Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Vegging Out

2010 is the 8th year for Veggie U’s annual Food and Wine Celebration. The gourmet extravaganza is a fundraiser for the nonprofit group’s educational programs that help fourth-graders understand the field-to-fork concept and foster healthy eating habits. It takes place at the Culinary Vegetable Institute in Milan, Ohio, on July 17 from 5-9 p.m.

A sort of “tent city” springs up in a meadow outside the 11,000-square-foot facility, surrounded by fields, carefully manicured gardens and a fringe of woodlands. It’s a beautiful spot to enjoy food prepared by acclaimed chefs and wines from a variety of vintners. Everything’s presented station-style, so you can make your way from one table to the next sampling the entire spread over the course of the evening. Cooking demos, wine seminars and a silent auction are also on the schedule.

I’ve been attending since 2005. There was a chef cook-off back then, and I was a judge that year and for a few more after that. The job had its perks — tasting the fabulous creations of the competitors — and its downside — not eating or drinking much of what was on offer under the “the big top,” so I wouldn’t be too full or too snockered to fulfill my official responsibilities. But the real challenge, especially the first time, was mastering the fear that I’d make dumb choices and, thus, reveal that I had no business being a food writing professional. My fellow judges were always heavy hitters in the field, among them someone from Gourmet, a longtime and recently retired restaurant critic for a major newspaper, the associate editor of Food Arts Magazine, a hot NYC restaurateur … you get the idea. The questions that gnawed at me were these: What if I gave high points to a dish they all thought was sub-par or dubbed something a loser that they deemed number one. Happily this never ever happened. But the worry that it would added an angsty edge to being there for me.

Last year I was relieved of those responsibilities and was able to relax and graze. But my husband, photographer Barney Taxel, was working instead. He’d been asked to document the event, and some of his images appear here. This time around we’re both just guests and plan to do nothing but enjoy ourselves. You can too.

Grand Tasting tickets are $175 per person. Spend more, and you get more including VIP access to the pre-party and an after-party. Buy tickets online or call 419-499-7500.
Be sure to come hungry.

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