Saturday, September 25, 2010
Consider the Source
“Outstanding in the Field” aims to put people in touch with their food source … in a delicious and meaningful way
We were pilgrims, really.
All 120 or so of us were, at some level, interested in the burgeoning locavore movement. We had traveled, some of us, for hours to reach this hilltop outside Asheville, N.C., where the farmers who raised and harvested our dinner would greet us. Where the chef would see, up close, how happy he had made us all through the simple, yet miraculous, act of preparing a meal.
We had assembled on Sunday, Sept. 19 at East Fork Farm in Marshall for one of just two Outstanding in the Field farm dinners in North Carolina this year. We had convened to have an al fresco dinner on the farm, see where our food had been grown and raised and meet the people who raised and harvested it.
Chef Jim Denevan began staging these “at the source” dinners at organic farms around his hometown of Santa Cruz, Calif. in 1999. His idea was simple, but groundbreaking. According to the website, he wanted people “to dine at the source on the very soil that nourished the bounty on the plate, in the company of the farmers who cultivated it.”
He found he was onto something. Diners loved meeting the people who raised their food. Farmers were humbled by the appreciation they were shown. So, Denevan set out to spread the gospel of eating locally and organically.
Denevan was there in Marshall, and oh, how he adds to the ambience. Tall, tan, movie star handsome and always in his trademark cowboy hat, he casts quite a spell. He and a small staff travel the country for much of the year, by bus, tending to the smallest details of these dinners.
When we first arrived at the farm – which was so perfectly pastoral, it looked like a movie set – we were greeted by trays of smoked trout rillettes (with trout caught from the very pond we were overlooking) and chevre and chive crostini with red pearl tomatoes. Our apps were paired with an Alain Patriarche Aligote, Bourgogne (2008). I don’t know what any of that means, but it sure was tasty.
After our happy hour and brief lesson in sustainable agriculture, our group descended the hill where the Outstanding in the Field table awaited. The white tablecloth looked even whiter against the very green (literally and metaphorically) surroundings. The tablescape got even more interesting once each diner set his or her own plate down at the table. It’s Outstanding in the Field tradition to bring a plate with you to dinner as your contribution.
Dinner is served family style, which is appropriate for such a convivial occasion. A different wine – all organic – is poured with each course.
Chef William Dissen of The Market Place in downtown Asheville was the culinary magician who brought this all to life in a field. (Outstanding in the Field selects a farmer and chef to partner with them to pull off this feat.) The Market Place is known in the area for sourcing local ingredients and doing wondrous things with them.
Now, in this setting, we probably could have ordered take-out pizza, and it would have tasted sublime. But, oh, what a meal!
Wild mushroom tarts with mountain basil were served along with a salad of mesclun greens, roasted beet vinaigrette and organic radishes. Next came a grilled leg of lamb served with tomato jam (from a Mason jar) and a delicious improvement on succotash – edamame with silver queen corn and sweet peppers.
Rabbit gumbo was made with okra, fingerling potatoes, Swiss chard and crispy Vidalia onions sprinkled on top.
We hardly noticed that it had gotten dark. But suddenly, dessert was being served by candlelight. Slices of buttery pound cake were offered along with fresh local blueberries and lemon crème fraiche. We washed it down with a concoction that reminded me of a Bellini – but even better. This bubbly cantaloupe cocktail was made with Cremante de Bourgogne, sourwood honey and fleur de sel. The perfect combination of sweet and savory.
We didn’t want the night to end; we left the farm reluctantly. Comfortably full, giddy and nourished ... in every sense of the word. Pilgrims who had come to a place that felt holy and were ready to share the truth: We need to know and feel good about where our food comes from.