Famous chefs show support for Veggie U

Take 30 chefs from across the country, including headliner Robert Irvine, seemingly endless dishes with countless fresh ingredients straight from the garden, throw in a few glasses of wine and exclusive items for auction, and what do you get?
Jessica Cuffman
Jul 23, 2012


Take 30 chefs from across the country, including headliner Robert Irvine, seemingly endless dishes with countless fresh ingredients straight from the garden, throw in a few glasses of wine and exclusive items for auction, and what do you get?

More than 1,000 food enthusiasts flocking to Milan for the 10th annual fundraiser for Veggie U, a nonprofit with the mission to educate children across the country on the benefits of garden to table nutrition.

It's no small feat coaxing Food Network and Bravo chefs to take an entire weekend to benefit a great cause.

But the Jones family, owner of Chef's Garden in Huron and pioneer of Veggie U, have cultivated their relationships and business with the chefs for years to throw the biggest food and wine celebration yet.

Irvine has been buying produce from Farmer Lee Jones since 1997, so when first lady Michelle Obama asked Irvine to help her develop a program to curb childhood obesity in America, he thought of only one person: Farmer Jones and Veggie U.

"There's only one guy in this country that does it well, old style," Irvine said.

The whole Jones family believes in the garden to table philosophy. It started with Chef's Garden, providing truly organic produce ready to pluck and eat right out of the soil.

Then 10 years ago, they started Veggie U. Now the program is in 29 states across the country, with plans to get it into every fourth-grade classroom in Chicago, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., with a sponsorship from Chipotle.

That's what Saturday night was all about, hundreds of staff and volunteers bringing in cash to keep the program going.

It costs $450 to get the program started in each classroom. The money from Saturday's tickets to the event and dozens of silent and live auction items, including dinner compliments of many of the chefs done up right in your own home, will keep the program going for awhile.

But anyone can be a sponsor for a classroom year-round. Once a teacher gets started, the program is sustainable from year to year, teaching kids about the value and tastiness of cooking with vegetables straight from their own gardens.

Tasting booths across the Veggie U grounds Saturday, each manned by a different chef, were prime examples of how to use the garden.

Chef Zane Holmquist, of the Stein Eriksen Lodge in Utah, has been coming to the fundraiser for seven years.

Planning his menu, he wanted to bring in the Scandinavian feel of the lodge's Olympic champion skier from Norway, and the Utah elk -- landing him with a Swedish elk meatball with huckleberry jam, pickled kohlrabi and a deviled egg.

He keeps coming back each year because the weekend recharges his battery.

"There's a lot of people here who understand what I do," he said. "They don't go home at 5 or 6. We're there until the work is done, at 8, or 2 a.m."

And the Jones family, he said, are on a mission to make garden to table nutrition a viable thing for all children.

That's why Richard Gras, a sous chef at the St. Regis Bel Harbor in Florida, comes back every year, too.

"This is the way every chef should cook," he said. "It represents the best; the way people should eat."

The Barcelona and Florida influence dish he whipped up, literally, with a green pea and mint mousse-like topping over rabbit with a radish on the side, used ingredients right from the Veggie U garden.

"They do such an awesome job of making it pure," Irvine said about the Jones farming and cooking philosophy. "They're genuine, beautiful people."


Coming Monday

Pick up a copy of Monday's Register for a Q&A with Food Network Chef Robert Irvine, host of Restaurant Impossible.

Learn what he makes of his Ohio visits, including a recent trip to Moss, in Elyria, where he went to check up on the chef and how her restaurant is doing since he took two days and $10,000 to revive the business.

And why does Irvine seem so mean on his show? He's not. He's intense. Read about his reasons why.

Check out the video interview with him above.


Swamp Fox

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Just Thinkin

Sounds like a plan, Lets hope it works out, One question, How about a few reasonable priced dinner's for us locals who cant afford more than $ 50. / 60.Dollar's? anything possible?,Either way Good Luck!


As long as MIGRANT workers are willing to work 6 or 7 days a week, doing the back breaking work that most Americans refuse to do today, there will always be migrant workers on large farms.  No way around it.  Pretty much all of them make more in an hour here than they would make in a day or two in Mexico. 

@ Just Thinkin:  While Food and Wine is a pretty pricey event, it does raise money for a great cause.  Veggie U programs have been brought to Sandusky and other local area schools.  The program costs the school absolutely nothing.  It is all paid for by donations from this event, and ongoing sponsorship from those who continue to support this program.  The Culinary Vegetable Institue (part of The Chef's Garden) offers monthly Earth to Table dinners that also benefit Veggie U.  Great opportunity to help a good cause and enjoy some food from great chefs, at a much lower cost than that of Food and Wine.


Just Thinkin

@ mesickbanddad ,Thanks, And it is a good cause,


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 davey are you talking with your mouth full because there is a whole lot of bs running down your chin.  You may have an opinion about Farmer Jones but to lump all farmers into one category is ignorance.  You sound like Obama.  You didn't build your business-someone else did.  You have no idea!  Don't you dare come knocking on a farmers door when you need food!


OMG Reva. Apparently, you didn't get the memo about Obama's comment. It was taken COMPLETELY out of context and twisted by the Romney campaign to make it sound as if he thinks rich people didn't earn what they have accomplished.

What he actually said (and I"m quoting a conservative columnist from the Boston Globe) is that nobody gets rich without good teachers and good infrastructure, so rich people shouldn’t grumble about his plan to raise taxes.He was talking about infrastructure that supports businesses, not businesses themselves. HIs point was that the government does lots of valuable things, and people should be willing to pay for them.

This, unfortunately, is yet another example of Republicans trying to build a case for Obama's supposed "class warfare", when in truth, it is conservatives whose policies and philosophy are making things tougher and tougher for anyone who isn't a millionaire. Obama is simply pointing out the growing inequities in our current situation, and from where I'm sitting, his "we're all in this together and we all need to help each other" beats the heck out of the other party's "to heck with other people, I"m gonna hoard my money, you're on your own" stance.



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A millionaire farmer lives next door to my mother-in-law. He is a staunch Republican and accepts large government farm subsidies. Essentially, this is government-provided welfare for a wealthy person who certainly doesn't need it.


I don't believe you people. Only the citizens of Sandusky can take a good cause and good people and turn it into a debate over Obama's policies.


vger - you should know that republicans don't like good causes and good people - Obama is to blame for everything isn't he?


Thanxs S.R.   Truth is really known .   Why do those in "that" position hate any inference about things we the people pay for.      In small communities people know those that deal fair & square........& those that don't.        Another valid reason why I try to do for myself as much as possible.