Friday, August 31, 2007

Tourists with Benefits

The best way to really get to know and enjoy a place is to have locals as personal tour guides – hands down.

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

Mid-Tour Vacation on Nantucket

We’ve finished our marathon (for the week) and are revelling in our spare time in Nantucket. The island is beautiful and the people fantastic.

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

Outstanding Marathon

Veronica and Leah are sitting on the Steamship Authority Ferry about to take off from Hyannis Port, MA for the two hour sail to Nantucket. The Chicago dinner is at our backs and Nantucket is tomorrow – two dinners in 4 days, 1200 miles apart.

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

We love our little cabins at Kinnikinnick farm

Veronica and Ian’s house had a welcoming wasp nest and Katy and Leah have just spend the last 15 minutes watching a large-eyed mouse carry it’s little babies from behind the curtain on the the window sill to somewhere up in the ceiling.

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

Whole Foods is our new home

Hour 8 in Whole Foods, Chicago: we love Whole Foods. They have free internet, a great deli, a lovely, creative coffee bar boy and they play great music. Now playing: Respect by Aretha Franklin.

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

It's just the beginning...

What better time to start a blog than on your 18th hour in the airport – the true beginning of tour! Katy and Leah have spent the last two days wrapping up in Vancouver, Canada after a magical dinner on the University of British Columbia Farm. Summer in Vancouver has been non-existent thus far – they’ve seen record amounts of rain in the past month. Consequently, Jim spent the days prior to the dinner glued to the computer screen watching various models of the seemingly unpredictable approaching storm. The way things were going he could guarantee that 6 hours before start time on Sunday he would be able to tell us if it was going to rain or not: not quite enough time to order tenting or arrange for a 130 guest event to be sheltered. Finally on Friday afternoon we got the news we were hoping for:

“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.

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.