Saturday, September 29, 2007

Outstanding Dinner Site History

Below is a map marking every site that Outstanding in the Field has set its table. Since 1999, we have presented 73 dinners from Alaska to Nantucket Island to San Diego and many places in between. Click on each point on the map to view links to the dinners' participants. To view a bigger version, follow the Outstanding Dinner Site History Map link to the left.

View Larger Map

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Dining with the Stars

We have been excited about this dinner for months. Jim drove down to L.A. at the end of July to scout out the site and returned to Santa Cruz very enthusiastic. As was discussed in our NYC entry, there is a uniqueness about community garden dinners and Wattles Farm has a lot to share.

Toby Leaman, president of the board of directors and longtime member of the garden, has been our Wattles liason and met us to unlock the gates the morning of the dinner. She is a very sweet lady with tons of passion towards the garden, its history and its hundreds of members.
What is now Wattles Farm was once an avocado grove/fruit orchard for the nearby Wattles Mansion. In 1975 it became Wattles Farm, to begin growing into what it is today, making it one of L.A.’s oldest community gardens. It is 4.2 acres in size, and right off Hollywood Blvd tucked away on Curson Ave, less than 1 mile from the Walk of Fame.

Spacial organization of the dinner is a bit more of a challenge in these community gardens, more so than a 4.2 acre field of course. After some contemplation, Jim opted for a V table, running it off along two walking paths, lined by fruit trees and garden plots.

Unexpectedly, a few guests arrived early and Toby ushered them on a private tour around the garden sharing her stories and knowledge of the plants and trees.
Allen Quinton & his wife of Antelope Valley Winery set up under the trees to pour their Muscat Canelli to the arriving guests. We are excited to finally work with Antelope Valley Winery owned by Cecil McLester. Cecil's son Andrew is a good friend of Jim’s and is the wine consultant for Outstanding in the Field. A few members of the garden were also there at the welcome area to tour small groups of guests through the rows of avocado trees and garden plots bursting with herbs, zucchini, cucumbers, tomatoes, lettuces, chard, beans and berries.

A number of garden members were present to lead small groups of guests around the garden. Some gardener guides were more elaborate with their tours than others, but eventually everyone arrived back at the greeting area for Jim and Katy’s welcome. Plates in hand, the guests then cozied into their seats at the table to be begin their meal with a beautiful salad of radicchio, burrata, figs and mineolas from the garden kitchen of Kris Morningstar and Blue Velvet Restaurant. See Kris’ full menu here.

Guests enjoyed the dinner at a leisurely pace. Kris’ uni chowder was delicious, the uni (sea urchin roe) being a new experience for many of the diners. The platter receiving the greatest reaction at the table was the yellow wax peppers stuffed with lamb’s tongue served over shelling bean salad. The dish was paired with Antelope Valley's 2005 Tempranillo; Antelope Valley's first bottling of the Tempranillo grape. Dessert was a zucchini bread with zucchini mousse– one friend of Outstanding in the Field mentioned afterwards that it was the best thing she had ever eaten, ever.

The evening was topped off by a brilliant sighting of a shooting star. Jim was addressing the table when he suddenly noticed many of the guests pointing up into the sky behind him with their mouths hanging open. Of course by the time he had spun around, the spectacle was over. Very memorable for the guests.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Dining in the Vines

We arrived at the vineyard about noon to begin setting up for the dinner. As we are used to setting up dinners for 130 to 140 people these days, we forgot that setting up for a 64 person dinner takes much less time. Our help arrived soon afterwards: Kelly and Elizabeth from Lexington, Kentucky, who were interested in Outstanding in the Field. When staffing for our dinners across the country, we network through friends, the restaurants/wineries or post ads on Craigslist. Today, we were fortunate for these two girls to reply to the craigslist ad and for them to make the hour plus drive up to join us for the afternoon/evening.

Chuck and Mary host concert picnics at the vineyard throughout the summer so, needless to say, they are used to having guests. They have the equipment for it too: a 16 foot, homemade grill that hitches up to the tractor to be moved. Chuck towed it out to the field where we had chosen the table site between the rows of Norton, Chardonel and Seyval grapes for Kathy to use later on. With more than enough time to spare for set up, the entire OitF team was happy to join the guests up at the barn and first wine/appetizer area to mingle and enjoy the welcome speeches. Here Kathy had some eggplant and tomato jam bruschetta and Judy Schad from Capriole Goat Farm shared a number of different cheeses.

Once all of the guests had arrived, Jim and Katy welcomed the crowd, then passed the attention over to Chuck. He spoke of how there have been eight generations of Smith farmers in Henry County and how Mary and himself had purchased their farm over 25 years ago. Originally, they grew tobacco and milked cows. Since then, they have grown organic vegetables and raised free range chickens, turkeys and beef cattle. Now, they have replaced tobacco with the vineyard and continue to raise sheep, cattle while making wine.

Digesting that information, guests wandered down to the table and meandered through the vines for a short while before seating at the table to feast, Wendell Berry’s sheep grazing closeby between the vines.

Click here to see a copy of Kathy’s beautifully crafted menu.

Guests enjoyed Earth Promises Farm chicken from Sandy Corlett, who may win the prize for telling the most entertaining story at the table this season. She shared with us an experience of waking up during the night to hear a rain storm and it pouring down on her new, young birds, not yet aware of their shelter. In the storm, she went out to the coop to find them all fast asleep and getting soaked. Shoo-ing proved futile, as the sleepy birds would only stand up, walk a couple of feet and plop back down again, narcoleptically. Sandy acted this out, as well as her next best option, which was to individually pick up and move each chicken under shelter. She performed her scooping up the chicken and jogging a few feet to put the oblivious birds down under shelter while reminding herself “three dollars a dozen, three dollars a dozen”. Hours later, she had moved over three hundred chickens and completed just in time to go into the house, get dressed and take the kids to school.

Ivor Chodkowski was well-featured on the menu, including his butternut squash, garlic and potatoes. Lamb came from Wendy Price of Shadowland Farm who was unfortunately unable to join us at the table. Overall, Kathy created an almost exclusively local meal, aside from the apples in the crisp, which were from Michigan, but not without reason: a harsh freeze in April had wiped out Kentucky’s entire apple crop. Even still, the crisp was delicious and nicely complimented Judy’s goat cheese ice cream. Upon tasting, guests were asking where they could buy the ice cream, which is unavailable commercially. Someone suggested Kathy start packing and distributing it, potentially a nice retirement plan? Hope to see Capriole Farm Goat Cheese Ice Cream in stores in the future…

Once again, by the end of the evening guests were leaving satiated and happy, having enjoyed a meal with their new friends at the table, including their local purveyors. They heard the stories of the vegetable farmer, the goat and chicken farmers and the winemakers and dined right next to the source – in the field.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Welcome to Kentucky

After our long drive into Louisville we were anxious to get to a coffeeshop and connected to the internet. Satisfied at after spending a few hours at a café on Fourth Street downtown, we made our way to Bardstown Road to find some dinner. The street was bustling on this Friday night, with many of the restaurants having long waits. We did manage to find a patio spot at Avalon so we could enjoy the warm evening. Leah enjoyed a local brew while Jim tasted a few different bourbons including the local Maker’s Mark and Knob Creek. Avalon had a nice outdoor atmosphere and great service but the food was just okay, nothing too exciting.

The next morning we drove out to New Castle to check out the dinner site. Smith-Berry Vineyard and Winery is owned by Chuck Smith and Mary Berry-Smith, who is the daughter of farmer-philosopher Wendell Berry. Smith-Berry Vineyard used to farm tobacco before they moved on to grapes, all the while continuing to raise cattle and grow organic vegetables.
For the past few months in Kentucky there has been a drought going on, resulting in a brown, California-like landscape: fortunately, we have just missed the 110 degree weather by a couple of weeks. Regardless, Chuck and Mary share our enthusiasm for the dinner tomorrow and are looking forward to having everyone out in the vineyard.

After visiting Smith-Berry in the morning we happened upon a little gem called Winks Diner that served fried bologna sandwiches, great onion rings and banana puddin (which they were unfortunately out of that day). The fried bologna sandwiches reminded Jim of cooking as a boy with his brothers – the sandwich was just the way he liked it, with mayo, tomato, bologna and white bread. While driving back into town, we also noticed a number of bologna billboards, boasting how “Fosters Bologna makes Smiles” with happy, satisfied children holding sandwiches very similar to those from Winks. We were definitely not in California yet…

Tonight we were surprised to see Bardstown Road much less of a scene than the night before and more like a ghost town (apparently due to the Saturday night football game). We visited Lilly’s to introduce ourselves to Kathy Cary and enjoy her restaurant, a pioneer in Louisville for using local and organic ingredients. We’re looking forward to having her in the field with us tomorrow!

Local This and Local That

In the same week that we’re in New York these two articles came out in New York Magazine and the New Yorker featuring local eating and urban farming.

New York Local: Eating the fruits of the five boroughs by Adam Gopnik, The New Yorker

My Empire of Dirt by Manny Howard, New York Magazine

Monday, September 10, 2007

New York City Urban Dining

This dinner we had the advantage of already having been to the site less than a month prior, having hosted GQ Magazine's 50th Anniversary dinner mid-August. Being familiar with the garden and how the dinner functions in the space does make things a little easier. Jim enjoyed the challenge of fitting 144 feet of table into the garden space. After spending some time pacing, then haphazardly laying out tables he arrived at the solution: one long, curved table that would snake from under the willow trees on one end of the garden, over the sidewalk-chalk covered surface and off next to the gazebo. The past couple of days we had been threatened with chances of rain for Sunday afternoon/evening and were forced into considering tenting options for the space. It also would have been possible to set up the table in a nearby community center, but we decided it would be best of course for the guests to dine in the garden. Our best tenting scenario looked like this: a 40’ by 60’ white topped, clear walled tent under which we could fit three rows of tables for our 140 guests, for the bargain price of $2000. Needless to say, three rows goes strong against Jim’s one table ideal so we then began discussing the possibility of individual rain ponchos for the guests, green to match the garden… lucky for us (and the guests), once again, the 40% chance of rain became a small chance of rain in the morning with clearing skies in the afternoon.

With the table properly snaked, the next while was spent setting it and clearing the area for the kitchen space. The willow trees in the park leave a thick blanket of leaves on the ground and Jim and garden member Julian spent time raking leaves and sticks, moving piles of brush and finally tying back plant branches to squeeze the kitchen and 144 foot table into the community garden.

Chef Michael Anthony of Gramercy Tavern and his all-female crew arrived several hours before guests began arriving at 4 pm. It turns out that this dinner is a bit of a family affair as Chef Michael Anthony is newly wed to Mindy, sister of Allison Dubin of Channing Daughters Winery, our featured winemaker from Long Island. It is great to have Michael working with us again at an Outstanding in the Field dinner: in October 2003, alongside Dan Barber, he prepared a dinner at the then not-yet built Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture and the reunion is overdue.

As the Outstanding visitors filtered in, the garden was filled with the buzz of conversation. Guests enjoyed Michael’s many appetizers (from ham & cheese and eggplant & lardo to tomatoes & turnips) and Channing Daughters’ Sylvanus. Usually our farm dinners we are in a more vast space and can “hide” the table from the guests so they don’t come upon it until the end of the farm/vineyard tour. This was of course impossible in our intimate garden venue, but it was a beautiful scene to have the guests milling around the table with their first wine.

Jim’s adrenaline from the table set up and general enthusiasm for the dinner lead to him address the crowd with his longest speech ever before handing it over to Ross Martin, designer and board member of La Plaza Cultural, shared some history of the 30 year old garden.

Guests collected plates from the gazebo and settled in next to each other at the table. Among those seated were some familiar faces to Outstanding in the Field: some repeat customers from California including Kathy, Topher and Clara. There were also visitors from Flagstaff, Arizona; Philadelphia and Tennessee. Jim was pleased to invite the ladies from Random House who have been working with him on the Farm to Table cookbook as well as see a few gallerists from Chelsea.

Michael’s menu featured a number of purveyors new to Outstanding in the Field farm dinners, including Eco Friendly Farm, Paffenroth Farm and Eckerton Hill Farm while the familiar faces of Roger Repohl (our favorite honeyman from the Bronx) and Jim of Sullivan St bakery also joined us at the table.

Bev Eggleston of Eco Friendly Farm, whose ossabau pork made up the main course of the dinner, was especially eager to talk about his happy pigs. He emphasized that happy pigs makes happy meat and passionately shared his stories up and down the table.

Community Garden dinners are a great way to bring light to the bounty that is available in an urban center. Just Food is an amazing New York non-profit who does this as well, working to build connections and opportunities for the city farmers, community gardeners and NYC communities/members. On their website they list over 30 “City Farms” in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens and Staten Island and even offer connections to CSAs so NYC residents can receive veggie boxes weekly – all freshly-picked and locally grown within 3 hours of the city. The CSA site boasts that each box contains 7 – 10, usually organic, types of vegetables and that over the course of a season (June to November) members will receive at least 40 different types of vegetables. Just Food has been making a difference and educating NYC residents since they started in 1994 and Outstanding in the Field is so happy to support them: a portion of the proceeds from the La Plaza Cultural dinner are being donated to Just Food. Thanks to them for being such a great resource and introducing us to Roger and the other NYC farmers!

Nancy, Gramercy Tavern’s pastry chef had crafted 24 nectarine and blueberry pies for the table, to be served with whipped cream featuring Roger’s honey as well as bowls of muscat and champagne grapes. The guests finished off their feast by soft candlelight enveloped in the magical ambiance that had been created in the garden by the table, the kitchen, the guests and the purveyors. One could have easily forgotten that we were still in the middle of Manhattan…

Friday, September 7, 2007

Today Show Today

As many of you may have heard, or found out after watching the tv for three hours with no sign of Outstanding in the Field, we were bumped from the Thursday morning Today Show to Friday morning instead. Apparently they had more important Thursday morning news: a story about a skimpily-dressed Hooters employee flying on Southwest Airlines who made other patrons uncomfortable and was consequentially asked to leave the plane. Unfortunately, the segment time on Friday was shorter and could not include Jim’s cooking demonstrations or the featured purveyors who we were planning to make an appearance. On Wednesday, Jim spent the day running around the five boroughs collecting vegetables and supplies from various farmers and markets to be used in the recipe demonstrations on the show. He got peppers and tomatoes from Molly, Vincent and Glen at El Girosal Garden in the Bronx and cranberry beans and cucumbers from the Union Square Market. Molly was planning on coming to the studio on Thursday morning and John Amaroso from Gerike Farm on Staten Island was to be there as well. Neil Cocker, our musselman from Nantucket, was even making the drive from the island to be on the show. Despite the shorter segment time, the result was still beautiful, the live portion being cut with the footage that Alicia and her NBC crew caught when visiting the California Sea Cove dinner at the beginning of August.

Now the irony of OitF being on the Today Show is that half of our team hasn’t even seen the show before, including Katy who was to be on camera. Katy mentioned this a few times to people in the studio that morning while her and Jim were getting made-up for the segment and they were baffled. It became apparent that she should just play along.

In the primping room, Katy’s dress was pressed, her hair freshly braided and face caked with more make up than she would otherwise wear in a lifetime. Jim was saddened that the only fuss he received was a touch of powder. The green room was full of morning snacks and Jim and Katy were happy to visit with the lady from Farm Aid.
At one point the pair found out that unfortunately Al Roker was ill and unable to host the segment so Elizabeth Vargas was standing in.
The OitF segment was set to be at 9:35 and in the minutes prior, Katy and Jim were whisked on to Rockefeller Plaza as producers and cameramen scurried around to prepare for the countdown to airtime. They were surrounded by screaming tourists displaying loud signs professing love to mothers and various home states.
In the seconds counting down Katy realized that her mic was still attached to Daisy Fuentes and there was a moment of scrambling before Elizabeth Vargas introduced Jim and Katy and a lifetime of work was compressed into 2 short minutes of description. Jim quickly shared the origin of Outstanding and Katy was just barely able to squeeze in her sound byte of how the number of farmers markets in the United States has doubled in the past five years. After it was all over Katy exclaimed “Is that it?” and before they knew it the long table, decorated in our farm plates was being packed up and carried out of the Plaza.

Veronica and Leah, on the other hand, had a very different experience of the Today Show. On Thursday afternoon, during rush hour, the team drove the jeep and trailer from The Long Island City industrial area into Manhattan to drop off the chairs, plates and table cloths to be used in the shoot the next day – in rush hour. Luckily Leah is a calm, patient driver and Veronica an excellent navigator and co-pilot and the two managed to find their way through the cloud of honking and masses of cars to 49th and 5th, Rockefeller Plaza. After unloading, they decided it would be easiest to park on-island for the night and managed to find a place next to a park near the West Side Highway, where the vehicle would be safe and legally parked until 8 am.
The next morning before heading out the door to pick up the jeep, Leah realized that she could not find the keys to the vehicle: they were lost and gone. Luckily, the chosen overnight parking space was a short block away from the Manhattan Jeep dealership and even more lucky, the mechanic was willing to do a “service call” with the computer to program the new key, saving us a potentially gross one-block tow bill.
First challenge of the morning aside – next was to find a suitable spot to park our monstrosity for a couple of hours so Veronica and Leah could head back to the studio and catch the action. Much, much easier said than done. After driving around for an hour, rejected from one lot, rejecting paying $109 for two hours of parking and unable to find a suitable spot, they decided to wait it out in a bus parking zone. Unfortunately, they had to miss the entire show and arrived to Rockefeller Plaza only to see the final packing up of the faux foliage and tables.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Life in the West Village and the James Beard House

After spending our first night in NYC in a slightly-sketchy Times Square apartment, we have now made our home in a West Village apartment sublet. It is small, obviously owned by a bachelor, but comfortable. Jim says he is enjoying being in a “man’s space” having been lacking in “bro-energy” this entire tour, since he’s surrounded by ladies all the time. It’s a hard life. A couple of the girls will probably enjoy spending some nights with our friend and website designer Daniela in her Brooklyn apartment due to overwhelming man-energy in the apartment…

Tonight Katy and Jim were invited to dine at the James Beard House by Mitchell Davis, VP of the Beard Foundation, who had come to our private event GQ dinner earlier in August, interested in Outstanding in the Field. He is interested in planning a 2009 Renaissance dinner in Florence with Outstanding in the Field. Jim had a number of art openings to attend, so he passed his ticket on to a gracious Leah, who escorted Katy a few blocks from the West Village apartment to the James Beard house on 12th St.

It just so happened that on this evening Michael Tusk of Quince, SF was the guest chef for the dinner and Katy was happy to see this familiar face as the two passed through the open kitchen: Michael was the guest chef at a Point Reyes dinner on Marin Sun Farms in 2005. Once through the house, Katy and Leah joined Mitchell and the rest of the guests in the back garden for bubbles and appetizers before Mitchell offered us a tour of the house. The décor hinted at the eccentric nature of James Beard, which included an outdoor shower on the upstairs deck, mirrored bedroom and bathroom ceilings and walls of shelving full of books.

We found our seats at table 6 with Mitchell and met our table company, two older gentlemen named Roger and Walter, foundation members and veteran James Beard dinner attendees.
They were charming company throughout the dinner and as we shared stories of Outstanding in the Field dinners, they divulged insight of delicious little nooks in the city including Kossar’s at Essex and Delancy (the best bialys in the city), the nearby Guss’ for pickles and finally, the iconic Katz’s Delicatessen.

As we first sat at the table, we were excited to see Dirty Girl Tomatoes on the menu, a local Santa Cruz favorite. Farmer Joe Schirmer, host of two past OitF farm dinners, uses an especially savory method of growing his Early Girl tomatoes – dry farming involves watering the plant up until the point where it flowers and that not at all. The product is a small, sweet fruit about the size of a plum that is highly concentrated flavor. The first course, a Dirty Girl Farm tomato variazione included raw slices with bottarga di muffine, a chilled soup and a warm sfomato of smoked ricotta. Katy’s favorite course was the agnolotti dal plin filled with Paine Farm squab. The small, incredibly tasty, well-balanced pasta was paired with a 2001 Ghemme from Piedmont. Katy described the Ghemme, an Italian version of the French Gamay grape, as “a little sprinkle of dirt in your glass, pale in color, light in taste and reminiscent of a good old fashioned Nebiolo, minus the pomp and circumstance.”

Overall, we enjoyed a fabulous evening both in company and food and wine. We would like to thank Mitchell for seeking us out and welcoming us into the grand tradition of the Beard House and we look forward to the possibility of collaborating and taking our two organizations to celebrate internationally in 2009.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Mid-tour Ithaca Rest Stop

Could there be a more peaceful place to take a mid-tour “week off” than in Ithaca in upstate New York. Lucky for us, Katy’s parents have taken us into their beautiful home with a huge garden, backyard and swimming pond in the back.

After getting off the ferry in Hyannis Port at 11pm on Thursday night, we drove the 400 miles in shifts through the night to arrive at the house at 7 am on Friday morning. Why stop the crazy all-night driving expeditions now that we’ve started?

Knowing that our time here in Ithaca needed to be both productive and enjoyable, we’ve managed to find a nice balance of time between working and experiencing Ithaca this weekend. Saturday we did a good amount of running around, shopping to restock the trailer and our supplies of lantern mantles, propane fuel, tea lights, paper bags, laundry detergent, garbage bags, wine bottle openers and serving utensils. We visited Bruce’s Fast Lane to get the oil changed on the jeep which at this point has towed the trailer over 5000 miles since leaving Santa Cruz on August 15th.

Every place we visit on tour priority is finding a reliable, hopefully free and comfortable wireless internet location. Often, once we find that place, we will spend more hours there than we may spend sleeping. This place in Ithaca is the Ithaca Bakery on Meadow Street. Good sandwiches, muffins, tea and $1 for 24 hours of internet; our new home away from home (away from Katy’s parent’s home). We found our corner table near the wall outlets easily and have been there numerous hours the past couple of days. So we say Ithaca is our “rest stop”, but of course what that means is we get to do work uninterrupted by a weekend dinner and plan the remaining dinners on tour. A list of tasks which includes, but is not limited to accepting reservations, sending out invitations, replying to various inquiries, contacting chefs and purveyors across the country, making rental orders, replying to press inquiries and then just dealing with any other fun obstacles that may pop up along the way. A good amount of work for our team of four. One thing that Veronica has found entertaining is when people call the Outstanding in the Field “office” (a.k.a. Veronica’s cell phone, wherever she may be) while we’re driving across the country. Sometimes it takes a second to explain to someone that we need to scramble to find a pen and paper in the Jeep to write something down and that no, we’re not sitting in an office somewhere in Santa Cruz. We make our office where we go and these days it happens to be at 400 North Meadow Street should anyone want to stop by.

Saturday night Leah and Veronica went to Moosewood Restaurant, which Leah – the vegetarian of the crew – was excited to learn was located in Ithaca. We enjoyed a delicious meal of fresh soups, pasta and local beer.

This morning Katy’s mom Elizabeth recommended we go and check out the Ithaca Farmer’s Market. We were impressed with the permanency of the set up, complete with highway signs, a large parking lot and a long covered structure with built-in stalls for farmers and artisans. This market has been here for a while and is not going anywhere soon. Even though Elizabeth said it might not be as busy on Sunday, we managed to wander around for hours, tasting, smelling, eating and admiring what the rows of vendors had to offer: from fresh blueberries and wine to hand silkscreened shirts and jewelery.

After a few more hours of internet work at our favorite Ithaca wi-fi hotspot we headed to the Hangar Theater to enjoy some local entertainment: the closing night of the theater’s summer series with a showing of “All the Great Books – Abridged.” This high-energy, highly entertaining three man show was essentially a fast-paced classroom lesson of the 86 “world’s greatest books”, complete with midterm and final exam. A great taste of local talent and a very amusing performance.

At the end of the show we were sure to reflect on the fact that had this been a regular weekend of farm dinners we would be just beginning to tear down the tables and collect the glassware off the 128 foot table and be grateful that we were on our way to bed instead.