Ultimate in Flavor and Flexibility
According to the famous Greek philosopher, Plato, necessity is the mother of all invention—and, as we nimbly adjust how we serve our guests, we have personally experienced the wisdom of this statement.
At the Culinary Vegetable Institute, we focus on providing the highest of quality at each event—whether that means in how we source ingredients, uniquely prepare dishes, or deliver them to our guests. Nowhere has this been truer than the weekend of August 8-9th, 2020 when we creatively adapted our tomato dinner event with a private wine tasting to remember.
Here’s the Context
In March, Jamie and his team had been preparing for the asparagus dinner in the Vegetable Showcase series. This is a popular event and they’d prepared a beautiful menu. Then, when COVID hit, the event needed to be canceled.
“We tried to be as flexible as possible,” Jamie says, “with some people exchanging their tickets for ones to July’s squash dinner or August’s tomato dinner. Others wanted boxes of fresh vegetables from The Chef’s Garden, while still others wanted a gift certificate. Our goal was to please all of our guests.”
Fast forwarding to July, the CVI team experimented with moving the squash dinner outside. Everyone was still adjusting to COVID conditions, though—and, after consulting with the health department, the focus turned to the tomato dinner in August for the CVI’s debut back into the stellar events they’ve become known for presenting.
Planning Our Pairing
First of all, our fresh tomatoes seem especially delicious this year. So, we knew we needed to highlight them in premier ways.
“After we’d confirmed that we were going ahead with the tomato dinner event,” Jamie says, “we had to figure out what would work best. What would make it safe and comfortable for attendees while also making it a memorable experience?”
Ideas considered included a tomato festival under a tent with stations for people to enjoy in small numbers. Although this could work, we take what the county health department says extremely seriously, and they encouraged us to keep brainstorming.
“If all guests were local,” Jamie says, “we could have created takeout boxes with instructions for pickup for everyone. We would have prepped the dishes to the degree that guests could finalize them using just one sauté pan, one soup pot, a spatula, a whisk, and plates.”
But CVI guests come from Cleveland, from Toledo, from Detroit, and so forth. “One woman, for example,” Jamie shares, “was going to drive five hours to enjoy our Tomato Showcase, spend the night in the area, and then drive back the following day. Although she was perfectly willing to make that drive for the dining experience, it would be far too much for a dinner that she would just pick up and then turn around and take home.”
We realized that not every solution would work for everyone. Some people, for example, were happy to have the ingredients and instructions mailed to them. “To help, I created detailed custom labels,” Jamie says, “to illustrate what each component of a dish might look like.”
The Ultimate in Pickup
For the guests who decided to pick up their ingredients and instructions, we wanted to provide true value in that experience. We didn’t want to simply hand them a box. So, the CVI team created a pop-up wine tasting to add value to the tomato dinner.
From 3 to 7 p.m., on Friday and Saturday, guests came to the Culinary Vegetable Institute in parties of two or three, creating groups of up to eight who got to stroll around and otherwise enjoy the CVI for an hour with plenty of space available among them.
“They could enjoy a freshly prepared tomato salad, for example,” Jamie says, “and have a glass or two of wine, or a cocktail. Rather than just grabbing their dinner box and going home, they could have a private wine tasting with tomato-themed appetizers.”
There were also retail items they could choose to purchase and take home, whether those were packages of tomatoes, fresh bread, Bloody Mary mixes, tomato macaroons, freshly extruded pasta, and so forth.
“In this format,” Jamie says, “I could personally interact with each guest, something I can’t do in our traditional events. It was wonderful.”
In between sets of guests, the CVI sanitized the tasting bars, retails areas, and more.
“We can definitely do variations on this theme with future events,” Jamie says. “For example, we can offer them in our Uncorked Series, which is a wine-driven paired dinner that allows us to provide exceptional experiences in an adaptive and creative way.”