Which is most impressive: the farm-fresh, locally sourced, famous chef-cooked meal, the big ass table upon which it’s served, or the outrageously gorgeous setting it’s situated within? At Outstanding in the Field , it’s impossible to decide.
In this food video, we joined Chef Bill Telepan at a community garden in New York City’s East Village, and Bolete’s Lee Chizmar on Tim Stark’s tomato farm in Lobachsville, Pennsylvania for two very different events.
Outstanding in the Field is part dinner party, part harvest fest, part art happening.
Since 1989, a roving team has traveled the country in a 1953 red and white Flxible bus, throwing farm-to-table feasts at vineyards, farms, beaches, and gardens.
If it’s a beautiful location with great local ingredients nearby, they’re there with tables and chairs in tow.
Honing in on each local community’s food shed, the team pairs a chef with local farmers, winemakers, cheese makers and fishermen, then invites 100+ guests to eat together to celebrate the local bounty. These food producers host the events, allowing the guests to eat on the land from which the food came.
“The guest chef is the ambassador of place,” says founder Jim Denevan. She designs a menu around whatever’s in season, then the team tells stories about the fava bean leaves, the Mangalitsa pigs, or the squid ceviche that are being served family style that evening.
Top Chefs like Dan Barber, Charles Phan, and David Kinch have all cooked open-air style for Outstanding in the Field, roasting lambs on spits in sheltered bay coves or grilling clams over wood fires in a willow-sheltered community garden.
It’s a locavore’s dream: a recent Santa Cruz dinner featured squid plucked from the Monterey Bay, San Francisco sourdough crackers topped with Dungeness crab, and chicken—which was smoked, pated, speared and grilled—sourced from the host farm’s flock.
The meal Chef Lee Chizmar (Bolete) served at Pennsylvania’s Eckerton Hill Farm was loaded with host farmer Tim Stark’s Mortgage Lifter and Cherokee Purple tomatoes, while the rest of the ingredients—the quail eggs, sorrel, feta, purslane, chicken—came from thirteen local purveyors.
As the chef fetishizes the ingredients, Jim Denevan focuses on their source. The event is as aesthetic and it is culinary: the beets dug from the soil and the clams harvested from the oceans are as important to him as the land and sea from which they come.
He is utterly obsessed with the way the dinner table looks in its environment, working with the lines of the horizon, the rises and falls of the dirt below, or the red barnyard sitting in the distance, to create a scene that is a temporal work of art.
Denevan was a land artist first, and when not throwing these extravagant feasts, he spends his time using rakes to draw patterns into enormous swathes of sand, and then photographs them as they wash away.
It’s this transience that’s as vital to his earth drawings as it is to these one night only dinners built around whatever is in season that particular week.
Denevan is a wild Pied Piper in a straw hat, asking guests to fork over lots of cash and their own plates to join him in this culinary bacchanal. Sometimes that means rolling up ones pants to cross some water to get to the table.
Or ditching the heels to walk through cow pastures (with the cows inside) because there, on the other side of the field, is exactly the place where Jim needed to place table.
The team then packs it up and does the same thing again, in a different location, on a different night, with whatever is growing and harvested on that particular day.