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.

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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


Heritage Radio Network


photoIf you haven’t listened to our Executive Chef Jamie Simpson’s interview with Heritage Radio Network yet, here is your chance! Click on the link and learn more about Chef Jamie and his story.


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!





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..

Rhubarb Soda

Bottle conditioned sodas are a thing of the past. So much so that we’ve forgotten how to make our own. Here is a refreshing recipe created at The Culinary Vegetable Institute using extra Rhubarb. The final product is a delicious naturally carbonated beverage with a sophisticated mouthfeel. If you have the means to make this soda and enjoy the tart dry flavors of Rhubarb, follow this recipe below. But before getting too excited about the soda, please make sure to watch the short video about what’s behind The Chef’s Garden’s fantastic Rhubarb!!


Chef’s Garden Rhubarb– 10-12 stalks. 600 ml juice
Chef’s Garden raw honey 50 ml
1 tsp Some kind of culture– you can use sauerkraut juice. I used powdered buttermilk culture called lactococcus lactis from cheesemaking.com
1/16 tsp champagne yeast
1/4 t citric acid
a demijohn, an airlock, a funnel and swing-top bottles.

What to Do:

Juice the rhubarb to 600 ml. It took me approximately 10 – 12 stalks. Be sure to peel outer skin for the sake of the juicer.
Strain the rhubarb through a chinoise.
Add the honey and stir until dissolved. The sugars will be digested to create the carbonation. you want to start with a much sweeter base than you would like in the final product.
Add your cultures to the base temperate of 90 degree F. Allow to hydrate on the surface for a minute or so before incorporating.
Pour the “juice” into a sterilized demijohn and add your airlock.

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Let it sit for about three days, and taste it. There are some variables– the temperature of the room, the strength of the culture you used, etc. Taste it and let it ferment until it’s only a little sweeter than you would like it to be. Pour it into your swing-top bottles, and store in the fridge.

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You could leave them out at room temperature if you’d like to drink them sooner, but I usually pop them into the fridge to slow down the fermentation process. You will want to drink them within a week, or risk losing most of your Rhubarb Soda to the “geyser effect.” The soda will get drier, more tart and fizzier the longer you wait.


Do not try this at home! Staring contest between you and the soda won’t help speeding up the process!!! Ohhhhh Jamie!!!