Inspiration from Veggie U 2012 Food & Wine
The Veggie U culinary education program has delivered 1800 classroom kits to over 26 states from its Milan, Ohio headquarters since its inception in 2003. Many of these kits are funded through the annual Food & Wine Celebration held at the Culinary Vegetable Institute. Alex and I attended the 10th annual fundraising event two weeks ago surrounded by great food and glorious gardens.
Encouraging Healthy Eating at Veggie U
Veggie U exists to "to promote the well-being of children through a healthy lifestyle." Farmer Jones and a team of teachers developed the Veggie U Earth to Table curriculum for fourth graders to give students a full-sensory experience growing plants and raising composting worms. The end result is an series of fun lessons that teach children where food comes from and why vegetables are an important part of their diet.
The Veggie U success naturally collects admirers among culinary celebrities. Robert Irvine, of Restaurant Impossible fame, was on hand during the 2012 event. He has used Farmer Jone's microgreens in his restaurants since 1997 and supports Veggie U because he wants people to eat better.
Our "eating habits have changed dramatically because we're busy," Robert shared with a group of reporters. He offered a potential solution: independent grocers could try marketing a selection of grab and go ingredients and recipes for simple real food meals to compete with fast food. And of course, educating children is key to changing habits. Robert, and Veggie U, operate under the principle that "if you make exercise and food fun, children will be healthy."
The Veggie U Food & Wine Celebration is held on the grounds of the Culinary Vegetable Institute (CVI) in Milan, Ohio near Sandusky. The drive in to the CVI are lined with fields of asparagus, ancient grains, and flowers. The grounds surrounding the event center are richly landscaped with edibles.
As Alex and I admired the herb garden, we could not help but fondle and smell the plants. Our attention was noted by CVI sous chef Brian. He gave us a personal tour of his favorite herb oddities including dozens of varieties of common herbs and sweet aztec, a stevia-like sweet tasting plant.
The most surprising herbal introduction was to the eyeball flower. A small pinch of the tight tiny flower petals on the tip of the tongue causes a tingling and numbing sensation similar to licking a nine volt battery. Wow, plants are amazing.
Home Cooking Inspiration
What I most appreciated about the Veggie U event was the quality of the food samplings. This particular batch of chefs from around the country created diverse, local-focused cuisine. Alex and I walked away with a half dozen ideas to try in our home kitchen.
Salmon Skin Chicharron - The Greenbrier (on our life list to visit) combined old school charcuterie with neavou molecular gastronomy at their stand. Alex loved crunching on the salmon skin chicharraon, gently cooked then deep fried strips of salmon skin shown standing up in the metal cone.
Pickled Tamale - A Cleveland-area caterer offered a tamale with a twist: wild rice covered in corn masa, wrapped in swiss chard, and soaked in vinegar brine for a few hours before service. This preparation was reminiscent of a Greek stuffed grape leaf. Takeaway was both to attempt tamales with a chard wrapper and consider lightly brining almost anything.
Sauerkraut Cakes - Jonathon Sawyer can do no wrong in my book but he did something genius at this event: sauerkraut cakes. We didn't ask about preparation but guessed that the kraut was mixed with a little egg or flour and pan fried.
Stuffed Baby Pattypans - I cannot resist a 'cute' vegetable and little pattypans always end up in my market bag when I see them. One chef played on their shape by hollowing out the center and stuffing the squash with a sausage mixture, something I will surely make at home.
Pressed Pulled Pork - The dish we could not stop talking about was a lengthy charcuterie-like pork preparation. Not only did the pulled, then pressed, then seared ham and shoulder squares taste delicious, they are a unique stand-in for a meat patty in a burger or layered plating. We will be recreating this post haste and will share the recipe when we do.
Veggie U set the bar for the chef-tasting fundraiser season very high and I am thankful for having the chance to visit. If you are heading to a similar event like Taste the Future or the Columbus Food & Wine Affair, I suggest you check our CMH Gourmand's article about how to survive such a foodie buffet.