I arrived at Nick and Louisa's place in Norwalk, Ohio anticipating a flurry of high-cholesterol deliciousness, immersed as they currently are into Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Little did I know that I would be making a vegetable pilgrimage before the week was out.
Louisa does some volunteer work with a great organization called the Culinary Vegetable Institute; among their many programs is something called Veggie U, which combats childhood obesity through classroom education on sustainable farming and nutrition, as well as the science of raising crops. Pretty cool stuff, right?
The Institute grew out of The Chef's Garden, a family-run farm that provides produce to some of the country's greatest chefs, including Thomas Keller and Charlie Trotter. Louisa did a little fancy footwork (mentioned my involvement with eGullet and this little blog), and scored us a tour of the facility one afternoon.
We started in the main building, built in a lodge style and built around a large entertaining space, which opens directly onto the restaurant-quality kitchen. Chef-customers are welcome to bring their staffs (there is a chef's suite upstairs and "quarters" for the staff in the basement) and work on new menu items with the produce on hand. The Institute also hosts special events - a few weeks after I visited, they held their annual Food and Wine fundraiser (Louisa, formerly of the publishing world, ran Paula Deen's book signing).
The whole concept of the Garden - experimental, sustainable farming, year-round production, quality produce provided directly to the finest chefs - is a cool one, and the property lives up to expectations. The gardens themselves are gorgeous and full of new and fascinating varieties of vegetables and fruits, most noticeably lettuces. Understandable, given the demand for them and their delicacy - just the thing for an experimental farm courting fancy-schmancy restaurants.