We had the pleasure to attend an Outstanding in the Field event and it was one of the more memorable dining experiences I have ever had. If you’re not familiar, Outstanding in the Field is a total farm-to-table experience that entails dining at one long table with 100 other guests in the farm that is supplying the main ingredients for your dinner. The concept is to bring the diner to the farmer to understand what fresh means. We’ve all seen the small “made in” stickers that are on most of the produce we buy but to actually see it growing in front of you and listen to the farmer talk about the food they handpicked for your dinner that evening is really quite amazing.
We chose their Secret Sea Cove location where they select a private beach and they set up the table right there on the shore for everyone to enjoy. Not all of the events are beach locations – most are inland farms. At the time you book, you have no clue what city the event will be held in or the name of the beach. The only information you are given is to expect an email a couple weeks before the event when specifics will be given. We were originally told that our event would be just south of Half Moon Bay but because of the recent rain, the access road to the beach was destroyed so two days before the event, they moved our location to a once public nude beach in Santa Cruz. A nude beach called Beaver Beach no less – love it.
Our night began with a speech from the creator of this amazing event and we learned that there is actually a core group that travel together across the country (in a vintage tour bus no less) from farm to farm setting up these amazing dinners. We then got to hear from the fish monger, Hans Haveman of H&H Fresh Fish, who was supplying the seafood that evening and he described in great detail what was happening right at the shore where we would be dining that eveing. Next up we got to hear from the local farmer from Dirty Girl Farms who explained a little bit about the farm itself, what was planted and some of their general practices. We then took a little tour of the farm to see the delicious produce up close and personal. After we were all salivating, it was time to seat ourselves at the table. One end of the table was merely feet away from the crashing waves and a disclaimer was given that whoever sat there would most likely have water rush under their table. Ryan and I took one look at each other and decided to just do it. You don’t have a dining experience like this and not enjoy it to its fullest potential.
The organizers feature a local chef for each event and typically a local winemaker. Our chef for the evening was Tom McNaughton of Flour + Water of San Francisco and the wines were from Skylark Wines. The organizers typically select a theme to coincide with the setting the event is held at or the ingredient the farm is known for growing. Since we were at the Sea Cove location, our theme was appropriately seafood. All of the dishes were incredible but a couple of the more memorable were grilled calamari with potatoes cooked in duck fat, a seafood sausage created from halibut and sea scallops served alonside pork belly and a mussel ragu and a king salmon crudo.
The night was capped off by a beach bonfire and there were even blankets passed around to those of us (me) who came underdressed. It was a wonderful experience – one that I would certainly like to participate in again. Word to the wise to those who do want to attend, bring your own plate – this is a tradition that they started back when their first farm dinner took place 12 years ago. They do have plates available for those that don’t bring their own but it’s a wonderful idea to see all these strangers at one table with their own plates. Another word to the wise, the first full hour is called the reception. They do have wine and appetizers but I find that this hour is more about people interviewing each other to see who they want to sit with at the table. Unfortunately I got trapped by 2 men from L.A., one who was overly dramatic about everything, “Oh. My. God! This is the most AMAZING anchovie I have ever experienced!” and a close/down talker. This man was literally 7 feet tall and spoke so close to you that you were looking vertically straight up at his face. They were trying to persuade us to join them at their part of the table. The close/down talker was wearing very stylish loafers so I knew the end table in the water was out of the question. Perhaps that’s the real reason we beelined for the end.
It was a perfect evening filled with wonderful strangers, a beautiful setting, a Top Chef challenge style cooking set-up, a makeshift bridge created with table tops and chairs, and a pet pig named Kona running freely. All-in-all, an experience everyone should participate at least once in their lifetime.