This is one of those events that has haunted me for the past few years. Serves me right though – I kept either falling pregnant and deciding I couldn’t fully appreciate the experience, or plumb forgot to reserve my spot, before those more dedicated than I swarmed on tickets that sold out within hours. Well not this year! I was their number one fan, and sat glued to my computer, refreshing that screen till I got through and scored.
You’re probably wondering what on earth I was so hyped up about. Front row tickets to U2? An invitation to dinner at the White House? Well, not exactly. I became a little obsessed with experiencing farm food, with a bunch of strangers, while sitting in a field.
Outstanding in the Field is a roving culinary adventure whose mission is “to reconnect diners to the land and the origins of their food, and to honor the local farmers and food artisans who cultivate it”. Started by chef and artist Jim Denevan in Santa Cruz in 1999, Denevan then took his “restaurant without walls” on the road in 2003, and now hosts more than 60 events a year.
The OITF team travels on their famous red bus from city to city across the country, joining forces with local chefs, farmers and winemakers to create a spectacular dining experience. Not only are you sitting right where much of what you are about to eat is produced, but it may have been picked only minutes before it arrives on your plate.
Our experience was at Oxbow Farm in Carnation, WA, hosted by farmers Luke Woodward and Adam McCurdy, with chef Matt Dillon of Seattle’s The Corson Building and Sitka & Spruce. I think this story is best told with pictures. Needless to say, it was everything I had hoped it would be… and then some!
Welcome to Oxbow Farm!
Jars of pickled rhubarb, bowls of ruby cherries from Billy’s Gardens in Tonasket, WA, and one of our darling servers who was never without a smile on her face.
Smoked mackerel pâté with pickled rhubarb was paired with 2008 Rosé, Columbia Valley, Syncline Wine Cellars. Syncline Wine Cellars’ winemaker, James Mantone, was hands-on as he told the story of his wine’s striking aromas.
Wine flowed and the Seattle sun shone brightly, as trays of raw artichoke and parmesan on handmade rye crackers were quickly polished off at the standing reception.
Oxbow farmers Adam McCurdy (with daughter Amoona) and Luke Woodward tell the story of their pursuit of creating outstanding organic produce, before taking us on a tour of their farm. Hands down two of the most gracious, dedicated and passionate people on the planet.
Luke’s wife, Sarah, and daughter Pearl walk the lettuce fields, while Adam’s daughter, Amoona, with mom picnic in the pasture.
The tomato hot-house, and friends!
Sarah Woodward’s current project is to create a children’s garden and education center at Oxbow Farm. Top left shows the beginnings of a corn spiral, vine tunnel and teepee for kids to explore.
After the tour, it’s time for dinner in the field!
Our very long table sits beside an oxbow lake of Snoqualmie River (from which the farm gets its name) that protects salmon, muskrats and river otter.
Freshly picked peas and berries await their turn on the plate, while chefs tend to hot coals over which giant pots will boil.
Grilled whole apricots for the divine dessert to come. The Outstanding in the Field red bus, on which the entire team travels cross-country, rests its weary wheels next to the tiny tent in which Matt Dillon’s team of chefs prepare dinner for more than 150 people.
Sliced tomato and fresh pea salad with shaved Foraged and Found porcini and dill. Frankly, I could have lived on this salad for a week. It was paired with 2008 Roussanne, Columbia Valley, Syncline Wine Cellars.
Chef poaches the tuna for the next course. Chicken farmers Jerry and Janelle Stokesberry of Stokesberry Sustainable Farm in Olympia, WA, provided the produce for our up-coming main course. NPR and The Seattle Times food writer, Nancy Leson, takes time out to smooch with farmer Adam McCurdy’s daughter, cutie Amoona.
Oil poached albacore with raw beets, summer squash, sheep’s milk feta and rose. Incredible flavors – I am now a serious Matt Dillon groupie! And believe me when I say they were fresh rose petals – we sat next to Katherine Anderson who was the daughter of Oxbow Farm’s owner. She has a flower shop, Marigold and Mint, in Seattle, and grows most of her blooms on the farm. She was late to dinner because she was picking the fragrant rose petals from the flower garden for this dish – quite literally straight from the earth to the plate. She and her husband, Josh, were great company!
Grilled Stokesberry chicken with harissa and house-made yogurt, long cooked beet and dandelion greens, Yakima chickpeas, cauliflower and Syrian za’atar (delicious!), and pickled carrot and coriander leaf salad. Paired with 2008 Mourvèdre, Coyote Canyon Vineyard, Syncline Wine Cellars. All served up by our gorgeous waiter and new friend of the evening, Steve from Boston!
Grilled whole apricots with berries, thistle honey, cream and shortcakes, topped off an incredibly magical and memorable evening. I’m considering buying a bus and following them across the country…
A few Outstanding in the Field tickets are still available in various locations across the USA this summer, or perhaps join them on their European tour that is being added in 2011. If you don’t make it this year, sign up for their newsletter online and be sure to book for next. You could certainly bring kids to these events if you’re happy to purchase them a ticket, particularly older kids who would learn a lot from the farm-to-table experience. I know I did.
A HUGE THANK YOU to the incredibly talented and beautiful, Anne Graham, for her spectacular photography. Happy birthday Mum! xx