Sunday, July 8, 2012

VSU 8th Annual Commercial Vegetable & Berry Field Day

On July 14th, 2011 I received a call from, well ok- I was putting my specialty greens order in on mike clarks voice mail at planet earth diversified when he called me back to invite me to Virginia State University’s 8th Annual Commercial Vegetable & Berry Field Day… they wanted me to be one of the VSU Iron Chef competitors and Dr. Rezza Rafi also wanted me to give a speech to over 300 virginia farmers on the aspects of getting their goods to the restaurants and other logistic matters associated with the modern day sustainable farm…. arriving at our hotel the night before we went to the farm to scope out the situation…. melons of varying varieties were semi ripe, mini lipstick peppers were ripe for the takin’, long beans were ripe, bitter melon ripe, tomatillos ripe, some heirloom tomatoes ripe, lots of basil- looks like it is bolting- but this is just a preview….. we will have to wait until tomorrow to pillage this rural garden of its booty that will drive us in to iron chef battle… menu brainstorm: after getting the list of available ingredients I found myself interested in- randolph farm aquaculture raised fresh water spot prawns, pasture raised local goat meat, mini lipstick peppers, bunching onions, misc. heirloom tomatoes, tomatillos, carrots, genovese basil and some other herbs including verbena and mint… two dishes quickly came to mind- creamery butter poached spot prawns with misc. chilis and roasted carrot vinaigrette and/or blistered mini lipstick peppers stuffed with heirloom plantation rice, spot prawns and homemade goat chorizo with smoky pepper and tomatillosauces….. I went with the stuffed lipstick peppers…. six thirty the next mornin’ I found myself standing next to heather (zander too) on a virginia state university research farm with the head of the project, Dr. Rezza Rafi (with this man’s help we successfully grew a papaya there in virginia- yes in virginia), Tonia Reinhard (author of the book super foods), David Dunaway (horticulture specialist), Chef Harrison Keevil (owner of brookville restaurant in charlottesville), Chef Scott Williamson (henrico ornamental nursery), Chef Todd Johnson (owner of mezzanine and timber belly tavern in richmond, va), several representatives from virginia farmers direct marketing association, Dr. Franklin Jackson (dean of ag. at vsu), Chef Todd Burge (head of vsu culinary) and Mr. Motavio Alston (executive chef for the secretary of defense @ the pentagon)….. an interesting bunch standing in a greenhouse that grew a papaya in virginia….. oh-yeah those 300+ farmers were all there too…. we hurried to pick our quota of mini lipstick peppers but zanders stroller wheels kept getting stuck in the rich soil….. after picking all of our goods it was off to the prep kitchen location inside the newly built and barely used kitchens and equipment at Thompson Hospitality Dining Hall and the new Gateway Dining Facility…. this place was bad-ass, it was set up to put out huge numbers of meals to the student body utilizing the local foods grown by the agriculture students at randolph farm……
we missed the high-tunnel wind demonstrations, but we had no choice but to prep on……. with all this stuffed pepper and pentagon chef shit on my mind I completely forgot that I have to give a speech to over 300 virginia farmers, sharing helpful advice on the subject of how small farmers and producers can connect to and sell to demanding food service operations and local foods driven chefs in their areas and regions….. we started by getting our little peppers roasted, heirloom plantation rice cooked, goat meat chorizo made and fresh water spot prawns peeled and cooked… we then made our blistered lipstick pepper sauce, our charred tomatillo salsa verde and got the stuffing mixed and adjusted the seasonings….. stuffing commenced- (heather did all the stuffin’ and I did all the yackin’) we were told to prepare 50 samples and 2 plates for the judges, but when they came to ask for plates they asked for 4 judges plates….. let’s just say I know better- so with the crowd of 300+ swelling by midafternoon, I am glad we stuffed over 180 peppers and brought along some of virginia’s finest artisan & farmstead cheeses for the crowd to nosh on before the samples were ready… they got their nibble on…. they took down over 8lbs. of cheese in under 10 minutes…….. damn….! and our samples lasted just as long…… with people lined up for more a half hour after we ran out….. it was now time to get our plates to the judges…. and wait- after about an hour they announced the winner….. chef todd Johnson (the wolfgang puck protégé)…….!
it did not matter at all WHO won, cause we all had one hell of a good time on the stage speakin’ our minds about what we are bent on believing for our progressive kitchens these days…. we were all handed a certificate of appreciation from virginia state university and headed back to our mothership kitchens, some with a check for $500 bucks some with nothin’…… after the scoring was tallied I found out that I lost by 2/100ths of a point…… we stuck around for the vsu luncheon of country fried chicken, salad greens from the farm, buttered yeast rolls, sweet tea, mashed taters, baked church beans, ham-hock stewed green beans and summer rambo apple pie….. ate with 12 virginia farmers, they were cool shit with great topics facing their farms and their products….. gave my 20 minute speech with a beautiful power point presentation, got a standing ovation with eminem in the background, tore the bottom off of my speech, wrote my produce order on it, handed it to leslie from planet earth diversified, who was doing the videography for the event and headed the almost four hours back to rappahannock county…. thanks virginia state university, thanks mike & leslie from planet earth diversified, thanks to my fellow chefs for doing yet another food event with me, and a special thanks to the more than 300 farmers in attendance from around the state…. here are a few links to media coverage of the event: