Thursday, September 4, 2008

Chicago to Slow Food Nation

Chicago Time

After our successful City Farm dinner a more lengthy break between events gave the crew time to take in the big city sights and visit some of our new Chicago friends. The bus was parked and we happily moved into temporary luxury digs in a downtown Chicago highrise (which included a rooftop hot tub) very generously donated by new friends Jeremy and Elaine. We met Jeremy and Elaine at the Nichols Farm dinner. They are big fans of the Hot Chocolate crew and came by to help us out with serving and clean up.

The next day we set out to experience the city. Jim and Ben visited the Museum of Contemporary Art to check out the Jeff Koons exhibit. The exhibit was organized by Francisco Bonami, a curator for our curving Florence Art Table of last January. Music and beer fan Leah checked out a local heavy metal show with new friend chef Mark of Hot Chocolate. Sports fan Aubrey went off on her own to check out a Cubs game at Wrigley Field. She enjoyed some game time and made some new drunken sports fan friends.

All of this was mixed with Chicago area culinary studies/visits and extensive bar hopping.

A highlight of our windy city food and wine spree was lunch at Mindy Segal's Hot Chocolate. Chef Mindy blew us away with course after course of the most creative and delicious dishes imaginable. Oh my god!! Most of us needed to take a long nap after such an unforgettable meal.

Turnpike Travel

Illinois, Indiana and then Indiana became Ohio; a looong drive to Pennsylvania....

Ohio rest stop sleep accommodations were memorable and awful. A bus full of boisterous Alabama Crimson Tide football players decided to run a practice scrimmage on our rest stop parking lot till 5 in the morning. Some of us slept right through it, the rest of us were not nearly so lucky.

Our oh so luxe Chicago life seemed very very far behind.

Pennsylvania Farm Country

Our next home away from home Harvest Valley Farms of Valencia, PA. Pulling up Jim remarked "it really looks like Pennsylvania’’ an obvious comment for sure. Jim wouldn’t want a Pennsylvania site to be confused with say our Arizona dinner. Our moveable feast always needs an iconic location.

Farmer Art King greeted us and we had our usual site search. A flat area along a riparian corridor won out. Our guest chef for the Pittsburgh area dinner would be Justin Severino. Justin is a veteran of a total of 5 Outstanding in the Field dinners which makes him our Top Guest Chef. Justin returned to live and work in Penn in the past several months after what had been a several year stint in California. Santa Cruz deeply felt loss became Pittsburgh's gain. Before our dinner event we explored Pittsburghs ‘strip’ including the famous "Primanti Bros" sandwich house. This heaping portion of local culture resulting in a good bit of indigestion.

Good weather followed us once again as we set out our Pennsylvania table. Our informative farm tours were wildly different as the three Kings (brothers Larry and Art and Art's son David) led individual tours that had a markedly different personality and emphasis.

Justin once again proved himself to be the master of meat with a menu that featured pig served "all ways" -or if not all ways, probably most ways. There were vegetables too of course: almost every veggie on Justin's creative menu came from the fields of our host farm. Jim visited the table with the folks of Heritage Farm and Scott of the East End Brewing Company who showed all at the table a sample of fresh local hops that he brought which each guest could twist and drop into the beer-for an extra hoppy extra fresh tasting beer.

Once again our cranky old bus had to be nursed along. We barely made it to the farm and didn’t know when we might be able to leave –there was no juice going to the battery and with that the big beast seemed to be slowly dieing. Ben once again went under the bus to try and figure it out. After much investigation and a few wrong turns Ben emerged grease stained and triumphant. A burnt out wire was not allowing much power to reach the battery. Ben removed and replaced the offending wire and soon we were moving again.

Aubrey took the pit pit stop as an opportunity to shop for gifts for all the staff: a unicorn figurine for Ben, weather underwear for Jim, martini underwear for Leah and other goodies.

A few days after our event we visited Justin's employment, Eleven restaurant in Pittsburgh, to celebrate with french bubbles and multi course dinner a new art commission that Jim had just learned of. Later Justin took the crew to cool Pittsburgh hotspots like The Sharp Edge, where the crew learned of all things Pittsburgh.

As our Western Pennsylvania visit came to a close we made plans to go separate ways till our Sept 5th Boston dinner.

Jim and Annette flew to the West Coast where Jim would design a special curving table for 250 people as part of a collaboration between Outstanding in the Field and Slow Food Nation taking place on Labor Day in Dolores Park in S.F. (see more on this below)

Leah decided to rent a car and drive to Montreal, returning to her homeland, Canada, for a needed break from the ‘mericans.

Ben and Aubrey marshaled on with the bus finally reaching all the way to the Eastern shore of North America where unwanted adventure would await them as they attempted to make the crossing into Manhattan and New York City on the George Washington bridge…

Bridge Work

With the clutch balking badly on the bridge approach, Ben, looking out over a sea of stop and stop Manhattan traffic decided to abandon any plan to cross the span. He spied a tiny strip of road away from the stream of traffic right on the bridge approach and parked the bus.

An old 1953 bus at a dead stop on one the worlds busiest bridges… the resulting traffic would not endear us to populations of New York and New Jersey. Ben wisely brought the beast to the side and discussed strategy with Aubrey as Leah got swept away in traffic with the truck and trailer.

Rush hour at a dead stop having few options Ben’s idea was to wait till the early morning and quieter bridge traffic to make a move using the ailing clutch to get somewhere close with a mechanic.

It seemed Aubrey and Ben's only option was an evening and night on a disabled bus at the foot of the George Washington bridge.


A good plan but fortunately a New Jersey road angel soon emerged from the endless stream of traffic. Old busses sure have their fans and the right one came along. Andy from the oversize vehicle escort service had showed up early for a temporary bridge closure. A closure that happens only once every two weeks or so. Andy spied the old bus stopped and came over to admire and inquire.

After the usual pleasantries during which our bus lover distractedly stared at his object of desire …a new plan was hatched. Since Andy was early for work and the bridge closure to normal traffic was soon to begin begun- his idea was: Just as the Manhattan bound side of the bridge was closed to all traffic the bus would slip in would be escorted across the span... alone. With the plan made, Ben roared off with Andy in the lead. A U-turn was executed on the Manhattan side and bus and passengers returned to Jersey, safely stopping at the very first bus service opportunity.

With the bus safely parked Ben and Aubrey were off to Manhattan to enjoy big city life...

A Table in the Park

Jim and Annette meanwhile flew off to work with Slow Food Nation in San Francisco. Slow Food USA had asked Outstanding in The Field if there was a possibility for a collaboration. Seeing a gap in the tour Jim made a quick decision and soon plans were made. Jim designed another table: set in a gentle curve of hillside in Dolores park, with a commanding view of the S.F. skyline. The event was billed as the Slow Food Nation/Outstanding in the Field Eat-In, A Celebration of the Youth of Slow Food Nation. Two hundred and fifty young food activists, aged 16 to 34, came from around the country. Veteran/young Outstanding chef Nate Appleman of A16 restaurant generously volunteered, roasting a whole pig right there in the park. The big pig was donated by Mark Pasternak of Devils Gulch Ranch. The rest of the meal was provided by several youth teams working with experienced chefs. Jim's 16 year old son Brighton Denevan helped make the yummy tomato soup (containing tomatoes from Brighton’s own home garden). Brighton’s team was led by chef Caroline Wallace of Down to Earth Food. All attending were rapt by rousing speeches made by the inspired young food activists. Alice Waters of Edible Schoolyard and Chez Panisse fame joined us at the table as she received a constant stream of motivated young people eager to exchange ideas.

Here is a link to an article by Eddie C, who attended the event for a blog about the local foods movement La Vida Locavore.

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