are not failures in the kitchen at the Culinary Vegetable Institute. As a test kitchen, there are a fair share of misfires and close-but-not-close-enough moments. The dry erase board that we share ideas and information on hovers over the work and prep area of the kitchen, constantly overflowing with equations and ratios, ingredient lists, left-handed math and question marks, many, many, question marks. It is purposefully a try and fail kitchen, and that is easy to forget when you are working with chefs that are at the top of their game. My friend and mentor Ülfet Ralph, Chef de Cuisine at the CVI,  consoled me one day after a failed attempt at a smoked sourdough ciabatta. She has a way of instantly pulling you from the swamps with a warm bit of advice, a way of peeling off all of the excess un-usables from a situation and pulling out of them a beautiful core. She said that the point of working and learning at the CVI is that I am afforded a safe haven for failure in a world class kitchen, that all of the processes here, whether successful (ciabatta!) or flat and un-risen (my ciabatta), are learning experiences that I should be ok with failing at. I am learning humility amongst friends. “Learn, adapt, and move on,” she says, smiling at the stove with five burners full of pots and pans in different states of process, “Where else in the world would you be able to do this?”

So here we are, living and working in a place where we are allowed to fail, encouraged, even.  Handed the opportunity. We work as a team, we succeed as a team, we fail as a team, and most importantly, we LEARN as a team. We pick each other up and face the next step together.

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Written by Alan Leizerman, intern at The Culinary Vegetable Institute

Choclo?

fishing boats of lima

fishing boats of lima

Part one- a memory

Walking through those long wooden makeshift restaurants on the coast of Lima, built on docks, hundreds of vendors pulling your hands and arms in every direction to sell you a piece of their countries soul. This is near Barranco, on the water. Old men making nets and stray dogs sleeping on their work. Cevicherias are abundant here. As is the Cusquena and canchas. I managed my way to several of these stands and picked up a strong grasp for the language of Peruvian Ceviche. One language that I will not soon forget.

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choclo Choclo

Part two- a seed

With the romance of Peruvian cuisine fresh on my lips I promised to one day grow this corn. It was used in abundance and corn like I have never seen or tasted. Choclo is the name with dramatic giant kernels randomly placed on the cob. Chewy, slightly starchy texture in an amazing and complicated way. I managed to bring some home and dry for seed not knowing that very soon I would be working at the worlds most incredible vegetable farm called The Chefs Garden.

sisters

sisters

Part three- inspiration

Many dishes and many more memories will come from these seeds which now take on the form of 95 plants. We’ve decided to take on a lesson in companion planting and the classic Native American three sisters has turned into six or seven. Choclo corn, Casse Violet, Scarlet Runner, and Asparagus beans planted alongside Amaranth, Rouge vif d’Etampes (an heirloom pumpkin from France) Red Quinoa, Goosefoot, and Purslane. All of these plants play a role in the garden for each other for their successes. This is a lesson for another day.

hamachi ceviche. Aji Amarillo and sweet corn curd. pop corn. raw corn. Piment d' Espelette. tomato water gelee. onion blooms. baby buttered corn.

inspired

Hamachi Ceviche. Aji Amarillo and sweet corn curd. pop corn. raw corn. Piment d’Espelette.

cellar in progress

DSC_4519  As our interest in the cellar grows were constantly looking for new interesting projects to ferment and preserve. A proper cellar should maintain a diverse and rich microbial environment. Not just pickles and sour kraut but fresh vegetables, meats and cheese. Much Like a proper diet, our cellar is maintained as  such. I guess we’re playing into the Hygiene hypothesis or the ecoimmunonutrition theory.

DSC_4550Our porous concrete floor allows moisture and humidity to somewhat equalize at a relatively consistent rate. The floor depth is about 9 feet underground giving us a relatively constant temperature year around. They say at a depth of 5 ft, the ground maintains a constant 55 degrees. (the average temperature of the year). There is no plumbing and only a single light to help navigate the room.

Our method of organization at this point is as follows. The bottom shelves are for bulk food and produce storage. Vegetables should be stored elevated in crates or baskets to allow for proper air circulation. The middle shelves are to be reserved for various cultured products including kimchi, miso, whey, meats, cheeses, vinegars, mustards, sauerkrauts, fish sauce, and the ever growing list goes on. This shelf is the heart beat and valuable eco system of our cellar. As time goes on, In theory, The immune system of this room will grow and create a more conducive place for preservation.
The next shelf up, pickles, jars, and cans, and more pickles. The reason for this is as heat rises, the temperature tolerant items do as well. They are just over head level so navigation is not a problem. Our method of organization for this shelf is identified by brine type, date, and product. On a clip board we have brine contents listed and labeled with a number. On any given jar you will see a number and can reference brine contents on the clipboard.
DSC_4526This is our solution to eliminate confusion and time spent labeling. For example: SALSIFY #10 06.13.14. Wanna know whats in it? reference number 10 on the clip board to find “Whey, malt, caraway, salt”.
The top shelf is reserved for the dry things. beans, mushrooms, house teas, grains, milled flours and what ever else. This shelf will grow in time so organization is imperative as well. Products clearly labeled in a box or bag and easily accessible.
We’re loving this room more and more every day. Constantly pulling and putting, turning and tasting products, watching them develop and learning from their growth.

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Ramp

 

IMG_2083  Ramps (Allium Tricoccum) or wild leeks are one the best spring time delicacies of the Appalachian region, the bulbs can be treated like an onion, and the leafy greens are sweet and equally delicious. One of the few specialty foods that are wild harvested, ramps can, in fact, be cultivated, but they have many limitations as a crop. Sown from seed, ramps have a six to eighteen month germination window, which is very much dependent upon weather patterns, and they can take seven years to reach maturity. Only 10 percent of a stand of ramps should be dug (not picked) in order to ensure the stability of that colony. Our skepticism comes in as the widespread use of ramps increases. Many people now are concern about where their food is coming from such as meat and produce but this same concern should be extended to ramps and other wild plants that are being decimated by the high national demand for a very regional vegetable. Ramps are very slow growing and in places where heavy harvesting has occurred, it will take many years for the population to recover. We are very fortunate to have considerable amount of ramps growing around where we live. Follow us and be part of our ramp foraging journey in these deciduous forest to take advantage of this delicious, highly desired gem.

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