I first found out about Outstanding in the Field from my dear friend Amanda of Spread My Butter, an Aussie who’s been drooling over the event from afar ever since she heard about it back in her hometown Sydney. Now that she lives in the States, she makes sure to never miss their annual dinners.
Outstanding in the Field was founded in 1999 with a mission to create the ultimate farm-to-table experience, celebrating the local farmers and food artisans who cultivate it. The staff now hosts over 300 dinners in a year, driving across the US in their van and occasionally throws parties in other parts of the world as well.
|Standing in front of the “Outstanding” van – the staff all sleep in there and travel together!|
What drew me to Outstanding in the Field is the sight of the beautiful long table laid out across the farm. It’s just so picturesque and such a welcome getaway from the concrete jungle.
After a cocktail reception and canapés, we received a tour of the farm and afterwards, everyone (farmers, producers, culinary artisans and diners) shared the long table with our meal served family style. Ingredients for the meal are almost all local and prepared by a celebrated chef of the region.
This year, we chose a dinner hosted at the historic Hancock Shaker Village, in Berkshires, MA on Sunday, September 8, 2013 – sorry to the men in the group, but of course Amanda and I had no clue when we booked this dinner that this was the first Football Sunday of the fall, 9 months out. Also, you have to buy tickets as soon as it comes live online or else they sell out within hours for the most popular locations!
After our 2.5 hour drive from Manhattan, we arrive at Hancock Shaker Village to find a beautiful cocktail reception laid out for us.
We were greeted with a tasty Peach Lemonade cocktail made with Ice Glen Vodka brewed at Berkshire Mountain Distillery in MA. Big Elm Brewing, another local brewery, was also there with their stout and IPAs. This was a great way to get the evening started as I enjoyed the view of the farm. Amanda compares this farm visit as the more commercialized experience than she’s had in the past.
We actually didn’t know the history of the Shakers prior to booking the dinner at this farm, but it turns out we were at a historic site that’s often visited by tourists. I welcome the clean bathrooms that were here at the location versus the porta-potties Amanda’s had to go to in the past.
As we settled in, I took in the view and the rows and rows of veggies that’s grown here. My obsession with fresh foods has only grown more and more in the past year. Dining at farm-to-table restaurants has helped me see how a simple carrot can be used to substitute meat in a tartare, and how fresh veggies tossed in olive oil and salted could be such a delicious and beautiful starter. Participating in a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) at work has introduced me to veggies that I’ve never seen before. And don’t even get me started about my herb garden at work…
Growing delicious food is an art, and the farmers who spend their life perfecting their art is honored at this event.
|Berkshire Valley Beef summer sausage w/ half-sour pickles & dijon mustard|
|My fave – Joshua’s Farm deviled eggs w/ Indian Line Farm roasted beet radish – liked the golden beet with jalepenos!|
|Willow Brook Farm sweet corn pancake & Rawson Brook Farm Monterey chevre (goat cheese)|
I enjoyed these small bites throughly and this only made me more excited for what was to come for dinner. Also if you thought the plates for these canapés are as cute as I think they are, I believe they are from Crate & Barrel.
The Farm Tour
After an hour of settling in, the Founder of Outstanding in the Field, Jim Denevan, welcomed us and kicked off the farm tour.
|Upperleft (clockwise): Founder Jim on his soapbox, the ultimate tomato, Guest Chef Brian Alberg, and the long table|
|This chick brings all the chickens to the yard.|
If you’re like me, then you might not know too much about the Shakers. They are a subset group of Christians who were founded back in 1776 and lived in communities that governed principals that includes celibacy and agrarian communal living. Originally dubbed “the Shakers” because of a religious dance that they do, which involves a lot of shaking when spirits enter their bodies.
Beyond their religion, the Shakers lived a very specific lifestyle. They believed in living a simple but comfortably self-sufficient existence from the fruits of their land – but were also people with great ideas. You know those seed packets that you use to grow anything these days – turns out that it was the Shakers who came up with this idea. They were great farmers, and it was really cool to get a tour of their farm.
Chasing after animals and touring the farm really worked up my appetite, so I’m glad that we were fed soon after the tour.
Onwards to the Farm Dinner!
“When I grow up”, I want to have a beautiful garden full of fresh veggies and flowers. Come on, how do you not love this view? My favorites are the sunflowers because they stand so tall and seem so happy all the time.
At the farm dinner, you are asked to bring your own plate (aka, they will ask you to pick up a plate to borrow for the night). I love the variety of plates that are available, super cute. Can you figure out which one I picked out?
The spread of bread and the mushroom and corn relish was delightful. One of the guests in our group loved this one the best. The mushrooms were grilled, then paired with sweet corn that’s so tender and crunchy when it’s used fresh from the farm. Add in a little bit of vinegar, salt, pepper and olive oil and you have yourself a winner. I really would love to make this relish to eat with my bread at home! I also secretly wish they gave each of us a jar of it to go home as a souvenir. Can’t have it all right?
Along with the mushroom and corn relish was the Chilled & Smoked Berry Patch Tomato Soup, served with olive-oil poached Markristo Farm hakurei turnips and Lisa’s Mountain mutton jerky. Seriously the best jerky ever, also wish I could buy this at home.
First course: Howden Farm sweet corn & Farm Girl Farm gumball tomato salad w/ Equinox Farm arugula, BBQ Meat Market bacon (so good, like candied bacon!) Served with a NV Pere Ventura, Tresor, Brut Rosé, Cava
I loved everything about this salad. Or as it just the bacon? 🙂
Second course: Wannabea Farm rabbit bratwurst and Raven & Boar pork shoulder w/ choucroute with lacto-fermented kraut, mirepoix, toasted caraway. Served with a 2008 Sipp Mack “Rosacker” Riesling Grand Cru.
The rabbit bratwurst was a bit dry, but I loved the fermented kraut with mirepoix. Love slightly acidic flavors.
Third course: Grilled Hudson Valley Duck Breast w/ Thompson-Finch adirondack reds, buttered Indian Line Farm celeriac, Farm Girl Farm kale. Served with a 2011 Tenuta delle Terre Nere Etna Rosso
By this course, we were all pretty stuffed. The portions were huge for our group of seven and we were struggling to finish. I ate a ton of the kale.
Somewhere between breaking bread with old friends and new, the wine flowing, and all of us enjoying each other company’s and the food, the sun began to set. It was just so beautiful, serene and a great end to the night.
Dessert: Dave’s melons with Cricket Creek Farm Feta w/ Hancock Shaker Village herbs & honey
There were some spicyyyyy bites of chili peppers here!! Took us all by surprise.
|Chocolate turtles with salted caramel|
|Final toast before the drive home|
As the sunset, the farm quickly became hidden in the pitch darkness. For an early September night, it was really chilly and I definitely did not dress for the occasion. Whatever happened to Indian Summer? Is that something that only happens in SF?
This Cali girl couldn’t handle the cold as we walked through darkness to our cars. With a full belly, I quickly passed out in the car with excitement to join Amanda in a future Outstanding in the Field event.
For future Outstanding in the Field events, visit: http://outstandinginthefield.com/events/north-american-tour/