Hand-crafted goat cheeses. Lavender lemonade. Braised beef potstickers. Pork tongue (it was delicious!). Tonight I sampled foods from a variety of noted restaurants and chefs at the 2010 Food & Wine Celebration at the Culinary Vegetable Institute in Milan, Ohio. The event raises money to support Veggie U, a farm-centered, hands-on experience for children designed to teach them healthy living–and eating.

While I’ve been to tasting events before, what impressed me about this event was how fresh the ingredients were and how committed each chef was to using sustainable, local products. Take Chris and Veronica Laramie a husband-wife team who were showcasing their food–and philosophy–from their restaurant, eVe, in Berkley, California. “We make everything from scratch, in small batches, and we take classic flavor combinations and turn them on their head,” said Veronica in a recent interview with fellow foodie blogger, Sarah Henry of LettuceEatKale. Veronica pointed out eVe’s cantalope gazpacho as an example of classic meets fresh ingredients plus culinary creativity.

Reinvented classic combinations. I like that. Here’s just some of the lessons I took away from the event:

Veggies meet fruit. My favorite dish of the night (and this surprised me!)–a simple combination of watermelon, cucumber and feta. Fruit salad is getting a little boring around our house. Why not toss some veggies and strong cheese in the mix?

Flowers meet dessert. As a kid, my mom often used edible flowers with savory dishes and desert. There’s something decadent about eating flowers–and I’m not talking mint or herbs. Try adding a pansy on top of your next cupcake, a chive blossom served alongside rice, or bread and fry squash blossoms (note: you should make sure your flowers are edible and thoroughly washed before eating).

Meat meet vegetables. Sometimes I get in the habit of thinking of veggies as a side dish–not the entree. Juicy heirloom tomatoes, meaty squash and savory corn relish have left me reconsidering my dinner menu.

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