In a season of rain, the OiTF folks (Katy and Jim) could not have bargained for a better day. The weather was temperate in the afternoon and only reached “cool” in the evening. To put some color around this description — because it is so noteworthy — I was in short sleeves for much of the afternoon and only donned my jacket as the sun set. The organizers implored us to dress warmly (and in layers) — in general, we were over-dressed. That’s how wonderful the weather was. And this for a December dinner in a barn in the foothills just above the Pacific Ocean.
The event started at around 2pm just off of Bonnie Doon Road (fairly near the tasting room for the winery that shares such name); 10, or so, miles north of Santa Cruz at a Secret foraging location. What? Did you think that I was going to give away the secret? If you really want to know the location, you can ask Andre Lafleur of the Santa Cruz County Land Trust.
A Walk in the Woods
OiTF promised to take us foraging — and what wonderful foraging it was. Three excellent gentlemen were introduced to us and two of them took us mushroom hunting (and Katy, you can leave their names in the comments below).
Yes, they showed us mushrooms that would kill us. Yes they showed us mushrooms that would kill us that looked a whole lot like mushrooms that were prized. I will stick to the Chanterelles, thank you very much.
Did I mention that it was a glorious day?
But, you, the reader are not here for the ‘shrooms. You are here to read a restaurant review of Outstanding in the Field — the wandering restaurant. Well, in a word, the December 3 dinner was “outstanding”…and no, I am not trying to be “punny“.
Background on Outstanding in the Field
A bit more background for those of you new to OiTF. I call them a wandering restaurant. Their motto is to bring the patrons to the source of their food. To that end, Katy and Jim (and others that help them) find a location (typically a farm or orchard) and a local chef and let the chef design a meal around food that is presented by the location of the meal.
When I state that the OiTF meals are held at a farm or an orchard, please do not think that they bring tents and portable flooring. No. Jim and Katy and crew set up one long, white linen-clad table IN the farm (among the strawberries) or IN the orchard (our only other OiTF experience was in an apple orchard). When they state that they want to bring you closer to the source of your food, they really mean it.
December 3 — A Foraged Dinner
Now, this is not to say that the meals of the respective patrons were limited to the items we foraged ourselves or even that all of the ingredients were foraged by someone. Instead, like all the OiTF dinners, the ingredients were almost exclusively “first person” and many of the items were foraged or grown by persons sitting at the table.
The chanterelle mushrooms used in the salad were foraged. The wild boars that made up the main course were foraged. More surprising was the Monterey Bay sea salt that someone gathered from Monterey Bay (and yes, it was very good). Alas, the abalone was not foraged (it was farm raised — in this respect, OiTF valued sustainable over foraged), but was a nice touch nonetheless. The menu can be found here (and yes, next time, I will try to take a better picture, sorry).
The tastes were divine (although I can always use a bit more pounding on my abalone). Chef Jamie Smith (formerly of Sestri) did a great job. And of course the Bonny Doon wines were wonderful (and thank you Mr. Grahm for sharing the port).
Again, however, the key was the people. Yes we brought more folks with us this time – four very close friends of ours. We three couples were very fortunate to have each other’s company for this time. The conversation and community will not be soon forgotten.
But I continue to be impressed with the quality of the people that Outstanding in the Field seems to attract. Any no, I am not focused on internet billionaires or celebrity winemakers, although they are there too. I focus on the genuinely warm folks that grace these tables. I am enchanted by my interactions with Crane Salesmen from Seattle and by Community Garden Volunteers from Washington DC (to name just a pair of folks that sat near me at OiTF dinners). I am fortunate to have found OiTF and to be able to take part in it.
If you find the opportunity, I encourage you to take it.
Jim and Katy….Paula and I very much look forward to next year. And if you start out with a dinner at Live Earth Farm, we will move mountains to be there.