In the foodie world, a chef’s name can carry the weight of a Hollywood celebrity. There’s an awe, mystique and fascination with those who are changing food scenes, tweeting their menus, gracing magazine spreads and most importantly, feeding us their finest. When one of those innovative and highly regarded chefs takes to the road, partners with farms and offers some of the most beautiful and authentic farm-to-table meals possible, the fan following escalates to that of a touring band.
After I first learned about Outstanding in the Field (through this beautiful blog post on Roost), I became one of the adoring groupies, routinely checking the tour dates and locations. I nearly flew myself to Florida, so great was my obsession. However, fate and luck and a chef named Justin Severino intervened, and I finally had the long awaited opportunity to attend an event close to my Pittsburgh home.
[Outstanding in the Field's] mission is to re-connect diners to the land and the origins of their food, and to honor the local farmers and food artisans who cultivate it.
Outstanding in the Field is a roving culinary adventure – literally a restaurant without walls. Since 1999 we have set the long table at farms or gardens, on mountain tops or in sea caves, on islands or at ranches. Occasionally the table is set indoors: a beautiful refurbished barn, a cool greenhouse or a stately museum. Wherever the location, the consistent theme of each dinner is to honor the people whose good work brings nourishment to the table.
Ingredients for the meal are almost all local (sometimes sourced within inches of your seat at the table!) and generally prepared by a celebrated chef of the region. After a tour of the site, we all settle in: farmers, producers, culinary artisans, and diners sharing the long table.
The site of the magical meal was Blackberry Meadows Farm, a real work of love by farmers Jen Montgomery and Greg Boulos (and wee little farmerette Evelyn). The couple’s introduction and tour of the farm was truly moving. They are committed to community and future generations, as exhibited by their communal, brick oven and the trees they planted that will reach their real grandeur long past their children’s time.
Ella the cow under her umbrella…ella…ella…
The Plate Tradition
OITF added a personal touch to the meal through this tradition. Participants were encouraged to bring a plate and add it to the pile. The plates then appeared at the field where the seemingly, never-ending tables were located. Diners could pick any plate from the burlap pile, adding a more communal element to the dining experience as textures and patterns rekindled memories of our own kitchens or other dining tables of note.
As the event kicked off, we lingered near the farm house for starters, drinks, mingling and a history of Outstanding in the Field from artist and founder Jim Denevan and lead cohort Leah Scafe.
I wish my childhood had been filled with this version of “dirt” rather than that gummy worm and chocolate pudding version (sorry to spoil your childhood memories if you hold “dirt” near and dear, but after prepping a batch with a bunch of grubby, VBS kids and their dirty, grubby fingers dipping into the bowl, my memories of that dessert still feel funny and are less than fond…tangential rant concluded). Chef David Racicot, of Notion, really embraced the farm dinner theme with this playful hors d’oeuvre of roasted and dehydrated baby carrots emerging from edible “dirt.”
Ceramic bowls and fresh blackberries would later appear as the clafoutis to close out the meal. Oddly enough, even though the blackberries were locally sourced, they were not sourced from the namesake farm. Apparently, the farm was named (several owners ago) for the wild blackberries that grow in the fields, which require more sugar than its worth to counter their tart flavor.
From the field plate to the table plate…
Heirloom tomatoes atop red and yellow gazpacho with parmesan foam and fresh herbs.
When heirloom tomatoes are the source of a gazpacho’s flavor, one cannot let said gazpacho go to waste, even when in the company of new acquaintances. I call this one “And God Shined Upon The Gazpacho..,” which is to say, Cavan Patterson, of Wild Purveyors, made the right decision. He was a real champ!
cucumber, garden flowers, red miso, coconut, mint, basil, jalapeño, nori
Chef Kevin Sousa (Salt of the Earth, Union Pig & Chicken, Station Street Hot Dogs) used liquid nitrogen to freeze the melons in this salad, which added a crisp, refreshing, textural contrast to the light greens and flowers, whereas a regular piece of fruit would have added too much water or mushiness on a hot, farm day.
As one would expect, Chef Justin Severino (Cure) prepared quite the impressive salumi spread garnished with violet, saffron and dijon mustards.
Though it’s easy to envy founder Jim Denevan’s role, it was clear this labor of love required a lot of persistance and passion to launch and grow to the whirlwind tour it is today. We Pittsburghers are quite lucky to live in the same city as Chef Justin Severino, who was instrumental in putting Blackberry Meadows Farm on the event schedule. Jim also declared Justin to be his favorite chef. Coming from a man who travels and eats the best the country has to offer for a living, that is not a praise to be taken lightly.
chanterelles, bacon, tallegio
* roasted in the farmers’ communal brick oven!
Lamb Belly & Sweetbreads
green beans, potato, black garlic
The plates cleared, the candles appeared, the lights flickered, and the laughter grew in volume until finally, we applauded all efforts tremendously and meandered into the night. My work here will have been done should you read this and become one of the OITF groupies! Perhaps we shall meet in a field soon?