Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Fun Playing with Chef Ellis Cooley at the Culinary Vegetable Institute

As you've read over my last few posts, Bob and I were invited to share in the goodness of a  monthly Earth-to-Table Dinner at the Culinary Vegetable Institute on Saturday night. Adding to the fun, we'd be sharing our table with some friends, including the lucky winners of the ticket contest on this blog. Even more fun - our friend Dave, who blogs as Live to Cook at Home, would be in the kitchen as sous-chef for a day. We couldn't wait!

The Terrible Trio Plot and Plan

Left to right - tonight's featured chef, Ellis Cooley, and his co-horts in all things culinary (including Dinner in the Dark) - Brian Okin and Jeff Jarrett. The gentleman with his back to you is CVI Chef Michael Lyons.

Dave W joins the confab at the left.

When our host, Farmer Lee Jones, rings the dinner bell, he does not fool around:

And so - on to the fabulous food, featuring of course the amazing produce of the Chef's Garden.

Velvet Mushroom Soup - Chives, Truffle Oil, Dehydrated Mushrooms

Regular readers of this blog know that I have a slight issue with mushrooms - mostly with their texture. I am actually growing more and more enamored with their flavor - this amazing soup may have brought me fully over to the mushroom side (so long as I don't have to chew on them). This item periodically appears on the menu at AMP 150 - all I can say is that if it is on the menu when you eat there - ORDER IT!

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


A lovely cold counterpoint to the warm soup. Perfectly balanced textures and flavors, with the beets singing through.

Charcuterie Platter - Port Relleitte, Liver Pate, Red Cabbage Kimchi

Again, these are items you might see at AMP 150; Chef Ellis is fond of pairing spreads and jams on toast to delicious effect.

I enjoyed the rillettes.

But I inhaled the pate. Two of them. And I'd do it again.

Dinner Rolls

Served with a lovely sweet butter.

Slow Roasted Duck - Braised Caramelized Endive, Citrus

The duck, from Hickory Acres Meats in Oberlin, was perfectly cooked and succulent. 

Whole Roasted Carrots - Parsnip Puree, Picholine Olives

When I first read the menu, I didn't see how green olives could possibly pair well with sweet carrots. But damn if Chef Ellis didn't make it sing!

Baby Fennel and Figs -Fines Herbs and Fronds

This dish had me channeling an old Fig Newtons TV commercial from my youth. Tender, tasty (but not flaky)  fennel cooked with gooey gooey rich and chewy figs - darn tootin!

It took all of my self control to stop after a taste of each dish - but another round was in the offing and it proved a wise strategy.

Brown Butter Kale - Homemade Smoked Kielbasa

I've tried kale a few times, but never been a huge fan - until now. Ellis and his crew cooked the kale to it's taste and textural sweet spot, and the sausage was truly worthy of a midwestern meal. 

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


This, my friends, was a beautiful thing. But wait, there's more!

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

Note the plural on "cauliflower" - there were at least two varieties in this dish. Simply fabulous and it didn't matter a bit that we'd already "had" beets and goat cheese - it all worked to delicious perfection. 

Anson Mills Organic Farro Piccolo - Celery Root & Leaves, Pickles

Regular readers of this blog also know that celery is not a favorite of mine, particularly raw celery. Despite the celery (which I took a bunch of, because I wanted to try it anyway), the farro was so lovely - not a side you see every day, and eating this dish, I wondered, why not? It reminded me a little of barley; slightly chewy, creamy and wonderfully savory.

Dessert was next.

We were first presented with this plate, with a large hole in the middle, between a Fennel Nut Bread and Meringue cookies (Paplova) infused with Sichuan Peppercorn. 

Floating Island

Chef Ellis explained this unusual dessert, which Wikipedia says at its base is "a French dessert consisting of meringue floating on crème anglaise (a vanilla custard)." Chef Ellis kicked his version up with blood orange and shiso. It filled the middle of the dessert plate nicely.

But alas, I was past "uncle" and could barely eat half. A shame, because it was so light and tasty.

A ticket to dinner at CVI will set you back $75, plus beverages and gratuity. But the experience is truly amazing. If you enjoy farm to table dining, this is the dinner ticket for you. April's dinner will spotlight Chef Jeremy Martindale from the Omni New Haven Hotel at Yale, and  May will feature Ellis's partner in Dinner in the Dark, Palate's Jeff Jarrett. CVI's endeavors also raise funds for Veggie U, a most worthwhile cause for anyone who cares about food and how our next generation is learning about it. If you love vegetables, you will have fun playing with the food at the Culinary Vegetable Institute!


  1. Looks like a wonderful meal for a very worth cause!

  2. Floating Islands are one of my favorite desserts!

    Great post.

  3. You got some really good pictures.
    Glad to see you chowing down too.

    Sorry about us being so loud

    Eating my veggies at Earth to Table @TheChefsGarden @CulinaryVegInst #culinaryboner http://wp.me/pNu4E-IQ

  4. Thanks for the props QLF - sorry, I didn't notice your table at all (or I would have said hello) - you must not have been as loud as you thought.

    A great time!