Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?

ANSWER: A lot of folks. At Outstanding in the Field events, the table is so long and full, you may need binoculars to see the guests at the other end.

fresh-herb-company-longmont

An Outstanding in the Field dinner on the grounds of the Fresh Herb Company in Longmont last summer. Photo by Jeff Nelson

When you set the table for an Outstanding in the Field dinner, you may well have to walk the length of a football field to get all of the plates, forks and glasses where they belong.

That’s because the Northern California-based company hosts 100 to 200 guests at each of its pop-up farm-to-table get-togethers, and the result frequently looks like a community table on steroids. And that farm-to-table aspect? Well, often the table is actually on the farm, so each carrot or artichoke may travel only a wee distance from field to plate.

“When we started out in 1999, people weren’t doing this kind of thing,” says artist and chef Jim Denevan, OITF’s founder. “The term ‘farm to table’ didn’t even exist until 2005 or 2006. I had to explain it to everyone. But I wanted to see if people really were interested in seeing where their food came from.”

That first year, Denevan hosted—and cooked the dishes for—three events in California, including a dinner in his brother’s apple orchard with views of the ocean and 100-year-old trees. “At the time, there were very few restaurants like mine that were changing up the menu every day using local fare. But I thought, and still think, that it’s interesting when you’re connected to a food source, and when your staff can talk about the food in a way that has more poetry to it.”

Such an early disciple was Denevan of the locally sourced food movement that he would take his restaurant staff out to area farms and even meet fishermen at the  dock so they could learn the backstory of the food they were serving. “We had farmer dinners in the restaurants in the late ’90s, and going out to set up a table for dinner at a farm or beach or vineyard or ranch was just a natural next step.”

Since those first Outstanding In the Field dinners, things have expanded, well, organically, especially after Denevan bought an old bus for $9,000 on sellabus.com to cross the country and preach the farm-to-table gospel. “The events are so powerful and interesting, from the perspective of the guest, the chef and the farmer,” he says. “They feel good for everybody, so I wanted to popularize them across the country.”

Clearly, he has succeeded. “We’re now serving 12,000-plus people a year at almost 100 events. We’ve been to all 50 states, and 15 countries.”

outstanding-in-the-field

Photo by Jeff Nelson

So popular are the OITF dinners that some folks attend events year after year. “We call them field-heads,” Denevan says. “One of them will come up to me and say, ‘I’ve been to eight or nine of your events.’ Then I have to tell them that someone else has been to 30 events! Even though we work with a local chef and a local farmer at each event, 30 to 40 percent of the guests will come from out of state. They are looking to get to know a place through its food and culture.”

This month, the organization is holding two events in Colorado: On July 28, Cameron and Jessica Tyler will play host at their Oxford Road Farm in Longmont, with Adam Dulye of the Boulder’s Brewers Association acting as chef (his seventh OITF soirée) and Troy Casey of Casey Brewing & Blending out of Glenwood Springs and Lee Cleghorn of Frisco’s Outer Range Brewing Co. serving as guest brewers ($235 per person). The next night, the festivities move to Fruition Farms Creamery in Larkspur, with Alex Seidel and Jimmy Warren acting as host farmers and Seidel as guest chef ($235; sold out).

The menus vary, depending on the chefs, the host eld and the time of year, but all OITF dinners have several essential elements in common. A family-style setting. No kids and no assigned seating. A bring- your-own-plate tradition. A relaxed, convivial vibe. Multiple courses of fabulous food, as local as possible. And, of course, that lengthy communal table. “I absolutely love figuring out how to put the table in the best spot,” says Denevan, a self-described weather geek whose staff crosses the country with the tables, chairs and outdoor cooking set-up. “There’s often a lot of space, so I like to figure out where the sun is going to be at a certain time of day, what the wind will be like, whether we’ll be behind a line of trees—those kinds of questions are fun for me to figure out.”

And weather be damned. “Once we had an event in Matthews, S.C., and Hurricane Matthew was heading right toward us, so we actually set up the dinner table down the aisle of a hardware store because it was too dangerous to put a tent outside,” he says. “But it turned out to be incredible. Another time, on a farm in Craftsbury, Vt., the forecast was so good we set up the table far away from the barn. It rained and everyone got soaked—but afterward people told me it had been their favorite event ever. Weird.”

Fun seems to be a consistent ingredient in all of the meals. Most events last four to five hours, including cocktails, a tour of the host farm and then a luxuriously relaxed dinner like the kind you could imagine folks having in a small town after a barn raising. “Everyone sits down at the table—locals, travelers, strangers and friends,” Denevan says. “At first, they’re not perfectly comfortable, meeting all these new people in a new place. But watching people connect is really a powerful part of the experience.”

And when Deneven, ever the gentleman, is asked by a guest (as he always is) to name his favorite Outstanding In the Field event of all time, he always offers the same answer: “My favorite is here. Tonight. With you.”

OUTSTANDING IN THE FIELD
A roving dinner featuring local food and honoring local farmers, with one long table set among a beautiful landscape or in a unique location.

UPCOMING COLORADO EVENTS:

  • July 28: Dinner with beer pairings at Oxford Road Farm, Longmont, $235
  • July 29: Dinner at Fruition Farms Creamery with guest chef and James Beard Award-winner Alex Seidel, Longmont, $235 (sold out)

MAKE YOUR OWN ELEGANT BACKYARD DINNER
This inspired menu, created by Uncorked Kitchen & Wine Bar, raises the bar while still being chef-friendly.

uncorked-kitchen-soup

Spring Pea Soup with Crab, Watermelon Salad with Grilled Corn. Photo by Cassandra Stiltner

Recipes
All courtesy of Uncorked Kitchen; each dish serves 4–6.

Marinated Grilled Flank Steak with Lemon Basil Salsa Verde
INGREDIENTS
2 garlic cloves, sliced
1 large shallot, sliced
1 Tbsp. fresh thyme
1 Tbsp. mustard powder
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for grilling
Salt and pepper
1 3-pound flank steak

DIRECTIONS
In a large bowl, combine garlic, shallot, thyme, mustard powder and vinegar, add in oil and season with salt and pepper. Add meat to a large zip-top bag and pour marinade over it. Seal bag, gently massage marinade into steak and refrigerate overnight. Let steak come to room temperature before grill- ing. Heat a grill to medium-high and oil the grates. Remove steak from marinade, letting the excess drip o . Season with salt and pep- per. Grill steak until lightly charred on both sides or until a thermometer inserted into the thickest part reads 125 F, 10–12 minutes. Transfer to carving board; let rest for 5 minutes. Thinly slice against the grain; serve with Salsa Verde (recipe follows). 

Lemon Basil Salsa Verde
INGREDIENTS
3 cups fresh basil leaves 1 cup parsley leaves
3 scallions, chopped
6 cloves garlic
3 Tbsp. capers
1–2 small anchovies
1 lemon, juice and zest
3/4 cup olive oil, plus more as needed
Salt and pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS
Place the first six ingredients in a blender or food processor; pulse until roughly chopped. Add in lemon juice and pulse a few times. With the motor running, pour the oil in slowly, mixing until thoroughly combined. Season with salt and pepper.

Asparagus, Snap Pea, Scallion and Radish Salad with Greek Feta
INGREDIENTS
1 pound asparagus, trimmed, thinly sliced on the bias
1 tsp. grated lemon zest, plus 2 Tbsp. lemon juice
3 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
2-3 sprigs fresh lemon thyme
4-6 oz. Greek-style feta, crumbled
5 oz. snap peas, sliced thin on the bias
1 bunch red radishes, thinly sliced
1 bunch scallions, thinly sliced
Kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper

DIRECTIONS
Bring large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook asparagus in batches until crisp-tender, 3–4 minutes. immediately plunge into an ice bath. Let dry thoroughly. Whisk together lemon zest and juice, oil and thyme in a bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Toss together snap peas, radishes, cooked asparagus and lemon vinaigrette. Top with feta and scallions.

Spring Pea Soup with Crab
INGREDIENTS
2 Tbsp. canola oil
1 small sweet onion, chopped
3 small celery stalks, chopped
1 garlic clove, smashed
2 tsp. kosher salt, divided
3 cups whole milk, divided
2 1⁄2 pounds peas, shelled
3 bunches watercress (about 4 oz.), rinsed
1 tsp. ground pepper
1⁄2 pound cooked crabmeat
Chives, crème fraîche, watercress leaves for garnish, if desired

DIRECTIONS
Heat oil in a large saucepan set on low. Add onion, celery, garlic and 1 teaspoon salt. Sauté until onions are translucent, 10–12 minutes. Add 2 cups milk; bring to a simmer, and cook until vegetables are tender, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat; let cool slightly. Mean- while, prepare a large bowl of ice water and bring a large pot of water to a boil over high. Add peas to pot, return to a boil and cook until peas are just tender, about 2 minutes. Remove peas with a slotted spoon, and immediately plunge into ice water. Return water in pot to a boil, add watercress, and cook until wilted, about 1 minute. Plunge watercress into ice water. Drain peas and watercress; squeeze watercress to remove as much water as possible. Combine peas, watercress and remaining 1 cup milk in a blender. Process on high until smooth. Add onion mixture to blender; process on high until smooth. Pour through a wire-mesh strainer into a bowl; discard solids. Season with salt and pepper. Cover and chill until ready to serve, at least 2 hours or up to 1 day. Divide into bowls and garnish with crab meat, chives, crème fraîche and watercress.

Watermelon Salad with Grilled Corn
INGREDIENTS
2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
1 Tbsp. honey
1⁄2 tsp. Dijon mustard
1/4 cup olive oil
6 cups arugula or baby spinach
2 large tomatoes, cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices
1 4-pound wedge seedless red watermelon, rind removed, cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices
1  red onion, halved and thinly sliced
2  ears corn

DIRECTIONS
Whisk together vinegar, honey and mustard; slowly whisk in olive oil and season with salt and pepper to make vinaigrette. Set aside. Grill corn in husks. Allow to cool, peel off husks; slice off kernels with a knife. Season with salt and pepper. Divide arugula among 4 serving plates; top with tomatoes, watermelon, onion and corn; drizzle with vinaigrette.

Bourbon Peach Milkshake
INGREDIENTS
1 cup Peach Ice Cream (recipe follows) cup milk
1⁄2-1 peach, peeled and cut into pieces
1-2 oz. bourbon
Peach slice or shortbread for garnish

DIRECTIONS
Put ice cream, milk, peaches and bourbon in a blender. Process until smooth and pour into a tall glass. Garnish with peach slice or chunks. Top with a shortbread cookie.

Peach Ice Cream
INGREDIENTS
4 ripe peaches, chopped, with peel on
1 1⁄4 cups sugar, divided
Juice of 1⁄2 lemon
1 1⁄2 cups whole milk
2 eggs plus 2 egg yolks
1 1⁄4 cups heavy cream

DIRECTIONS
Combine peaches, cup sugar and lemon juice in a mixing bowl; the peel will add a rosy color. Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours. Place milk in the top of a double boiler and bring just to a simmer over gently boiling water over medium heat. Meanwhile, whisk together eggs, egg yolks, and cup of the sugar in a mixing bowl. Lightly whisk 1⁄4 cup of the hot milk into egg mixture, then whisk egg mixture into remaining milk in top of double boiler. Cook, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until mixture is thick enough to coat back of a spoon, about 15 minutes. Transfer mixture to a mixing bowl; stir in 1 cups heavy cream; refrigerate until cold. Drain and stir accumulated peach juices into cream base (return fruit to the refrigerator). Pour base into an ice cream maker and process according to manufacturer’s directions. Just before mixture is set, add peaches.

UNCORKED KITCHEN & WINE BAR
Uncorked hosts cooking school classes for adults, kids and families, as well as monthly wine tastings.
8171 S. Chester St., Suite A
Centennial
720.907.3838


YOU’RE INVITED
Elevate your event by sending cute, printed invitations (like the ones pictured below) from Denver company Idea Chic.

idea-chic-invitations

Photo by Cassandra Stiltner

“Your invitation really sets the tone for your event,” says Angie Johnston of Sapphire Celebrations. Fill-in-yourself invites, like the one at the top, are easy and elegant, and local companies like Idea Chic can create custom invites. Johnston’s other ideas for elevating your dinner: Dress up white tablecloths with simple, patterned fabric runners. Add inexpensive market lighting or flameless candles. Finally, set up a bar table with standard spirits (vodka, gin, rum, tequila, etc.), as well as tonic water and other light, refreshing mixers; include garnishes like berries and cut-up citrus fruits, as well as white sangria and fruit-infused water. Now you’ve got a party!

IDEA CHIC 4340 E Kentucky Ave #121, Glendale, 303.884.7787
SAPPHIRE CELEBRATIONS 5994 S. Hollly St. #265 Greenwood Village 80111, 303.617.3984

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