Veggie U Food and Wine Celebration brings celebrity chefs to rural OhioWritten by Amy Campbell | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Many people, even your average foodie, might be surprised that the Culinary Vegetable Institute (CVI) exists at all, much less that it exists in Milan, Ohio, population 1,300 give-or-take, four miles and a world away from the Ohio Turnpike. Ordinarily one could drive right by without even noticing it, except for one Saturday in July, when the Veggie U Food and Wine Celebration turns the CVI into a culinary hot spot glittering with star chefs.
The CVI is the research and development arm of The Chef’s Garden, a family farm just a few miles south that has provided naturally grown vegetables, herbs and microgreens to chefs all over the world for nearly 30 years. In 2003 it established Veggie U, a science curriculum that provides a hands-on, seed-to-harvest experience to fourth-grade and special needs classrooms, which encourages healthy food choices by making the connection between what we eat and how it’s grown. The annual Food and Wine Celebration raises money to support Veggie U, and calls on some of The Chef’s Garden’s most faithful — and famous — customers to do it.
July 16, 2011 marks the ninth Food and Wine Celebration, and the list of guest gourmets is a foodie fantasy come to life. It includes TV regulars Aaron Sanchez (“Chopped,” “The Next Iron Chef,” “Top Chef Masters”) and Amanda Freitag (“Chopped,” “Iron Chef America,” “The Next Iron Chef”); industry insider and recent “Top Chef Masters” judge Ruth Reichl; Chipotle founder Steve Ells; and ice cream innovator Jeni Britton Bauer, founder of Columbus-based Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams.
In addition to the celebrities, who will participate in or preside over demonstrations and cook-offs, 44 chefs from around the country will ensure that guests enjoy fresh, creative and beautiful dishes at the event’s grand tasting. Thirty stations will serve small plate specialties, from soups to desserts and everything in between, using produce donated by The Chef’s Garden. Wines from a variety of vintners will also be available to taste, and those interested in expanding their wine knowledge couldn’t do better than attending the wine-tasting class taught by Serafin Alvarado, master sommelier.
The Food and Wine Celebration is the only fundraiser for the Veggie U program, which has delivered more than 1,800 classroom kits in 26 states. The goal is to provide the curriculum to all 93,000 fouth-grade classrooms in the U.S. It’s a goal the guest chefs whole-heartedly support, as evidenced by the fact that they donate their appearances at the Food and Wine Celebration. Jeni Britton Bauer, known for her unique ice cream flavors that are as likely to feature vegetables and herbs as fruit or confections, believes Veggie U is reaching children the right way.
“There’s always a lot of talk and preaching geared toward kids when it comes to healthful eating,” Britton Bauer said. “But with the Veggie U program, kids actually get to grow and eat alternatives to chips and nacho cheese. Veggie U walks the walk.”
All profits from ticket sales go to Veggie U, and additional opportunities to support the program will be available throughout the evening, including a silent auction, followed by a live auction offering exotic trips and culinary experiences to the highest bidders. The Veggie U Food and Wine Celebration runs from 5 to 9 p.m. Tickets are $145 per person, or $125 each for blocks of 10. The event’s VIP pre-party, an opportunity for just 50 ticket holders to mingle with the celebrity chefs, takes place from 4 to 5:30 p.m. Tickets for the pre-party are $500 per person or $400 each for blocks of 10, and include the grand tasting.
For more information on the celebration, visit www.VeggieUFoodandWine.com.