Think of all the most Michelin-starred chefs, the biggest tv food personalities you can name. When they want to learn about how the finest produce in the world is grown, check out the lab where intricate nutrition and growing science is practiced, check up on custom-grown micro-greens they’ve commissioned, hang out with their fellow chefs from around the world, they come visit Milan, Ohio and who has become America’s farmer, Farmer Lee Jones. His Culinary Vegetable Institute has a luxury suite befitting such emissaries and I was happy to be hosted to experience it!
One of the things I was surprised to learn that among the things that chefs like to do in their off-hours — such as play the guitar in the suite, enjoy PBRs, local microbrews, as well as fancy wines from the fanciest mini-bar I’ve ever encountered in my life — is cook with their friends! Accordingly, the suite is kitted up with everything a chef might want to use, including gas range, two refrigerators, full knife set, heavy cookware, coffee grinder and other gadgets.
One of the experiences a civilian can have is a dinner started off by Executive Chef Liaison Jamie Simpson, a young, up-and-coming chef who studies and works with the farm produce, creates meals for the VIPs visiting, holds cooking seminars and generally makes that link between farm and kitchens around the world. He and his assistant Dario started off a duck and cranberry type dinner for me to finish in the suite! I actually had a good feeling about this, as that’s pretty much what I made the week before for Thanksgiving dinner. But this was going to be the gourmet chef’s way!
First, I was given a bottle of Petalos wine, 2019. It’s a medium bodied, not-too-tannic, lovely Spanish wine. Search it out! I’ve actually only found two places in Baltimore that carry it. Chef Jamie Simpson pronounces it “very good”. I agree.
I had specific instructions to temper the foods — let them come to room temperature for an hour — before cooking. I remembered to take some out, but not the duck! Fortunately, next to the suite is a cookbook library with some of the most interesting books I’ve ever seen. I also felt some pride that I own several of the books at home.
I took my Petalos and a glass in there. Then, I remembered that I needed to take the duck out! After that was accomplished, I went back to the library with my bottle. Then, I was texting people I might not have, pre-Petalos! I started to realize it was getting late, which is kinda my style, but it dawned on me that I’d be having some farmer hours in the morning. Now I was feeling like a hard-core real restaurant chef!
As I was preheating the oven, I assembled the radish and raw kohlrabi salad. It came with a light pink peppercorn and lemon vinaigrette which was sweet, with a light tang, then finished with pink Himalayan salt. The salad was thinly sliced veggies with creme fraiche and edible floral garnish.
Heating up the other things, I can definitely say that using heavy saucepans really makes a difference from the cheap crappy pans with hotspots that I have.
Then, I put together a sweet, rich and seasonal — of course, straight from the farm! — butternut squash soup. Fresh fennel leaves add a counterpoint, a lemony-licorice flavor.
Cranberry “verjus” was rich and meaty. This was not one of those candied cranberry sauces. This was meat-appropriate. The Petalos went perfectly with everything.
I like my duck to have a crispy skin and it turned out just right! Yay, me.
Buttery mashed potatoes and roasted veggies with cabbage seem like they’d be chicken accompaniments, but they were even better with duck!
Almond cake was presented in a cloche. It has a spice cake base, lightly sweet with a buttery icing.
I ended up grabbing breakfast with Farmer Lee Jones in the morning, but I had been given to make my own chef-style breakfast this treasure trove of goodies: 6 farm eggs, rich homemade honey yogurt, homemade granola, spinach, brown paper-wrapped fresh butter, smoked salmon, baby turnips, leeks, carrots, homemade English muffins, baby potatoes in many colors, Jerusalem artichokes, purple cauliflower, red pepper marmalade, carrot – orange juice. Well, I was not going to let this bounty go to waste! Anybody who knows me, knows that I carefully packed everything, even the eggs, in my hard-sided suitcase and schlepped them to baggage check, arriving back in Baltimore late at night. A few of the eggies broke, but my neighbor was kind and used them to make cake for us!
Foodies, this was a fabulous chef’s experience: I highly encourage you to follow in my footsteps.