Monday, December 29, 2008

A New Year...

With a new year comes new ideas... One of those ideas is having more Outstanding in the Field private events. Florence was fun. New York City was good. And here in California in late December 'just up the road' is great. Yesterday, north of Santa Cruz, Pie Ranch barn was dressed up for an occasion. It was a signature Outstanding event with menu ingredients gathered from such past OITF participants as Hans from H & H Fresh Fish, Jeff Larkey of Route One Farm and Jerry Thomas from Thomas Farm.

Katy Oursler, farm tour veteran of four cross country trips and now OITF private events director orchestrated the elegant/earthy festivities which included an all galoshes tour of the farm. For those of you considering a special occasion visit our private events page.

Thank You

After a busy season and before seeds are planted the next one is a good time to rest and take stock. Into the new year as the days lengthen with promise of a new year we want to take an opportunity to thank everyone that made 2008 such a success. Our upcoming newsletter recognizes Outstanding staff that played a big part in our biggest year yet. We would also like to warmly thank all our dinner guests. Our guests support is what makes it possible to bring everyone to the table. Finally and most importantly we want to thank all our farmers, producers and artisans who joined us at the table. Your stories are what makes the food taste good. In the coming year we hope all of you will seek out and support the farmer and producer participants from past dinners. We have an updated event map and participants page to help with that effort.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Foraging Feast

After several weeks hiatus, the OITF crew reconvened at Pie Ranch in San Mateo County California for our 5th annual foraging feast. Besides having a lovely forest setting for our forage explorations Pie Ranch is a very cool operation that works to bring inner city youth out of the city and on to the farm. Jered Lawson, Nancy Vail and Karen Heisler of Pie Ranch partner with San Francisco high schools to get kids out to the field to "get their hands dirty". The farm's urban connection is Mission Pie, a sweet little cafe and bakery in San Francisco's Mission district. Mission Pie's menu features ingredients from local farms... including Pie Ranch. We are excited to support such a project, but also love Pie Ranch as it has the perfect nice cozy barn to host a late season event.

Though it was nearly December we were blessed with a beautiful and warm late fall afternoon. As guests arrived a cool fog gave way to bright sun while further up the hill guests gathered for the reception. Long time OITF supporter Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon Vineyard poured his Vin Gris de Cigare. A crisp glass of pink wine was welcome reward after the short hike through towering eucalyptus trees from the parking area below. Guests toured the farm sipping wine, nibbling salt cod crostini, picking strawberries, visiting the chickens and enjoying the sunny rays. Forager David Chambers tempted everyone with the aroma of sauteed porcinis, a special treat for after the foraging hike. Guests gathered, introductions were made and David tromped off with all in tow. With a glorious view of forest and ocean from high on the nearby hill all stood rapt soaking in the foragers lore. With a final 'Let's Eat!!' everyone began the long trek back to the barn to feast.

Tunnel of Green

Welcome Table

The sun sets and we climb

Making Mushroom Bacon

Guest chef Morgan Mueller and his spirited crew from Bacar were prepared for arriving guests with four delicious courses. The idea behind the foraging dinner is to use local Santa Cruz Mountains ingredients, highlighting foraged items such as seafood (mussels, abalone, fish), wild nettles, miner's lettuce and of course wild mushrooms like chanterelles, porcinis and boletes. A couple of times the menu has even featured wild boar!

A glass of Vin de Cigare Blanc and a steaming bowl of spicy, hearty soup welcomed our forest hikers in the corn- and gourd-decorated barn. The soup, composed of fresh fresh mussels (just harvested the day before by Andre LaFleur and David Chambers), potatoes, proscuitto and jalapenos warmed and satisfied our well-walked guests. Heaters warmed the guests as strangers became friends over good food and wine. Pictured below is both the soup and then a delicious platter of wild nettles (from literally right outside the barn), mixed wild mushrooms and black cod. See the full menu for the evening here.

Steamed mussel soup

Black Cod, Foraged Mushrooms, Nettles

Jered shared a beautiful little documentary (barn multimedia, something we usually don't have out in the field) about Pie Ranch, starring several Bay Area high school students visiting the ranch. By the time the pies were cut for dessert (pumpkin, squash, apple and elderberry & madrone berry pies, oh my!) it felt like one big family in the barn, celebrating Thanksgiving: local food, great farmers and foragers, winemakers and chefs. A wonderful finale to 2008.

Platter of pie

Eat Pie

Thank you to "Culinary Fool" Brenda Pederson for lending use of her beautiful photos from this event for this post. Earlier this season, Brenda started a Flickr pool for Outstanding in the Field photos. You can contribute to and/or enjoy it here.

Where do we put this thing?

Something we don't think too much about when we are on the road... we just park our bus anywhere we happen to be... since we are always moving we are unlikely to overstay our welcome. With very little space in front of Jim's small house in Santa Cruz (you can't see the house if the bus is parked in front) we needed a storage solution. Fortunately our new friend Stanley, a foraging dinner guest (Thanks Stanley!!) offered his Santa Cruz mountain redwood glade for winter storage. Another big adventure for driver Caleb as it is not so easy to take a big bus up up up into the mountains... not to mention get it off road and deep into the woods. Quite a spot to leave the old girl.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Cities Farm

Recently Absolut Vodka asked Jim to come up with a visionary idea for their 'In an Absolut World' campaign. Jim's idea: "In An Absolut World Cities Farm" resulted in an exciting gala fete on a Manhattan rooftop above Rockefeller Plaza honoring New York City's farmers and gardeners. A celebration of urban agriculture, our dinner ingredients were gathered from each of the five boroughs. Several weeks earlier Jim had designed a menu based on ingredients he found visiting farms and gardens in the five boroughs: Queens Farm, Taqwa Community Farm in the Bronx, East New York Farms in Brooklyn, Gericke Farm in Staten Island and Central Park in Manhattan. (see previous post)

The Absolut campaign includes other 'visionaries' such as Eddie Izzard, Kanye West, Perez Hilton and Improv Everywhere.

Leah and Jim arrived in Manhattan a few days prior to the event on Halloween night, promptly donning freaky scary Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein get ups to hit the town. Jim had received an invitation from the Accompanied Literary Society to an exclusive reading of a lost manuscript of Edgar Allen Poe read by actor Josh Lucas (dressed as glam rocker). Frank and Bride of Frank are always a good costume choices for the tall and lanky.

Next day tasks included foraging for berries in Central Park. Foraging day was also New York Marathon day, so getting past the bounding hoards and into Central Park was not so easy. The whole time en route Jim was thinking "Did the birds get those berries?" and "Maybe we should have picked them a few weeks ago and put them in the freezer." After some worrying and a long hike the bounty was rediscovered and they proceeded to pick.

In the week before the event, Santa Cruz local Johnny Wilson, who had relocated to NY for the summer to work at Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture traveled the five boroughs and gathered all the ingredients. He delivered the goodies to our chef friend Alejandro Alcocer at Brown Cafe in the Lower East Side. Alejandro and crew would be preparing the food for the dinner.

Monday, November 3rd was the big day. A combined effort of Outstanding in the Field, Great Works and Shiraz Events, the dinner turned out wonderfully. Guests included many of New York's Green initiators, including representatives from, Edible Manhattan, Just Food, Friends of the Highline and some of the cities eco-committees as well as TV celebrities/restauranteurs Tom Colicchio and Mario Batali. Also attending were some notable fans of Jim's art: David Ross the former Whitney Museum director and Neville Wakefield guest curator at PS1 and MOMA. Many of the guests had special interests in urban food and agriculture including rooftop gardening. We're sure there was plenty of interesting dinner conversation!

Prior to gathering at the table, dinner guests enjoyed the open rooftop with spectacular views. Our two featured cocktails of the evening: the Central Park (featuring wild viburnum berries picked near 79th and 5th) Bloody Marys (the tomato juice made with love at Queens Farm - 4 different versions with heirloom tomatoes: Green Zebras, Cherokee Purples, Brandywines and then a lovely mix of them all). Filmmakers from Absolut had followed Jim while he visited gardeners and farmers from the 5 boroughs. A short documentary about the gathering of ingredients and OITF was shown during the reception. You can see it here.

The menu for this delicious dinner is shared here.

Of course the wonderful farmers and gardeners who contributed to the meal were also present and essentially stole the show when they were given the opportunity to stand up and tell their story. Bobby and Abu Talib of Taqwa shared inspiring and heartfelt stories of planting their garden in the Bronx that transformed a crime ridden trash heap into a fertile city oasis. Michael Grady Robertson of Queens Farm shared his story with clear enthusiasm: that of Apollonia the pig. All gathered heard a lot about Appolonia's daily life on the farm. Michael said that one of the main reasons he sold Apollonia to us for our dinner (Queens farm only has 4 pigs...) was that the diners could also hear the pig's life story, something that would not have been possible if she had been sold to a restaurant or at the Green Market. Deborah at East New York Farms celebrated the growing success and interest in East New York Farms and their sidewalk-side farmstand. Jen Griffith of Just Food tied it up nicely by telling people about using Just Food as a resource to help access NYC urban gardeners/farmers and promote sustainable food systems in the big city.

This was documented by award winning filmmaker Victor Quinaz and the final product can now be seen here. Check out this Absolut's "In an Absolut World" Campaign site for more photos and info.

Thank you to everyone who contributed to this event!

Friday, October 31, 2008

Ubuntu Adventure

After a short rest in Santa Cruz we began preparations for next dinner the following Saturday: a vegetarian feast set in the Napa mountainside farm/garden that supplies Ubuntu Restaurant. Ubuntu owner Sandy Lawrence's garden is tended by legendary master gardener/farmer Jeff Dawson (pictured below).

On Friday, Leah and Jim drove up to Napa early to visit both the gardens and the restaurant. In the garden we met up with Ubuntu chef Jeremy Fox who showed us around pointing out a variety of unusual crops... ingredients for what is probably the best vegetarian restaurant in the U.S.A.

A Tough Kid/A Worried Parent

While dining that evening at Ubuntu, Jim took a call every parent dreads. Jim's sister Tish was trying to track Jim down (his cell was off ) Jim's 16 year old son Brighton had a very bad skateboard accident with no helmet. He hit some construction debris at high speed while returning home from his food/farming internship at 'Food What!?' up at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Brighton's fall resulted in a traumatic head injury with fractured skull. Witnesses found him in the street unconscious and in convulsions called 911, paramedics arrived in minutes and he was quickly en route from Santa Cruz on a Life Flight helicopter to Palo Alto and Stanford's Lucille Packard Children's Hospital. Hearing the news Jim and Leah rushed to the hospital and arrived as Brighton was in mid-surgery. The scene was grim, all close to Brighton were in shock and hoping for the best. Neurosurgery on two hematomas successfully addressed the problem of life threatening swelling. Brighton was soon moved to the Intensive Care Unit. He remained unconscious for several days. Friends and family gathered in support from Santa Cruz and beyond and visited him at his bedside and watched and waited. After four days Brighton began to awake. His parents, friends and family were ecstatic. Soon, though covered with tubes, neck brace, respirator and IV he was moving around, talking, though still very confused and wrestling with Dad, trying to get out of bed, wanting to be outside and 'get to my garden'.

Full recovery was rapid from that point: Brighton was cleared to soon go home and even given a date to return to school. A return to school with a huge scar across the top of his head. Something to show all the curious kids contemplating a life of danger- without a helmet.

A huge thank you to police, paramedics, helicopter pilot, nurses, doctors and all and everyone who helped Brighton!!

Back to Ubuntu

Thankfully, tour veteran and now Outstanding in the Field private events manager Katy Oursler ably hosted the Ubuntu Gardens dinner. After a long season of events, the OITF crew was more than capable to put together the dinner without Leah and Jim there. (A very proud feeling for Leah- who has worked so hard this season to keep everything running smoothly). Sandy Lawrence and Chef Jeremy were unsure what to expect, although Leah kept reassuring them that everything would run smoothly. And it most definitely did. Katy was a wonderful host and all of the other elements came together seamlessly: an interesting tour of the gardens, a delicious menu and wonderful biodynamic Napa wine.

It was a gorgeous setting: the table fit perfectly at the top of the garden, overlooking the greens, tomatoes, New Zealand spinach and French ice plants. There was a collection of old and new OITF-goers and some veterans said it was one of the nicest events ever, with some of the most delicious food. As has been acknowledged multiple times, Ubuntu is definitely doing something right!

Jim and Leah are looking forward to returning to Napa sometime soon to enjoy the rest of their meal at Ubuntu and hopefully to work with Chef Jeremy Fox and Sandy Lawrence again.

Thank you to our guest Dave Scholl, who sent this photos after the event to share since Jim and Leah weren't there.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Home Territory

L.A. story

After all the wide open spaces we experienced major culture shock rolling into LA and Hollywood for our next dinner. Caleb man-handled the bus on a thrilling ride from the sparse high desert- careening into L.A. and major traffic. Whew!! We situated ourselves in Hollywood and returned to nearby Wattles Farm for our second Outstanding visit. In glorious California weather guest chef Neal Fraser of Grace Restaurant happily roasted two whole Red Wattle heirloom pigs in caja chinas. Head gardener Toby Leaman spirited guests off for tours of the property as we squeezed another enormous Outstanding crowd into this expansive and fertile community garden. It's always a pleasure, and we will be back.

Home Stretch....

On our way to Ojai we stopped in Ventura to put our toes in the chilly Pacific Ocean. Three and a half months ago we left sight of the Pacific and now 35 Outstanding in the Field events later we were just too tired to get very excited about seeing it again. We slowly climbed back on the bus and made our way to Ojai and scenic Earthtrine Farm. BD Dautch of Earthtrine is one of our favorite farmers and he certainly has one of the prettiest farms we have seen. Guests sipped Michael Meagher's Vino V wine near the orange grove and soon all toured the property. The guests made a bit of a rush on the table during the tour as they sometimes do... and soon everyone was happily dining on local specialties created by guest chef Josh Brown of Bouchon Santa Barbara and Seagrass Restaurant. It was definitely nice to see some familiar faces: Farmer BD, some of our loyal California service staff, even our Paso Robles dinner chef, Deborah Scarborough of Black Cat Bistro, made a surprise appearance at the table. We're definitely almost there.

After dinner everyone was a little ragged and frazzled and our staff after party was more than a little deranged -but no matter- soon we would have time to rest.

Home (?) to Santa Cruz

We did it!! We survived! We succeeded. And we still had the bus - though it did miss 8 or 9 dinners...

The planning, the work, the challenges, all the new friends, spreading the word about farm dinners, and now we're back home in Santa Cruz. The ironic thing about this though (Leah made the observation as we were driving north from Ojai) is that none of us, other than Jim, really had homes, let alone homes in Santa Cruz. The bus had become our home, as we had left so many months ago. Sure enough, everyone spent the night at Jim's house and some of us even slept on the bus in the driveway.

Is it time to think about next year? Who is on the bus? Where will we go?

Maybe we'll think about that a little later.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

East to West and Back Again

NYC Scout/Absolut-ly

Jim and Leah flew off to New York for several days to scout for a November 3rd, 2008 special event sponsored by Absolut Vodka. Jim was asked to participate as an Absolut ''Visionary'' and come up with some super cool idea to go with the "In an Absolut World" campaign. A couple of the ideas that unfortunately didn't make the cut were a table crossing the USA/Mexico border and a table set on an iceberg in Greenland. A giant dry lake drawing was also in contention. Absolut supplied Jim with some scout money last June which resulted in interesting times in Vegas, the Grand Canyon, dry lake exploration in Nevada and an amazing trip to Greenland with Outstanding bus driver Ben.

Finally, Jim's NYC five borough dinner idea was approved. ''In An Absolut World Cities Farm'' A five borough dinner on a New York rooftop. So Leah and Jim were off to NYC to visit the five boroughs and meet gardeners/farmers while having the whole process documented.

A final version of the film will be released soon on the Absolut website.

Phoenix and Crooked Sky Farm

Meanwhile, the culinary caravan made its way through Texas and New Mexico and onward to Arizona and the next dinner. Jim and Caleb decided to do the cheffing in Phoenix. Jim does a few dinners every year and was excited to grab a knife and get back in the kitchen (Jim was chef for all dinners during the first three years of OITF). Caleb arrived several days ahead and set about sourcing local ingredients. He also sourced a local kitchen: Tapino Kitchen & Wine Bar and chef James Porter in nearby Scottsdale who joined us for what became a group effort. Chef James and Tapino are pioneers in the Phoenix area in the use of local product. Besides sourcing a myriad of local goodies we attacked a cactus for nopales right in front of the restaurant. As you can see, Adam got right in there picking and foraging and was a great help in the kitchen too. We also visited the Superstition Dairy which had a few animals on display left over from the previous day's dairy open house which included a petting zoo.

Our Crooked Sky Farms dinner went off without a hitch though the site that was a bit on the industrial/rustic side. Farmer Frank gave a heartfelt description of what it was like to realize his lifelong dream of becoming a farmer. He also described his hugely successful CSA. Tucson CSA chicken farmer Philipe, an immigrant from France, walked the table with Jim describing the french heirloom chickens he raises. (Thanks Mali and Aubrey for making the long drive to pick up the chickens). Rancher Paul from Double Check brought his young daughter around the table and shared the the story of his grass fed beef operation.

The next day we said goodbye to our new friends and slowly made our way across the desert. Thanks again to Wendy and James for helping us out with this event.

Ancient marks

Our journey included a side trip to see several ancient desert drawings located along the Colorado river. Markings preserved for hundreds of years by the dry desert environment and discovered decades ago by a pilot in a passing plane.

What is it like to travel by bus across North America living in a very small space with six people...?

We get that question a lot: "What's it like living on the bus?" On our way to the next dinner Jim remembered there was a town in California called 'Desert Hot Springs' located several hours ahead- this seemed a good enough reason to get off the bus and book some rooms at a spa called The Spring.

THE KEY TO SUCCESSFULLY TRAVELING ON A BUS is to make sure GET OFF the bus as necessary.

The ladies loooved the spa and basked in luxury... the guys were quickly bored with 'treatments' and soon made plans to take off into the desert. Jim, Caleb and Adam took the bus on a Man Adventure leaving all the ladies lounging at the spa. Neiman Marcus/Armani asked Jim to make some temporary drawings on a dry lake for a fashion shoot so... another scout. Other nearby dry lakes were also checked out, including the Lucerne Dry Lake in the Mojave Desert. A strange adventure in a very odd environment.