Student Life

U-M culinary competition table

A week before “The Game” the Wolverines scraped knives against the Buckeyes in a different kind of matchup. Each university brought its top chefs to engage in a culinary battle Nov. 19 at The Culinary Vegetable Institute (CVI) in Milan, Ohio, for a special Earth to Table Dinner.

All courses used ingredients representative of their region and traditions. The sold-out event featured friends of CVI, as well as fans of each school. Following a vote taken after the dinner, the U-M chefs were pronounced the victors.

“The rivalry between The Ohio State University and University of Michigan is one of the oldest and best in the U.S.,” says “Farmer Lee” Jones of the CVI. “We decided to bring these two great chef teams together to play off the fun theme that involves so many people locally.”

Large tailgate displays that featured an assortment of maize and blue on one side and scarlet and gray on the other helped guests get into the spirit as soon as they entered the dining lodge. Chefs wore appropriate team hats. To add further excitement, members of a local high school band played a few songs from each university’s songbook during the evening.

Earth to Table Dinners take place monthly at CVI and are exclusive gatherings of up to 120 guests in the intimate setting of a wooded, riverside lodge. The events feature sustainable ingredients, including seasonal vegetables grown on the nearby Chef’s Garden farm, interpreted in the unique culinary style of visiting chefs from all over the country. 

Both teams prepared dishes that kicked the art of tailgating to another level. Seventeen dishes were served in all.

One particularly extraordinary presentation by the U-M chefs consisted of a speckled tango and ice spinach salad with crisp duck breast, quail egg, candied Brussels sprouts, grilled apples, served with warm roasted shallot vinaigrette. The salads came in individual portions on a carved ice platter that glowed with lit blue LED lights.  Capping off the spectacular dining experience was a sundae consisting of Buckeye gelato served on a malted waffle with chocolate ganache, peanut butter caramel sauce and whipped cream, and a roasted yellow beet and carrot cake, layered with beet and chocolate cake, light cream cheese frosting and served with beet dusted chocolate truffles and a block M chocolate medallion on top.

Peter Veach, lead chef for University Catering at U-M, says about 90 percent of the ingredients used in the meal were locally sourced, with a majority of the produce coming from Chef’s Garden, which practices sustainable agricultural techniques. University Catering and University Unions use ingredients from this farm for special events all year long.

The opportunity to prepare an Earth to Table dinner was quite an honor, says Veach. “Pride for the University Catering team, recognition from a room full of foodies and the nod of approval from Farmer Lee all mean a lot to us.”

University Catering chefs participating in the event included Veach, Aaron Bruck, John Merucci, Rob Sutch, David Young, Monisha Dodson and Nick Machcinski.

Proceeds from the rivalry dinner will be used to support CVI educational efforts to area schools.

“It was truly wonderful to be part of this event.  It offered friendly competition, used locally grown produce, and raised money for a really good cause. To top it off, Michigan was declared the winner. Of course, I agree entirely,” says Loren Rullman, associate vice president in the Division of Student Affairs, who also attended the dinner.

While the team from Michigan was victorious that night, the true winners were all the guests and chef teams who were able to be involved in a wonderful celebration of delicious locally produced ingredients.  With the success of this inaugural culinary rivalry, CVI, U-M and OSU are already planning for next year’s dinner as a new annual, spirited competition has been launched.

by Laura Seagram, University Unions