For over a decade, Jim Denevan, founder of Outstanding in the Field (based in Santa Cruz, CA) has been taking the farm-to-table concept one step further. He and a crew actually pack up a mobile kitchen and a busload of chairs and cutlery to set up elegant tablescapes on the farms themselves. And this year, they’re throwing some seriously scenic meals in the South.
Back in the nineties, after a stint in Europe, Jim became fascinated with how he could help to transform America’s food culture. He was working as head chef at authentic Italian restaurant when he began honoring local farmers at special dinner events. “I wanted to develop that closeness of food and culture that I saw in Europe,” he says. “I took it on as mission to make the connection stronger. The people and the ingredients needed to be pushed forward, celebrated.”
So, in 1999, the OITF crew took that mission on the road, setting up table at a handful of farms. At each event, Jim and his team began connecting farmers with a local chef who would incorporate the farm’s fresh meat and produce into a feast for a group of lucky diners.
This year, in its eighth cross-country tour, OITF will hit 18 Southern cities, starting today in Rehoboth Beach, DE.
On October 1, the bus will pull up to the Smithsonian in Washington DC for a special rooftop dinner. Guests will sneak a preview of the museum’s exhibit FOOD: Transforming the American Table, 1950-2000 (to open November 20) and dine in part from the ground’s Victory garden from a menu created by Jim himself.
Also on the tour is Barbara Armstrong’s 30-acre Scott Heritage Farm in Scott, Arkansas on October 16th. Chef Jeffrey Ferrell of Capital Bar & Grill in Little Rock will serve from the fresh fare off the grounds (including a goat that he and Barbara will process together).
This will be the second year for Barbara to host an event. Last year, Barbara remembers an unaccounted-for vegetarian guest. “Jeff walked right out into the garden, got some peppers and eggplant and made the most wonderful dish for her, spur of the moment,” she remembers. “We were all envious. We wanted to be vegetarians, too.”
This year, like last, the banquet-style table will likely be set among the sunflowers and the sorghum. “That’s what the Outstanding folks do,” Barbara says. “They want to be right in the middle of everything to connect people with where their food comes from.”
See a complete list of events and buy tickets.