Monday, May 14, 2007

Outstanding in the Field

You may ask, “Why is there a long table and chairs set up in the middle of that field?” The answer is both a story about innovation and an unusual restaurant recommendation.

Jim Denaven was the chef of Gabriella Cafe in Santa Cruz, California. He invited farmers to collaborate with him on special meals at the restaurant, featuring fresh-picked produce straight off the farm. These events were hits.

By Northern California standards, doing restaurant meals with featured farmers was mildly innovative. But then Denaven went a major step further: Having taken farmers to the restaurant, Denaven decided to take the restaurant to the farm.

He created Outstanding in the Field, an event that occurs throughout the summer and fall at various organic farms in the United States and Canada. A group of people get to tour an organic farm, culminating in dinner amid the fields. The food is prepared by a notable chef, using ingredients straight off the farm.

Jacqueline and I attended an Outstanding in the Field event a few years ago at Knoll Farms in Brentwood, California (about 60 miles east of San Francisco). It was fig season, and farmer Rick Knoll took us and a group of perhaps 50 others on a tour of the grounds, picking and eating ripe figs off the trees.

Later, we had dinner on a long table like the one in the picture, albeit shielded from the warm evening wind by parallel rows of fig trees on either side. The chef was from San Francisco’s Fringale. It was a five-course meal, with different wine tastings at each course.

Among other things, the meal included the most explosively flavorful tomatoes I have ever experienced. It was the taste equivalent of super-saturated color.

When the sun was gone, a chain of paper lanterns was the only light source amid the otherwise dark fields, the sky dense with stars.

Just being near where food originates (no, not the grocery store), if even for a short while, dining in/with/amid nature—it was a good thing.

Take a look at this year’s Outstanding in the Field schedule. Perhaps there will be an event near you. But beware, it is not cheap: $150 per person, maybe more.

The apt comparison would be a night out at a very fancy restaurant, where the purpose is to do something special. Outstanding in the Field is less fancy but more special.


  1. Hey, Steve! I came across your BLOG as I was searching for info about Outstanding in the Field dining events. Unfortunately, the OITF website address has expired, and I am desperately trying to figure out how to view a schedule of events. Do you happen to know another method of contact? Any suggestion you might have would be greatly appreciated!
    Marliese in San Diego

  2. Marliese, this page lists a phone number for OITF:
    [Update, 9/19/2008: This page no longer seems to be active. The Outstanding in the Field site does not list a phone number, so it appears they prefer to be contacted via email. You can find their current email address on the Outstanding in the Field site.]

  3. Thanks, Steve! This should help me on my quest!