Culinary Tasting Set for Aug. 21

Oglebay Institute has teamed up with local farmers and chefs to present a Farm to Table Culinary Tasting Event for the public to enjoy fresh, locally-grown food and learn about the advantages of buying food locally.

The event takes place on the lawn of Stifel Fine Arts Center, 1330 National Road, Wheeling, from 1-4 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 21, and features five of the area’s top chefs as they use the region’s freshest ingredients and their fertile imaginations to whip up delicious menu items. Guests will enjoy tent hopping from chef to chef tasting sweet and savory dishes – all of which are prepared on site from locally-grown food.

“Farm to Table dining is one of the hottest trends in the food world today,” said Eriks Janelsins, director of Oglebay Institute’s Schrader Environmental Education Center.

“It has gained widespread popularity in recent years because consumers are paying far more attention to where and how their food is grown, processed and transported, in other words, how it gets from the farm to their table,” Janelsins said.

Chef Gene Evans, instructor and assistant professor of culinary arts at West Virginia Northern Community College, agreed. “In the past five or six years, I’ve really seen an increase in customer-based knowledge,” he said. “More and more people are wanting to know where their food comes from, which is a stark contrast to days gone by when people wanted something, they didn’t care where or how it was grown.”

Evans sees this shift in attitude as a positive change for consumers and chefs because locally-grown foods taste better and are “more nutritionally dense.

“Local growers have much greater control over their products. Everything is picked at or near ripeness. That’s about as fresh as you can get so there is a huge difference in the flavor and quality of the food,” Evans said. “Also, with all the growing health concerns such as diabetes and obesity, nutrition is becoming much more of a focus in menu planning and development. This challenges chefs and restaurant owners to be more creative and to respond to the wants and desires of their customer base. “

As an advocate of farm to table dining, Evans has been doing cooking demonstrations at the Ohio Valley Farmers’ Market for the past five years. Bringing with him only a few pantry items such as butter and salt and pepper, Evans whips up delicious dishes on site using only the food being sold at the market. “If it’s not in season, I don’t use it,” he said.

Evans said people are becoming concerned not only with the produce they consume but also with proteins. “People want to know how the animals are raised and what they have been fed,” he said.

Eric Rubel of Crossroads Farm in Belmont will provide his pasture-raised lambs and chickens, which are free of antibiotic and growth hormones, for the Aug. 21 event. He said pasture-raised animals taste better and are healthier to consume than those raised in factory farms.

“Grass-fed anything – whether it’s poultry, lamb or beef – is going to have a significantly better ratio of Omega 3 to Omega 6 fatty acids. Also, when animals eat what nature intended for them to eat, the meat is going to taste better,” Rubel said.

Rubel said grassroots movements such as farm to table dining and the slow food movement (an alternative to fast food), both of which advocate food safety and nutrition, food freshness and small farm economies, have helped educate consumers about what they are putting into their bodies.

“People want to have a choice. They are beginning to realize they do have a choice. A lot of these movements are leading people back to small farms to purchase their food,” Rubel said.

Presented through a partnership between Oglebay Institute, West Virginia Northern Community College, Ohio Valley Farmers’ Market and Wheeling Farmers’ Market, the event includes a diverse menu of seasonally fresh produce, lamb and chicken, cooking demonstrations and live music. Featured chefs include Craig Aubrey, Stratford Springs, Wheeling; Gene Evans, WVNCC; Mark Glass, Bethesda Market; Sarah Lydick, Sandscrest Conference and Retreat Center. Wheeling, and Charlie Schlegel, Ye Olde Alpha, Wheeling. Chefs and farmers will be available to discuss menu items; a farmers’ market will be set up on the grounds.

Organizers say the event appeals to a wide variety of people – those interested in healthy eating, those interested in supporting local agriculture and anyone who loves fresh, delicious food. People of all ages may attend.

“One of the most effective ways to introduce people to the benefits of eating local is by hosting Farm to Table tasting events, where diners taste the freshness of locally grown ingredients, interact with farmers and even eat their meals outside. Such events are being hosted in communities across the U.S., and Oglebay Institute is pleased to help bring this experience to Wheeling,” Janelsins said.

Organizers expect the Farm to Table Culinary Tasting Event to be well received among Ohio Valley residents and are planning for a packed house on Aug. 21.

“Guests will enjoy a wonderful culinary experience and get to see first-hand how eating local can be a simple, savory and healthy way to dine,” Janelsins said.

To allow ample time for preparation, tickets are being sold in advance only. No tickets will be sold at the door. Tickets can be purchased at Stifel Fine Arts Center, Schrader Environmental Education Center, the Ohio Valley Farmers’ Market or the Wheeling Farmers’ Market. For more information, call Stifel Fine Arts Center, 304-242-7700.