Friday, March 4, 2011

A Contest to Win Some Fun Playing from Earth to Table

My husband Bob is an avid vegetable gardener - his last wish is for his remains to be scattered on a garden or farm. I have grown to greatly appreciate the wonders of produce from a real garden since I've been married to him. We have always wanted to go to a dinner at Chef Farmer Jones's Culinary Vegetable Institute - but it has never worked out. We have enjoyed so many wonderful meals including produce from The Chef's Garden; surely, a Chef allowed to go wild among the selections there could create an amazing meal.

The Culinary Vegetable Institute describes itself as follows: 

"The Culinary Vegetable Institute provides the world’s most innovative chefs with a place to share knowledge, experiment and discover techniques for growing and preparing the most flavorful varieties of vegetables in the world. The collaboration between the garden farmer and the chef and between the old and the new is the foundation of the Culinary Vegetable Institute (CVI). The CVI Kitchen Garden™ team searches for the best techniques to produce the most flavorful vegetable varieties in an organic fashion. The CVI is a learning center for the most progressive chefs to pass their vegetable knowledge and techniques to the rising stars of tomorrow."

CVI is also affiliated with Veggie U, a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization committed to fostering the synergy between educational, nutritional, and agricultural goals to combat the rising epidemic of childhood obesity. Think "arts in education" but focused on real sustainable food - they bring hands-on food love to the classroom. And compost. Talk about playing with your food!

I was delighted when CVI invited me to attend their upcoming Earth to Table Dinner featuring Chef Ellis Cooley of AMP 150 (warning - web site is musical). Chef Ellis is an amazing individual who gave up the warmth and seafood of Florida to become an urban gardener at the most unlikely of venues, the Airport Marriott. AMP 150 stands for "America's Modern Palate", and we have enjoyed Chef Ellis's food both at his restaurant, and at Dinner in the Dark. Ellis is one-third of  Dinner in the Dark (together with  Cleveland-area chefs Jeff Jarrett and Brian Okin) which brings together Cleveland’s top chefs every month to host a six-course dinner for guests who are “in the dark” about the evening’s menu and the identitiy of the chefs until they arrive; the chefs receive the opportunity to create dishes at their whim and raise money for good causes. To date, the dinner series has raised more than $25,000 from ticket sales for local charities. 

And here is the best part - CVI has graciously extended the opportunity for me to give away two tickets to next Saturday's dinner to a lucky reader of this blog! Hungry yet?  Here is Chef Ellis's menu:

Small Bites

 Assorted Baby Beet Salad
Lake Erie Creamery Goat Cheese Fondue, Candied Spiced Nuts, Baby Herbs

Velvet Mushroom Soup
Chives, Truffle Oil, Dehydrated Mushrooms

Charcuterie Platter
Port Relleitte, Liver Pate, Red Cabbage Kimchi

Large Bites

 Braised Lamb in
Stew of Dried Beans, Mint, Natural Juices

Slow Roasted Duck
Braised Caramelized Endive, Citrus


 Whole Roasted Carrots
Parsnip Puree, Picholine Olives

Brown Butter Kale
Homemade Smoked Kielbasa

Roasted Cauliflowers
Pine nuts, Lake Erie Creamery Goat Cheese, Beet Vinaigrette 

Baby Fennel and Figs
Fines Herbs and Fronds

Anson Mills Organic Farro Piccolo
Celery Root & Leaves, Pickles


 Floating Island
Citrus salad, Anglaise, Shiso

Petit Fours and Paplova

The dinner costs $75 and begins at 6:30pm. One lucky reader of this blog will win two tickets to enjoy Chef Cooley's creations, on CVI.  Please note that tax, gratuity and beverages are not included in the free tickets. CVI is located at 12304 State Route 13, Milan OH 44846. If you would like to attend this dinner (and if you don't win the tickets) - please call  419-499-7500 to make your reservation for next Saturday's dinner. If you can't attend March's dinner - May's Earth to Table Dinner will be crafted by Ellis's partner in Dark Dining - Chef Jeff Jarrett.

To enter the contest, please post a comment below telling us what vegetable you would like Chef Ellis or CVI to grow in the garden this year, and why. Please ensure that I can reach you by posting some contact info, or by emailing at minimum your email address to me at playswithfood at yahoo dot com. The winner will be selected by random number generator on Tuesday March 8, and your comment must be posted by 10am that day. Good luck and thank you in advance for your interest and comments! We look forward to having fun playing with Ellis Cooley's food, from earth to table and hope to see you there!


  1. I will be in the kitchen all day helping prepare the meal! CVI offers a chef for the day experience and beth got it for me for my birthday.

  2. @Dave - that is way to cool! I saw your FB post and was wondering what that was all about. Don't work too hard!

  3. I'd love to see them grow asparagus. Yes, yes, I know that isn't a bit of a stretch here in NE Ohio, but I absolutely love fresh asparagus and I'd love to see what Mr. Chef Ellis Cooley would do with asparagus. Consider me officially entered for the two available tickets.

  4. How about Scorzonera (black salsify)? Don't see that very often. It should be pretty easy to grow as long as the soil is nice and loose.

    Dave, it's really cool that you'll be in the kitchen for this. What an awesome present from Beth!

  5. i would love to see a variety of different colors of carrots grown. orange ones are ok and all but i've seen purple, white and reddish carrots at the farmer's markets and they just look so beautiful. it could add an interesting presentation as well as a very tasty dish!

  6. I would love to see some candy cane beets! Before joining a CSA a few years ago, I had never even heard of them.

  7. I'm learning to embrace turnips and beets in my at-home cooking. I would love to see what Chef Ellis and the folks at Veggie U would do with them. What a great giveaway!

  8. I agree, what a great giveaway! Though they may already, I'd like to see them grow squash such as Pomme D'Or or Boston Marrow...fall squash are my favorites!

  9. Since Ellis hails from Atlanta, then I'm sure he has some appreciation for the wonderful peas and beans of the South -- purple hull peas, lady peas, field pies, snap peas, white acre peas, butter peas, etc. They probably don't grow well in this area, but how wonderful it would be to introduce people who live in this area to the wonderful flavors of the South through those wonderful beans and peas.

  10. I'd like to see all different types of beets!

  11. Lacinato (dinosaur) kale - the most perfect food (nutritionally speaking)and yummy too. We'd love to attend this event.

  12. A full variety of heirloom tomatoes. Nothing says summer more than fresh tomatoes

  13. I'd be interested in various local onions/green onions/garlic varieties