Jim Denevan knows a thing or two about creating large art and the art of large gatherings. As an artist, his drawings are of a scale few can hardly imagine, with multiple circles and shapes forming patterns in the sand, ice or earth. He has even created the largest freehand drawing on the planet on a dry lake bed in Nevada. As a chef himself and the founder and organizer of Outstanding in the Field, a moveable feast, his other talent is drawing large crowds together for one delightful night of culinary experience. The OITF team travels around the country in a red and white, restored 1953 Flexible bus, setting up at select farms and engaging the talents of local chefs and artisans to make the evening complete. Ours was a five-hour event where diners were invited to connect with the origins of their food, the people who grow it, prepare it, and the strangers around them.
Our meal this night was held at Dog Mountain Farm, high atop the hills in Carnation, Washington with a terrific view of Mt. Si. The weather was definitely not cooperating but appetizers were passed around while the evening’s winemaker Marcus Miller from Airfield Estates filled glasses of wine in the orchard. We even met a couple we hit it off with immediately after finding out the two of them lived just five miles away from us on Whidbey Island. They were our culinary buddies for the night.
With 100 guests waiting in a barn to be seated, the poor folks working the event wound up moving all the tables into the greenhouse only to move them back outside again after Jim tracked rainclouds on his iphone and gave the all clear. When the rain subsided, Dog Mountain Farm owner, Cindy Krepky gave a tour of the farm including her goats, chickens, pigs, geese, gardens and orchard. Cindy’s genuinely sincere way of speaking about good food, sustainable growing methods, and humanely raised livestock was great. She spoke of “growing her soil,” being just as important and a big focus of their agricultural management. But what came through most was her passion to educate young people about sustainable farming, bugs, vegetables and soil through their School of the Lost Arts Programs, which include culinary classes and a Young Farmer’s Summer Day Camp program.
After the tour, guests found their way to seats along the series of white linen tables placed end-to-end. One gets the sense that people who come to this feast are as much a part of the art and the experience as anything Jim Denevan draws. Looking down the linear table setting is enchanting. People were excited, chatty, and lively even on this grayest of days. Chef Greg Lopez from Urbane at Seattle’s Hyatt’s Olive 8 was the guest chef and did an amazing job that evening, what with only three days before to figure out what Cindy would have available from her gardens. The menu was wonderful to say the least. At every course a new wine was paired. The first course started with a beautiful green salad with hazelnuts. The second course featured sustainably farmed Coleville Reservation Steelhead fillet with Cindy’s fresh beet greens and garlic scapes, thirdly, a pork loin with cherries, roasted potatoes and honey glazed carrots, and lastly dessert was a baked strawberry & rhubarb crisp with real cream to die for. (See the pictures below, except the Rhubard crisp, which the photographer was too involved in to remember to take a picture). Everything was great, though the Steelhead was definitely a favorite around our table and the beet greens tasted like sweet spinach.
Five hours later, people were cold, mildly damp but sated. The night was wonderful, the farm hosts charming, the food delectable, and the servers incredible. While the evening’s message was about creating a connection between where our food comes from, and why local food producers are so important, it’s just as much about connecting with one another, at a table, over dinner, with perfect strangers to find out we have more in common than not. It’s about opening oneself up to new experiences and leaving with new found friends, and a appreciation for what everyone quite literally brings to the table.
If you ever get a chance to go to one of these events, it is well worth the trip and the expense. You may not be able to get on the bus, but you can follow it to the next stop!