Thursday, October 18, 2007

History in the making

The past couple of weeks we’ve been hard at work compiling a comprehensive history of Outstanding in the Field.
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:

Berkshire Grown

Colorado Organic Producers Association

Community Alliance with Family Farmers (CAFF)

Chez Panisse Foundation

First Slice

Green City Market

Just Food

La Plaza Cultural Community Garden

Marin Organic

Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA)

Open Space Alliance of Santa Cruz

Parkway Partners

Peconic Land Trust

Slow Food L.A.

Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group

Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture

Sustainable Nantucket

University of British Columbia Farm

Wattles Farm

Monday, October 15, 2007

A Butcher's Dinner

With the previous weekend off, we were fresh and ready for this week’s dinner. Our site was only a short jog down the road from Outstanding in the Field headquarters in Santa Cruz.

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

Dandelions and Radicchio

This is our second year at County Line Harvest. Last year we dined at a site just down the road; this year because of the low rainfall we moved to the County Line Harvest field at Red Hill Ranch.

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.