Monday, July 23, 2007

VeggieU


Bob and Lee Jones describe themselves as being born and bred for a love for farming. Their passion helps to cultivate their mission: "to grow vegetables slowly and gently in full accord with nature." This is the very seedling of thought that helped them to create the Culinary Vegetable Institute. CVI is an innovative educational center surrounded by a working farm. In addition to the creation of the Chef's Garden (a garden dedicated to promote a synergistic union between chef and farmer), the Jones have also created VeggieU, a non-profit organization that is set up to combat childhood obesity.

On July 21 more than 100 chefs attended the 2007 Chef Summit held at the Culinary Vegetable Institute. On the first day of the summit I took a tour of the farm and planting facilities which includes a seed lab, composting unit, and packing facility. I participated in a panel discussion about the challenges, opportunities, and the current status of the food and nutrition in the hospitality industry. Day two took me to a fund raising festival that included over 70 different booths filled with various chefs and purveyors. The day was filled with several different inspiring chef demos and culinary tastings directly from the Chef's Garden.

Other speakers besides myself included Jeff Henderson and Paula Deen. Everyone is committed to take part in the fight against childhood obesity. Lee Jones and I auctioned off a White House style dinner for 24 people at VeggieU for about $25,000 to benefit the school. The spirited bidding involved lots of good natured kidding. We ended our day with a lobster and clambake for about 200 volunteers and chefs at the Lee's private home. For more information go to: http://www.chefs-garden.com/ChefSummit.htm.

My stay in Norwalk, Ohio was exceptional, as well. I was a guest at Judy and Gene Denney's spectacular Georgian Manor Inn, a AAA Four Diamond Inn. The ratings are certainly deserving because the hospitality and cuisine could not have been better. The 9000 square foot mansion is elegant and exquisitely decorated with beautiful antiques and art. It's a must stay if you're in North Central Ohio. Take a look, http://www.georgianmanorinn.com.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The Kitchen Dance

The West Coast Swing is a dance that originated back in the 1930's. This dance is characterized by a distinctive fluid series of steps where both partners, keeping in time and rhythm, quickly step either closer or away from one another with elegance and style. Anyone who's been working in the kitchen long enough fully understands the dynamics of the "kitchen dance". Because of the nature of my business I rely heavily upon partners within the kitchen to make the goal of turning every event into a memorable success. My travels this last week took me on a short tour of the West Coast. I started out in Seattle, WA where I was a guest speaker at the National Association of College and University Food Services Conference. Here I partnered up with Chef John Hart and his brigade at the Seattle Sheraton. We worked together to produce a White House dinner that was originally planned for 700 guests. The number went up to 800 at the last minute. John and his staff handled the increase in attendance flawlessly. The dinner was a beautiful prelude for the keynote White House talk I gave on the following day to the members of the conference.

While in Seattle, I spoiled myself at the Dahlia Lounge, one of the Northwest's finest restaurants run by Tom Douglas. Tom's innovative cuisine earned him a former "Best Northwest Chef" award from the James Beard Foundation. My dinner was excellent, as always, was excellent. This is exactly why I was compelled to experience Serious Pie, one of Tom's other restaurants, right around the corner from the Dahlia Lounge.


My travel to Seattle then led me to Monterey, California for the Produce Marketing Association Annual Conference and Exposition at the Monterey Marriott. Anthony Bourdain and myself were brought in as guest chef speakers. We were billed as "The Renegade Gourmet meets the Conservative Conoissuer". I can't say that I'm fully at home with the term "Conservative Conoissuer", but the marketing idea as a whole is an interesting concept. I can easily envision a Food Network type TV show with a Point vs. Point format amongst chefs.

Anthony Bourdain and I took part in a moderated panel discussion, a cooking demo/tasting, and a Q & A session for PMA members. During the event we had the chance to meet some terrific students who were the recipients of the Nucci Scholarship. All of the Scholarship winners came from the CIA (Culinary Instititute of America) and Johnson and Wales. Several of these students took a direct role in assisting both of us on stage during the demos.

If you have never experienced it before, it can be quite a daunting task to allow guest chefs to take over your kitchen. The scene at the Marriott kitchen looked a little like a stage production that was accompanied by various appointed sous chefs, kitchen staff, and 14 culinary students who all had a hand in helping to prepare the ingredients for the chef demos and a total of 900 tastings. It is quite an amazing thing to see the "kitchen dance" in full swing. Many thanks go to Executive Chef Willi Franz for allowing me to be a guest in his kitchen. Also, stellar kudos to his very accomplished sous chef, Barre Miller. And finally, special thanks to Kiyomi for choreographing and taking the lead in producing the food for this portion of my West Coast Kitchen Swing.