Monday, December 3, 2007
Thursday, October 18, 2007
Be sure to look at our map, if you haven’t already done so, as well as our updated participants page, which includes a great list of the chefs, farmers, producers and artisans that we’ve worked with over the years.
Also in the past nine years, Outstanding in the Field has donated a portion of the dinner proceeds to the following organizations, a list we've just assembled for the first time:
Colorado Organic Producers Association
Community Alliance with Family Farmers (CAFF)
Chez Panisse Foundation
Green City Market
La Plaza Cultural Community Garden
Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA)
Open Space Alliance of Santa Cruz
Peconic Land Trust
Slow Food L.A.
Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group
Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture
University of British Columbia Farm
Monday, October 15, 2007
Everett Family Farm, had hosted an Outstanding Dinner this time last year and Rich and Laura had invited us to their farm again. Jim and Leah visited the site a few days beforehand and Jim was excited to see a fallow row about 14 feet by 170 feet, perfectly wide and perfectly long enough for the table. The row was lined with a beautiful variety of greens and flowers and several rows over were two horse-trailers-converted-chicken-coops, which definitely added to the atmosphere. It was going to be a gorgeous setting with the table.
On Saturday morning we headed over to Everett Family Farm, giving ourselves extra time to work on cleaning off the chairs. After being in the wet field out at County Line a couple of weeks ago we knew they would need a little attention.
Despite the rain earlier in the week, getting everyone excited, the day had turned out beautiful: cloudless skies and a comfortably warm temperature. The farm had been washed clean by the rain so even the chicken houses looked bright and fresh in the field.
It’s hard to believe, but this was going to be our last table set up until the foraging dinner in December. After 15 dinners (including a couple of private events) in 18 weeks, there is going to be some withdrawl.
After scrubbing down all the chairs (thanks to Cindy and Wrenna, our new staff!) and letting the field dry out a bit more we started spreading out straw bales into the vacant row. In less than an hour, the table was set and the field transformed into our restaurant without walls.
Andrea Gentl and Marin Hyers, photographers from Conde Nast Traveler, jumped into the cherrypicker and lifted themselves high into the sky for an aerial shot of the table. They were at the dinner trying for a cover shot for the March issue of the magazine, which will include a “Farm to Table” feature article. The cherrypicker proved to be a great novelty later on in the dinner for others who wanted to see an overhead view of the scene – almost like a carnival ride! Here's a shot by Jim's photographer friend Patrick Trefz to give you a taste:
Up at the welcome area, guests had begun to arrive. Christine Slatter from Hunter Hill Vineyard and Winery poured her 2004 Estate Merlot from the Santa Cruz Mountains. Hunter Hill is literally over the hill from Everett Farm, just off Glen Haven Road in Soquel. Chef Justin Severino of Severino Community Butchers had prepared platters upon platters of crostini that were set out on the mesh-top greenhouse tables: bresaola with tea-soaked prunes, ciccioli with pickled cucumber and beef salami with apricot mostarda.
Justin is familiar with Outstanding in the Field dinners, as this is his third – second at Everett Farm. Justin and his wife Hilary operate Severino’s Community Butcher, which sources pig, beef and rabbit from local farmers. They sell the sausages, pates and cuts of cured meats at farmers markets in Felton, Santa Cruz and Campbell. Unfortunately for Santa Cruz, Justin will be relocating back to his former home of Pennsylvania in a few weeks time to begin anew in Pittsburgh. We are very fortunate to have him join us for this Outstanding dinner in Santa Cruz and look forward to the possibility of visiting him next year in the Northeast.
After appetizers and wine, Rich and Laura Everett, along with farmers Teresa Kurtak and Michael Irving (UCSC CASFS graduates), led everyone on a tour of the farm: from the market stand to the fields, to the persimmon and apple orchards. Afterwards, guests meandered back towards the table and collected their plates displayed on hay bales. We poured Hunter Hill’s “Double Barrel” (a Roussane and Viognier blend) and then presented Justin’s savory watermelon soup with proscuitto, charred tomatoes and goat cheese. See his full menu here. It was an educational evening, with everyone walking away having learned at least two new Spanish/Italian terms for different pork preparations. Justin created an amazing menu, sourcing almost every vegetable/fruit ingredient from Everett Farm. The meat came from Devil’s Gulch Ranch, the fish from Hans and Heidi at H&H Fresh Fish and the bread from Big Sur Bakery. Dessert was prepared by Marg Clemens. The guests enjoyed 19 beautiful apple pies which were made with the Newtown Pippin apples from the Everett’s orchard.
After dessert was served, Justin and his kitchen crew came out to the table to say goodnight and the rowdy crowd gave a high-spirited ovation. With the comfortable weather, guests lingered into the night.
Tuesday, October 2, 2007
After the two and a half hour drive north to Sonoma County, we arrived with jeep and trailer in tow to find Veronica already set up in the field folding napkins. Jim promptly began his ritual walk through the rows in the field to find the most aesthetically pleasing spot for the table: naturally this would be the one furthest away from where our equipment. Luckily County Line Harvest owner/farmer David Retsky had just returned from market and was there to help us out by loading up his quad cycle and trailer to haul out the tables, glassware, chairs, utensils and plates and then finally the massive stove and grill.
It was great to have our familiar California staff: Johnny, Emily and Aubrey. Also a couple of new staff who found Outstanding in the Field from reading the GQ Magazine and Common Ground articles, were joining us in the field. Chef Duskie Estes and her Zazu crew soon arrived and efficiently began setting up the kitchen and welcome area. Set up ran smoothly and quickly.
As guests arrived, they were welcomed with a beautiful arrangement featuring Soyoung’s 5 favorite cheeses from Andante Dairy, County Line’s radishes with lavendar salt and sweet butter and a Brut Rose from Iron Horse Vineyards. Everyone mingled by the old red dairy barn with Soyoung, accompanied by her husband Jamie, happily answering questions about her nearby Petaluma-based cheesemaking operation.
Eventually the guests, guided by David, made the journey over to the table, tucked far into the deep green dandelion rows. Occasionally, in the excitement of the moment, the farm tour breaks off and rushes the table; David was left behind chatting with a few, more attentive guests.
Andy Peay, of Peay Vineyards, had contacted Outstanding in the Field a few years ago interested in working with us. This year Duskie Estes, when discussing winemaker options for the dinner, mentioned Andy Peay and the match was made.
After the Peay Vineyards Chardonnay was poured at the table, Duskie’s first course of soup and salad went out to the table. It featured onions and lettuce from County Line as well as bread from Della Fattoria and Soyoung’s tome cheese. Here is a complete version of the menu.
Also joining the us at the table that evening were the folks from McEvoy Ranch Olive Oil along with Andy Peay and winemaker Vanessa Wong from Peay Vineyards; throughout the meal they wandered along the table chatting with the guests.
With sunset, the diners enjoyed the family platters of roasted roots and CK Lamb salumi with shelling bean gratin. Once the entrees were finished and we had begun to clear the table, the candles were set out on the table illuminating contented guests. Darkness had arrived and the temperature had dropped drastically as the wind picked up. Jim went around offering guests colorful Mexican blankets that we had picked up at a truck stop in Oklahoma on our way back across the country. It was the first dinner we had ever offered blankets to those at the table and they were very well received! Our 20 blankets couldn’t quite stretch over the shoulders of 140 guests, but most of the guests had dressed warmly for the occasion.
By the time dessert was served - a phenomenal goat cheesecake with bruleed figs - many of the guests were more than ready to escape the elements: the novelty of dining in the field had been blown away with the wind. There was a quick rush to collect plates and then follow the trail of lanterns back out of the field towards the cars. A few people enjoyed the thrill of it all and huddled around the glowing grill to warm their hands and linger, expressing their gratitude to Duskie and her kitchen. Once all of the guests had filtered off and the kitchen had packed and left, our crew was left in the silence of the middle of the field under the stars. We warmed ourselves by the fire for a while until the wind died down. With the wind chill gone, clean up was slightly less daunting: we handed out the headlamps and began collecting wine glasses from the long vacant table.
Saturday, September 29, 2007
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Tuesday, September 25, 2007
Toby Leaman, president of the board of directors and longtime member of the garden, has been our Wattles liason and met us to unlock the gates the morning of the dinner. She is a very sweet lady with tons of passion towards the garden, its history and its hundreds of members.
What is now Wattles Farm was once an avocado grove/fruit orchard for the nearby Wattles Mansion. In 1975 it became Wattles Farm, to begin growing into what it is today, making it one of L.A.’s oldest community gardens. It is 4.2 acres in size, and right off Hollywood Blvd tucked away on Curson Ave, less than 1 mile from the Walk of Fame.
Spacial organization of the dinner is a bit more of a challenge in these community gardens, more so than a 4.2 acre field of course. After some contemplation, Jim opted for a V table, running it off along two walking paths, lined by fruit trees and garden plots.
Unexpectedly, a few guests arrived early and Toby ushered them on a private tour around the garden sharing her stories and knowledge of the plants and trees.
Allen Quinton & his wife of Antelope Valley Winery set up under the trees to pour their Muscat Canelli to the arriving guests. We are excited to finally work with Antelope Valley Winery owned by Cecil McLester. Cecil's son Andrew is a good friend of Jim’s and is the wine consultant for Outstanding in the Field. A few members of the garden were also there at the welcome area to tour small groups of guests through the rows of avocado trees and garden plots bursting with herbs, zucchini, cucumbers, tomatoes, lettuces, chard, beans and berries.
A number of garden members were present to lead small groups of guests around the garden. Some gardener guides were more elaborate with their tours than others, but eventually everyone arrived back at the greeting area for Jim and Katy’s welcome. Plates in hand, the guests then cozied into their seats at the table to be begin their meal with a beautiful salad of radicchio, burrata, figs and mineolas from the garden kitchen of Kris Morningstar and Blue Velvet Restaurant. See Kris’ full menu here.
Guests enjoyed the dinner at a leisurely pace. Kris’ uni chowder was delicious, the uni (sea urchin roe) being a new experience for many of the diners. The platter receiving the greatest reaction at the table was the yellow wax peppers stuffed with lamb’s tongue served over shelling bean salad. The dish was paired with Antelope Valley's 2005 Tempranillo; Antelope Valley's first bottling of the Tempranillo grape. Dessert was a zucchini bread with zucchini mousse– one friend of Outstanding in the Field mentioned afterwards that it was the best thing she had ever eaten, ever.
The evening was topped off by a brilliant sighting of a shooting star. Jim was addressing the table when he suddenly noticed many of the guests pointing up into the sky behind him with their mouths hanging open. Of course by the time he had spun around, the spectacle was over. Very memorable for the guests.
Monday, September 17, 2007
Chuck and Mary host concert picnics at the vineyard throughout the summer so, needless to say, they are used to having guests. They have the equipment for it too: a 16 foot, homemade grill that hitches up to the tractor to be moved. Chuck towed it out to the field where we had chosen the table site between the rows of Norton, Chardonel and Seyval grapes for Kathy to use later on. With more than enough time to spare for set up, the entire OitF team was happy to join the guests up at the barn and first wine/appetizer area to mingle and enjoy the welcome speeches. Here Kathy had some eggplant and tomato jam bruschetta and Judy Schad from Capriole Goat Farm shared a number of different cheeses.
Once all of the guests had arrived, Jim and Katy welcomed the crowd, then passed the attention over to Chuck. He spoke of how there have been eight generations of Smith farmers in Henry County and how Mary and himself had purchased their farm over 25 years ago. Originally, they grew tobacco and milked cows. Since then, they have grown organic vegetables and raised free range chickens, turkeys and beef cattle. Now, they have replaced tobacco with the vineyard and continue to raise sheep, cattle while making wine.
Digesting that information, guests wandered down to the table and meandered through the vines for a short while before seating at the table to feast, Wendell Berry’s sheep grazing closeby between the vines.
Click here to see a copy of Kathy’s beautifully crafted menu.
Guests enjoyed Earth Promises Farm chicken from Sandy Corlett, who may win the prize for telling the most entertaining story at the table this season. She shared with us an experience of waking up during the night to hear a rain storm and it pouring down on her new, young birds, not yet aware of their shelter. In the storm, she went out to the coop to find them all fast asleep and getting soaked. Shoo-ing proved futile, as the sleepy birds would only stand up, walk a couple of feet and plop back down again, narcoleptically. Sandy acted this out, as well as her next best option, which was to individually pick up and move each chicken under shelter. She performed her scooping up the chicken and jogging a few feet to put the oblivious birds down under shelter while reminding herself “three dollars a dozen, three dollars a dozen”. Hours later, she had moved over three hundred chickens and completed just in time to go into the house, get dressed and take the kids to school.
Ivor Chodkowski was well-featured on the menu, including his butternut squash, garlic and potatoes. Lamb came from Wendy Price of Shadowland Farm who was unfortunately unable to join us at the table. Overall, Kathy created an almost exclusively local meal, aside from the apples in the crisp, which were from Michigan, but not without reason: a harsh freeze in April had wiped out Kentucky’s entire apple crop. Even still, the crisp was delicious and nicely complimented Judy’s goat cheese ice cream. Upon tasting, guests were asking where they could buy the ice cream, which is unavailable commercially. Someone suggested Kathy start packing and distributing it, potentially a nice retirement plan? Hope to see Capriole Farm Goat Cheese Ice Cream in stores in the future…
Once again, by the end of the evening guests were leaving satiated and happy, having enjoyed a meal with their new friends at the table, including their local purveyors. They heard the stories of the vegetable farmer, the goat and chicken farmers and the winemakers and dined right next to the source – in the field.
Saturday, September 15, 2007
The next morning we drove out to New Castle to check out the dinner site. Smith-Berry Vineyard and Winery is owned by Chuck Smith and Mary Berry-Smith, who is the daughter of farmer-philosopher Wendell Berry. Smith-Berry Vineyard used to farm tobacco before they moved on to grapes, all the while continuing to raise cattle and grow organic vegetables.
For the past few months in Kentucky there has been a drought going on, resulting in a brown, California-like landscape: fortunately, we have just missed the 110 degree weather by a couple of weeks. Regardless, Chuck and Mary share our enthusiasm for the dinner tomorrow and are looking forward to having everyone out in the vineyard.
After visiting Smith-Berry in the morning we happened upon a little gem called Winks Diner that served fried bologna sandwiches, great onion rings and banana puddin (which they were unfortunately out of that day). The fried bologna sandwiches reminded Jim of cooking as a boy with his brothers – the sandwich was just the way he liked it, with mayo, tomato, bologna and white bread. While driving back into town, we also noticed a number of bologna billboards, boasting how “Fosters Bologna makes Smiles” with happy, satisfied children holding sandwiches very similar to those from Winks. We were definitely not in California yet…
Tonight we were surprised to see Bardstown Road much less of a scene than the night before and more like a ghost town (apparently due to the Saturday night football game). We visited Lilly’s to introduce ourselves to Kathy Cary and enjoy her restaurant, a pioneer in Louisville for using local and organic ingredients. We’re looking forward to having her in the field with us tomorrow!
New York Local: Eating the fruits of the five boroughs by Adam Gopnik, The New Yorker
My Empire of Dirt by Manny Howard, New York Magazine
Monday, September 10, 2007
With the table properly snaked, the next while was spent setting it and clearing the area for the kitchen space. The willow trees in the park leave a thick blanket of leaves on the ground and Jim and garden member Julian spent time raking leaves and sticks, moving piles of brush and finally tying back plant branches to squeeze the kitchen and 144 foot table into the community garden.
Chef Michael Anthony of Gramercy Tavern and his all-female crew arrived several hours before guests began arriving at 4 pm. It turns out that this dinner is a bit of a family affair as Chef Michael Anthony is newly wed to Mindy, sister of Allison Dubin of Channing Daughters Winery, our featured winemaker from Long Island. It is great to have Michael working with us again at an Outstanding in the Field dinner: in October 2003, alongside Dan Barber, he prepared a dinner at the then not-yet built Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture and the reunion is overdue.
As the Outstanding visitors filtered in, the garden was filled with the buzz of conversation. Guests enjoyed Michael’s many appetizers (from ham & cheese and eggplant & lardo to tomatoes & turnips) and Channing Daughters’ Sylvanus. Usually our farm dinners we are in a more vast space and can “hide” the table from the guests so they don’t come upon it until the end of the farm/vineyard tour. This was of course impossible in our intimate garden venue, but it was a beautiful scene to have the guests milling around the table with their first wine.
Jim’s adrenaline from the table set up and general enthusiasm for the dinner lead to him address the crowd with his longest speech ever before handing it over to Ross Martin, designer and board member of La Plaza Cultural, shared some history of the 30 year old garden.
Guests collected plates from the gazebo and settled in next to each other at the table. Among those seated were some familiar faces to Outstanding in the Field: some repeat customers from California including Kathy, Topher and Clara. There were also visitors from Flagstaff, Arizona; Philadelphia and Tennessee. Jim was pleased to invite the ladies from Random House who have been working with him on the Farm to Table cookbook as well as see a few gallerists from Chelsea.
Michael’s menu featured a number of purveyors new to Outstanding in the Field farm dinners, including Eco Friendly Farm, Paffenroth Farm and Eckerton Hill Farm while the familiar faces of Roger Repohl (our favorite honeyman from the Bronx) and Jim of Sullivan St bakery also joined us at the table.
Bev Eggleston of Eco Friendly Farm, whose ossabau pork made up the main course of the dinner, was especially eager to talk about his happy pigs. He emphasized that happy pigs makes happy meat and passionately shared his stories up and down the table.
Community Garden dinners are a great way to bring light to the bounty that is available in an urban center. Just Food is an amazing New York non-profit who does this as well, working to build connections and opportunities for the city farmers, community gardeners and NYC communities/members. On their website they list over 30 “City Farms” in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens and Staten Island and even offer connections to CSAs so NYC residents can receive veggie boxes weekly – all freshly-picked and locally grown within 3 hours of the city. The CSA site boasts that each box contains 7 – 10, usually organic, types of vegetables and that over the course of a season (June to November) members will receive at least 40 different types of vegetables. Just Food has been making a difference and educating NYC residents since they started in 1994 and Outstanding in the Field is so happy to support them: a portion of the proceeds from the La Plaza Cultural dinner are being donated to Just Food. Thanks to them for being such a great resource and introducing us to Roger and the other NYC farmers!
Nancy, Gramercy Tavern’s pastry chef had crafted 24 nectarine and blueberry pies for the table, to be served with whipped cream featuring Roger’s honey as well as bowls of muscat and champagne grapes. The guests finished off their feast by soft candlelight enveloped in the magical ambiance that had been created in the garden by the table, the kitchen, the guests and the purveyors. One could have easily forgotten that we were still in the middle of Manhattan…
Friday, September 7, 2007
Now the irony of OitF being on the Today Show is that half of our team hasn’t even seen the show before, including Katy who was to be on camera. Katy mentioned this a few times to people in the studio that morning while her and Jim were getting made-up for the segment and they were baffled. It became apparent that she should just play along.
In the primping room, Katy’s dress was pressed, her hair freshly braided and face caked with more make up than she would otherwise wear in a lifetime. Jim was saddened that the only fuss he received was a touch of powder. The green room was full of morning snacks and Jim and Katy were happy to visit with the lady from Farm Aid.
At one point the pair found out that unfortunately Al Roker was ill and unable to host the segment so Elizabeth Vargas was standing in.
The OitF segment was set to be at 9:35 and in the minutes prior, Katy and Jim were whisked on to Rockefeller Plaza as producers and cameramen scurried around to prepare for the countdown to airtime. They were surrounded by screaming tourists displaying loud signs professing love to mothers and various home states.
In the seconds counting down Katy realized that her mic was still attached to Daisy Fuentes and there was a moment of scrambling before Elizabeth Vargas introduced Jim and Katy and a lifetime of work was compressed into 2 short minutes of description. Jim quickly shared the origin of Outstanding and Katy was just barely able to squeeze in her sound byte of how the number of farmers markets in the United States has doubled in the past five years. After it was all over Katy exclaimed “Is that it?” and before they knew it the long table, decorated in our farm plates was being packed up and carried out of the Plaza.
Veronica and Leah, on the other hand, had a very different experience of the Today Show. On Thursday afternoon, during rush hour, the team drove the jeep and trailer from The Long Island City industrial area into Manhattan to drop off the chairs, plates and table cloths to be used in the shoot the next day – in rush hour. Luckily Leah is a calm, patient driver and Veronica an excellent navigator and co-pilot and the two managed to find their way through the cloud of honking and masses of cars to 49th and 5th, Rockefeller Plaza. After unloading, they decided it would be easiest to park on-island for the night and managed to find a place next to a park near the West Side Highway, where the vehicle would be safe and legally parked until 8 am.
The next morning before heading out the door to pick up the jeep, Leah realized that she could not find the keys to the vehicle: they were lost and gone. Luckily, the chosen overnight parking space was a short block away from the Manhattan Jeep dealership and even more lucky, the mechanic was willing to do a “service call” with the computer to program the new key, saving us a potentially gross one-block tow bill.
First challenge of the morning aside – next was to find a suitable spot to park our monstrosity for a couple of hours so Veronica and Leah could head back to the studio and catch the action. Much, much easier said than done. After driving around for an hour, rejected from one lot, rejecting paying $109 for two hours of parking and unable to find a suitable spot, they decided to wait it out in a bus parking zone. Unfortunately, they had to miss the entire show and arrived to Rockefeller Plaza only to see the final packing up of the faux foliage and tables.
Thursday, September 6, 2007
Tonight Katy and Jim were invited to dine at the James Beard House by Mitchell Davis, VP of the Beard Foundation, who had come to our private event GQ dinner earlier in August, interested in Outstanding in the Field. He is interested in planning a 2009 Renaissance dinner in Florence with Outstanding in the Field. Jim had a number of art openings to attend, so he passed his ticket on to a gracious Leah, who escorted Katy a few blocks from the West Village apartment to the James Beard house on 12th St.
It just so happened that on this evening Michael Tusk of Quince, SF was the guest chef for the dinner and Katy was happy to see this familiar face as the two passed through the open kitchen: Michael was the guest chef at a Point Reyes dinner on Marin Sun Farms in 2005. Once through the house, Katy and Leah joined Mitchell and the rest of the guests in the back garden for bubbles and appetizers before Mitchell offered us a tour of the house. The décor hinted at the eccentric nature of James Beard, which included an outdoor shower on the upstairs deck, mirrored bedroom and bathroom ceilings and walls of shelving full of books.
We found our seats at table 6 with Mitchell and met our table company, two older gentlemen named Roger and Walter, foundation members and veteran James Beard dinner attendees.
They were charming company throughout the dinner and as we shared stories of Outstanding in the Field dinners, they divulged insight of delicious little nooks in the city including Kossar’s at Essex and Delancy (the best bialys in the city), the nearby Guss’ for pickles and finally, the iconic Katz’s Delicatessen.
As we first sat at the table, we were excited to see Dirty Girl Tomatoes on the menu, a local Santa Cruz favorite. Farmer Joe Schirmer, host of two past OitF farm dinners, uses an especially savory method of growing his Early Girl tomatoes – dry farming involves watering the plant up until the point where it flowers and that not at all. The product is a small, sweet fruit about the size of a plum that is highly concentrated flavor. The first course, a Dirty Girl Farm tomato variazione included raw slices with bottarga di muffine, a chilled soup and a warm sfomato of smoked ricotta. Katy’s favorite course was the agnolotti dal plin filled with Paine Farm squab. The small, incredibly tasty, well-balanced pasta was paired with a 2001 Ghemme from Piedmont. Katy described the Ghemme, an Italian version of the French Gamay grape, as “a little sprinkle of dirt in your glass, pale in color, light in taste and reminiscent of a good old fashioned Nebiolo, minus the pomp and circumstance.”
Overall, we enjoyed a fabulous evening both in company and food and wine. We would like to thank Mitchell for seeking us out and welcoming us into the grand tradition of the Beard House and we look forward to the possibility of collaborating and taking our two organizations to celebrate internationally in 2009.
Sunday, September 2, 2007
After getting off the ferry in Hyannis Port at 11pm on Thursday night, we drove the 400 miles in shifts through the night to arrive at the house at 7 am on Friday morning. Why stop the crazy all-night driving expeditions now that we’ve started?
Knowing that our time here in Ithaca needed to be both productive and enjoyable, we’ve managed to find a nice balance of time between working and experiencing Ithaca this weekend. Saturday we did a good amount of running around, shopping to restock the trailer and our supplies of lantern mantles, propane fuel, tea lights, paper bags, laundry detergent, garbage bags, wine bottle openers and serving utensils. We visited Bruce’s Fast Lane to get the oil changed on the jeep which at this point has towed the trailer over 5000 miles since leaving Santa Cruz on August 15th.
Every place we visit on tour priority is finding a reliable, hopefully free and comfortable wireless internet location. Often, once we find that place, we will spend more hours there than we may spend sleeping. This place in Ithaca is the Ithaca Bakery on Meadow Street. Good sandwiches, muffins, tea and $1 for 24 hours of internet; our new home away from home (away from Katy’s parent’s home). We found our corner table near the wall outlets easily and have been there numerous hours the past couple of days. So we say Ithaca is our “rest stop”, but of course what that means is we get to do work uninterrupted by a weekend dinner and plan the remaining dinners on tour. A list of tasks which includes, but is not limited to accepting reservations, sending out invitations, replying to various inquiries, contacting chefs and purveyors across the country, making rental orders, replying to press inquiries and then just dealing with any other fun obstacles that may pop up along the way. A good amount of work for our team of four. One thing that Veronica has found entertaining is when people call the Outstanding in the Field “office” (a.k.a. Veronica’s cell phone, wherever she may be) while we’re driving across the country. Sometimes it takes a second to explain to someone that we need to scramble to find a pen and paper in the Jeep to write something down and that no, we’re not sitting in an office somewhere in Santa Cruz. We make our office where we go and these days it happens to be at 400 North Meadow Street should anyone want to stop by.
Saturday night Leah and Veronica went to Moosewood Restaurant, which Leah – the vegetarian of the crew – was excited to learn was located in Ithaca. We enjoyed a delicious meal of fresh soups, pasta and local beer.
This morning Katy’s mom Elizabeth recommended we go and check out the Ithaca Farmer’s Market. We were impressed with the permanency of the set up, complete with highway signs, a large parking lot and a long covered structure with built-in stalls for farmers and artisans. This market has been here for a while and is not going anywhere soon. Even though Elizabeth said it might not be as busy on Sunday, we managed to wander around for hours, tasting, smelling, eating and admiring what the rows of vendors had to offer: from fresh blueberries and wine to hand silkscreened shirts and jewelery.
After a few more hours of internet work at our favorite Ithaca wi-fi hotspot we headed to the Hangar Theater to enjoy some local entertainment: the closing night of the theater’s summer series with a showing of “All the Great Books – Abridged.” This high-energy, highly entertaining three man show was essentially a fast-paced classroom lesson of the 86 “world’s greatest books”, complete with midterm and final exam. A great taste of local talent and a very amusing performance.
At the end of the show we were sure to reflect on the fact that had this been a regular weekend of farm dinners we would be just beginning to tear down the tables and collect the glassware off the 128 foot table and be grateful that we were on our way to bed instead.
Friday, August 31, 2007
The day after the dinner, after a bit of a sleep in and a few of hours of internet time, Jim and Katy went out on Neil Cocker’s boat and harvested mussels with him for the afternoon – not your usual tourist activity. It was a perfectly calm day and they left Madaket Harbor to harvest a couple hundred pounds of mussels just out from the harbor. Jim was surprised what hard work it was, and this from the guy who likes to carry tables around the field and pack 13 chairs at once.
Veronica and Leah enjoyed hanging out at the Shack, soaking up some sun on the deck before moving the 80 feet to the beach to paddle around with Angela, Seth, their children Nathaniel and Jaq, and Skip and Shore (of Island Creek Oysters) on the surf boards and various water toys. Not a bad day at all. It’s typical that everyone is exhausted the day after a dinner and it’s a wonderful treat to actually be able to fully relax.
There were plans for a feast that evening. Nathaniel was going to prepare his special rib sauce on top of the lobster, clams, oysters and corn on the cob that Seth and Angela were making. The Raynors definitely know how to feast. We started out on the deck with the barbeque, shucking oysters and clams to grill up. Skip and Shore had an extra bag of 100 oysters and they could not be shucked and put on the barbeque quicker than they were being taken off and eaten. Back in the house, the island in the kitchen was full of an impressive serve-yourself buffet-style meal. One part of the tour that we are really enjoying, as we have in past years as well, is how the families, be it chefs, farmers or fisherman, open their doors and share their homes and company with us. Kinnikinnick Farm was another great example of this on this tour – there is nothing like sitting down with a large family at the kitchen table and eating, talking, drinking and laughing for hours, just like old friends. We are so fortunate to have this opportunity.
This morning we took Jim to the airport early with the intention of going to Burning Man for the week to do some artwork, since we have next weekend off with no dinner. We heard from him a couple of hours later on his stopover in New York City and, long story short, a number of signs pointed to him staying in the city instead and working on his cookbook and the approaching deadlines. These things happen for a reason.
Veronica, Katy and Leah spent this morning packing up, doing laundry and organizing themselves to catch the late ferry, then treated themselves with a trip to Cisco Brewers. What a fun place to be for the afternoon! They have a great setup with three different tasting rooms: one for the Triple Eight Distillery, one for the brewery and one for Nantucket Vineyard. For a great deal you can sit at a bar and sample their different products while enjoying a game of Shut the Box with the others at the bar. After enjoying the taster round of brews (favorites being Whale’s Tale Pale Ale and Moor Porter) the girls took one final bike ride into town to enjoy dinner at Center Street Bistro before their ferry cast off at 9 pm. We got to the ferry just in time, taking the special route with directions provided by Angela to avoid the plate-breaking cobblestone streets and narrow roadways with the trailer. Shortly after demonstrating our professional trailer backing-up skills to the ferry attendants, we loaded onto the ferry and now, here we sit in the cafeteria on the upstairs deck. An interesting tidbit: the Steamship Authority offers free wireless internet on their ships, even when you’re on the water – very convenient for those of us traveling and blogging.
Wednesday, August 29, 2007
Veronica and Leah arrived late on Monday, exhausted from their trip, to join Jim and Katy and rest soundly at “The Shack”. Chef Seth and his wife Angela opened the doors to their family beach house in Cisco on the southwest end of the island - hardly a “shack”. Jim and Katy were already fairly settled, having been there two days visiting and planning with the folks at Bartlett’s Farm, dining at Seth and Angela’s restaurant The Pearl and working with Coastal Living for an upcoming feature article (due out September 2008).
Jim and Leah were both up early on Tuesday morning as neither of them are capable of sleeping in. They took the bikes into town to find some coffee, tea and Jim’s New York Times newspaper – morning necessities. Veronica and Katy woke up later, just as Jim and Leah were returning, and we all decided it would be valuable to dunk into the ocean before heading down to the farm for the day. Jim grabbed a surf board out of Seth’s collection in the shed and caught a couple of one-foot waves while the girls paddled around. “This sure doesn’t feel like tour!” Katy exclaimed. “We’d never get to go swimming before the dinner in past years.”
After the quick dip, we grabbed the bikes, jeep and trailer and headed down the road to Bartlett’s Ocean View Farm, conveniently only a couple of miles away. Jim and Katy had been there the day before, discussing logistics with Jill and Larry, including where the table would go. Of course an additional 30 minutes of walking around was required to clear up apparent miscommunications on welcome area vs. table locations. Eventually all parties agreed that though it would be easier to have the entire dinner in the flower fields, the dinner would be held half a mile away in a corn field: after their appetizers and beer, the guests would enjoy a hay wagon ride to table. Perfect.
The rest of the afternoon was routine setting up the welcome area and table, fetching ice, water and wine; although slightly unusual since the welcome area and table were so far apart and Leah and Veronica barely saw Katy for the entire setup time. Guests started arriving at a bit after 3:30 to begin enjoying Skip Bennet’s Island Creek Oysters, Lowell Whiteford’s grilled littlenecks, Neil Cocker’s mussels, Bill Sandole’s blue fish pate and some Cisco brews from down the road. Quite the lineup!
Now Angela had warned us in the weeks prior to the dinner that we might be expecting a few extra guests to show up at the dinner sans reservations. Apparently more people had been talking about attending the dinner than were on our list and it would be typical island mentality for people to just show up should they decide an Outstanding in the Field dinner would be a fun event for the evening. Well, let’s just say that more than a few extra people showed and Leah and the set up team had to frantically add some last minute settings to the table.
It was approaching 6 o’clock by the time the hay wagon was loaded up and the guests trucked over to the - now extended - table between the corn rows. Seth Raynor and his kitchen crew had little daylight to prepare this wonderful menu and ended up grilling the swordfish – still to perfection – by candle- and lantern-light. The wine, provided by Lolonis Vineyard in Medocino, flowed along with the meal, which included Erin’s antipasti assortment, a delicious lobster & corn chowder, savory ratatouille a perfect finale of pound cake with peach compote and ice cream. Again, see the full menu here. At the table, Ted Jennison regaled the guests with tales of his swordfish hunt on the high seas, off New Bedford while Lowell Whiteford described his delicate method of harvesting clams.
The night was picturesque, with the table perfectly hidden in the corn rows and delaying the guests’ sighting of the full moon as it rose high into the sky, casting a beautiful light over the happily chatting table. After Seth, Angela, Erin and the team came out to say goodnight to the table, some guests lingered in the field under the moonlight while others were keen to catch the hay wagon back to the parking lot and avoid the possiblity of getting lost in the corn.
Another success and now we’re looking forward to enjoying the island for a couple of days before heading back to the mainland.
Special thanks again to Jill, Larry and John at Bartlett’s, Katy’s brothers Khris and Stefan, Deborah, of course Angela, Seth, Erin and their crew and all of the wonderful people who joined us at the table!
Be sure to check out the Plum TV site for some video and photo footage of the dinner.
Monday, August 27, 2007
The Kinnikinnick Farm dinner was a complete success. Once again, mother nature is on our side – the day was beautiful: blue skies and not a rain cloud in sight. We had a record 180 people seated at the two long tables stretched across the yard between the circa 1800s farm house and the barns. After the weeks of rain and storms the fields were definitely still too soggy to set up our tables in the field, as is the tradition. We toyed with the idea of having the table go around the circular driveway (getting creative with table shapes!) but the middle lawn proved dry enough to support the tables and guests.
Paul Virant of Vie and his kitchen team arrived at the dinner in the early afternoon with their “Chef to Field” refrigerated van, armed and ready for the challenge. They assembled the kitchen outside of the barn and began creating the three different types of crostini for guests who began arriving at 3:30. Some guests had an easier time making it to the farm than others: one party of 7 coming from Chicago had decided to make an evening of it and hire a limousine and driver to transport them to the farm. Unfortunately, as fate would have it, they ended up having to hitch a ride in a pizza delivery car as their limousine had broken down up the road. The delivery driver ended up having to make two trips, but the guests said that they did tip him well. They would deal with how they were getting home when the time came.
At the welcome area, the guests strolled around the yard enjoying the crostini and an Austrian Gruner Veltliner supplied by Vin Divino prior to their farm tour. Farmer David Cleverdon and his intern Kendall had just returned home from market about an hour before guests started arriving, having left at 3 am that morning to go to the Evanston Farmer’s Market, 85 miles away. Despite 4 hours of driving in the rain, setting up and working at the market for 8 + hours, David had no problem speaking to his dinner guests and guiding them on an extended tour of the fields of tomatoes, kale and lettuces. He is a real gift to his community!
Once at the table, the guests enjoyed this delicious menu from Paul. Highlights were definitely the Kilgus Farm’s goat leg and Leslie Cooperband’s “Little Bloom on the Prairie” cheese and peach preserves. During the meal, Mary Ellen shared the story of her organization, First Slice, which provides nourishing, balanced organic meals to Chicago’s homeless and low-income families. Outstanding in the Field is excited to have donated a portion of the proceeds from the Kinnikinnick Farm dinner to Mary Ellen and First Slice.
More thank yous that we don’t have enough room on the back of the menu for: again to Paul and his kitchen staff for creating a wonderful meal as well as help serve the guests in all of their charm; to the Cleverdon family and extended family (Susan, David, Stacey, Tim and Erin) for having us in their home and helping set up/take down the dinner as well as host 180 people to their farm; Seth Allen and his Vin Divino crew Zoe, Chris and Chad as well as Bob who poured and served throughout the dinner; and of course the serving crew Michaela, Claire, Jenny and Ian. A special thanks to James Macknyk who brought his limoncello to share at the end of the dinner.
After the guests had left down the paper bag lantern trail towards their cars the OitF crew began tearing down the 180 chairs, 22 tables, all of the flatware, dishware and putting the yard back to its original state – all the while intermittently enjoying some left over food and wine. There was a little more pressure for a quick, thorough clean up after this dinner as Katy and Jim had a 7:00 am flight booked out of Chicago to Nantucket for the next day and Veronica and Leah had to begin their 1200 mile driving journey. Needless to say, everyone was a little groggy at the 4:45 am wake up, but Jim and Katy did manage to get out the door and to the airport in good time. Veronica and Leah were able to relish a few more hours of shut-eye a generous breakfast with the Cleverdons before hooking up the trailer and heading out on the road.
Hard to believe that was just yesterday morning – and now here we are, 30 hours later at the Hyannis-Nantucket ferry! Veronica and Leah took shifts through the night and drove the entire distance through Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Massachusetts – needless to say, they are very happy to have a stationary place to sit and write this entry!
Friday, August 24, 2007
Today was flurry of emails and phone calls with the folks in Nantucket – the event is a mere 4 days away - and dealing with the Kinnikinnick final details. Leah and Veronica printed the menus, filled the water bottles, purchased tea lights and cocktails napkins – everything is set.
Jim finally arrived onto the farm this evening from California and cooked a delicious dinner from the upcoming “Farm to Table Cookbook” (to be released June 2008) for the OitF crew and the Cleverdons. Panzanella, flank steak and peaches with grappa, goat cheese and mint for dessert – recipes to come! We were fortunate to have Susan and David’s daughter Erin who works with Vin Divino to join us at the table and describe the wonders of grappa and some up and coming Austrian wines.
Dinner was nice and relaxing to take our minds off tomorrow’s event. We’ve had a number of concerns from guests and potential staff about the weather. A handful of our guests have had their flights canceled. Five of our confirmed serving staff have backed out with concerns of flooding around their houses and the en route roads. Our dinner this evening was a reassuring meeting with the Cleverdon family that there are enough hands to get things done. Erin made a few phone calls, Susan will call some students from the nearby college… cross your fingers it'll work out.
Thursday, August 23, 2007
Veronica and Ian have completed their journey across the country from Santa Cruz, CA through Nevada, Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, Montana, South Dakota, Iowa to Illinois. That’s 9 states in 7 days. And it’s been storming on them since Utah. The trip with the trailer was fairly smooth until the duo arrived in Illinois and were 3 hours away from picking up Katy and Leah who were waiting at the airport. Perfect timing for one of Illinois’ finest highway patrol officers to pull Veronica and Ian over for the lights not working on the trailer, unbeknownst to them. One $75 ticket later they were forced to backtrack to the nearest 24 hour truck stop to call a mechanic out for repairs. Katy and Leah were forced to try and find a hotel room close to the O’Hare International Airport, who had just cancelled all of their flights for the night due to thunder and lightning storms. Not an easy task, but nothing that Katy and her headset can’t handle.
Back to Whole Foods: the three of us are (still) sitting here, typing away at our computers and talking on the phone. Ian, Veronica’s boyfriend who drove across country with her, is watching the Office UK on Katy’s video iPod. Leah just went and bought dinner and the cashier asked “are you guys creating the Master Plan there?” The employees think we’ve moved in. And there’s still another hour before close!
Wednesday, August 22, 2007
“There is a change in the forecast for Sunday. Previously, there was a strong low pressure system that was predicted to hit the south coast of BC. The GFS and NAM models now show it will be deflected to the south towards Oregon and weaken, sparing Vancouver.”
We woke up Sunday morning to rain but, as predicted, it cleared up beautifully for the afternoon and the sun shone on our table lined perfectly along the squash row on the farm.
Here is a copy of the front and back of our menu that was created for the guests in the field.
We do want to add a few more thank yous to the list:
To Mark Bomford and Gavin Wright of the farm for leading the guests around on tour. To Chef David of West, Paul and Dino in the kitchen as well as to DJ Kearny who helped pour and educate the guests about the wine. A huge thanks to our friends, new and old, who helped set up, serve and take down the dinner: Laura, Melissa, Sunni, Erin, Amy, Colleen Tanis and Jordan – you were fantastic!
The day after the dinner Katy and Leah graciously accepted Ian Angus’ invitation to visit his new little operation Finest at Sea (F.A.S.) Seafood Boutique and Bistro on Arbutus Street. Ian, who supplied the albacore tuna for the dinner, is a partner of Finest at Sea, who have a number of off-shore fishing boats based out of Victoria, BC. The salmon, halibut, ling cod, sable fish, albacore tuna and prawns are all caught by hook or trap (no bottom fishing or drag netting) and flash frozen on the boats. FAS has seafood boutiques in both Victoria and Vancouver as well as supply to a number of restaurants including West, C, Raincity Grill, Bishop’s, many more in Vancouver, Victoria and beyond. The F.A.S. shop has a fresh seafood for sale, a beautiful little take-out deli, a grocery section and a bistro with an ever-changing menu. The atmosphere of the shop was great and it even had a video showing some of the action on the boats. Ian put us together a plate from the deli heaping with octopus salad, eggplant, smoked salmon and other goodies. Everything was delicious! Ian opened the shop last October and he said that it has been going really well, we can definitely see why.
Now here we are sitting in the Chicago airport’s Hilton, taking advantage of some internet, food (our third airport meal of the day) and waiting for our fearless trailer drivers Veronica and Ian to pick us up so we can head up to Kinnikinnick Farm.