Last year, we got to know America’s farmer, Farmer Lee Jones.
He was part of his family farm’s move to create an original concept: becoming a specialty grower for the finest chefs in the U.S. and abroad.
Recently, Mr. Jones made a cameo appearance in the film festival darling, "Love, Charlie," about the life and death of Michelin-starred chef Charlie Trotter.
Trotter was one of the first to make vegetarian tasting menus desirable, not an also-ran.
Of course, Farmer Lee Jones supplied the building blocks.
When the pandemic shut down restaurants, Mr. Jones pivoted to create vegetable boxes available to consumers for purchase.
Gourmet chefs travel from around the world to rural Milan, Ohio (about an hour from Cleveland) to see the source of their creations.
His liaison chef, Jamie Simpson, cooks for VIPs and tests recipes with the unusual, experimental produce.
So, Farmer Lee Jones created a gorgeous wood and stone A-frame facility that contains a 1,500 sq. foot double-high ceiling professional kitchen, dining facilities, a root and wine cellar, along with overnight accommodations and a treasured cookbook library.
Since the pandemic, it’s been open to occasional airbnb bookings, as well as corporate and group retreats.
Colorful wild peacocks keep close to the building, knowing that fresh snacks are likely forthcoming.
This is the epicenter of The Culinary Vegetable Institute.
Yes, mere civilians can experience what the celebrity chefs do, which is homestyle luxury.
The property abuts the Huron River, as well as tree groves. I quickly realized that what chefs like to do when not working is . . . more cooking!
The spacious suite has a beautifully equipped kitchen, including two refrigerators.
A rack holds the fanciest mini-bar I’ve ever seen, with a selection of exquisite wines and champagnes. But, since chefs like to mix high-brow and low-brow, you’ll also find local microbrews and other beers chilling.
Non-professional chefs — like I am — are given Chef Simpson assembled and pre-cooked meals to fix for themselves: you heat things up and finish them, garnish.
Just like the pros, you’re working with the finest Chef’s Garden vegetables, herbs and microgreens.
I was there right after Thanksgiving, so I found myself making roast duck with cranberry sauce and sides. While waiting for ingredients to lose their refrigerator chill — "temper," in chefs’ parlance — I grabbed a bottle of wine and checked out the cookbook library next to the suite.
A little alcove has been given a custom stained-glass window, so it resembles a chapel crossed with one of the great European university libraries.
There are vintage, leather-bound cooking magazines, cookbooks sent by chef friends, several tomes on vegetables and vegetarian cuisine.
When not cooking or tidying up, chefs and non-chefs can turn up the gas fireplace, play the guitar on a stand, splash around in the gigantic hot tub.
Nearby is a state-of-the-art lab facility where scientists from around the world test plants for health, nutritional content and other measures, such as sweetness.
When they say a vegetable beats USDA vitamin content requirements, you can take that to the bank! The greenhouses are staffed with acclaimed growers.
They mind the precious microgreens, which each chef apparently likes to be sent at various stages: for individual flavor profiles and probably also, as a competitive point of difference.
I took the opportunity to ask about my sad little window box garden, which did a measly job of contributing to my table during the lockdowns.
From my description of things, it was determined that my soil is probably too acidic.
The packing rooms include a giant composting bin that holds better-looking produce than what’s at your grocery store, I promise.
They strive for perfection.
Chefs are renowned for burning the candle at both ends.
Accordingly, I was up and at ‘em early to see Farmer Lee Jones doing his farm chores.
Farm animals all have a job, whether they’re cats keeping the barn clear, chickens laying eggs or big, bossy Belgian draft horses who pull Christmastime sleighs.
Then, it was onto the Farm Market, open weekends for people to get seasonal produce, food products and cutting boards.
The cutting boards are special and they have to be: there’s a lot riding on them.
Last year, the family’s historic barn burned to the ground, with vintage farm vehicles and sleighs lost forever.
An artistic neighbor has taken it upon himself to use trees on the property to carve stunning boards as a fundraiser. People can also use them to present charcuterie or the new entertaining trend — "butter boards."
Tamar Alexia Fleishman was the Chicago Symphony Orchestra's youngest female solo violinist. A world-traveler, Fleishman provides readers with international flavor and culture. She's debated Bill Maher, Greta Van Susteren and Dr. Phil. Fleishman practices law in Maryland with a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and a B.A. in Political Science from Goucher College. Read Tamar Alexia Fleishman's Reports — More Here.
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