As described on their Web page , Outstanding in the Field is an adventure, a destination and an experience. I can attest to the fact that all these things are true, OiTF events are unforgettable, special dining adventures that are worth every penny. Back in 1999 OiTF founder Jim Denevan had a vision to create a restaurant without walls, to bring the diners to the source of the food rather than bring the ingredients to them. He truly was the visionary who started the Farm to Table movement. The scope of the OiTF has grown beyond the original vision, but it still is a pure celebration of farmers, produce, chefs and passionate eaters.
A documentary of Jim Denevan has recently been released, you can stream it here. The concept is a simple one, but the execution of it, with locations sprinkled around the globe takes a tremendous amount of preparation and effort to pull off. As if by magic, feasts pop up in farms, vineyards, meadows, docks; always at a spectacular long table. Diners show up as strangers, and then leave several hours later fully satiated and with new friends. If you are in the mood for a truly extraordinary experience, please check their website to see whether you might still catch an event this year. If not, tickets for next season are released in March. The ticket price may seem steep, but the value is enormous.
I have had the pleasure to participate in OiTF dinners in California, Montana, and many in Connecticut. I couldn’t possibly pick a favorite, but after a two year hiatus due to Covid, the event I just attended at The Hickories Farm in Ridgefield Connecticut was particularly enjoyable. The guest chef featured the evening I attended was Johan Jensen of Whitecrest Eatery in Stonington, CT. Whitecrest Eatery is a fairly new restaurant, but Jensen is an extremely accomplished chef. Dina Brewster, the third generation farmer at The Hickories has lent her splendid farm as an OiTF site since 2013, and I think I have attended almost all of them.
Even after all this time, each experience is new and exciting. When we arrived mid afternoon, we were greeted by the iconic bus, and were please to find Jim Denevan on site enjoying himself as much as we were. Connecticut has been experiencing a pretty serious drought, which unfortunately may be the a sign of times to come. After drinks and appetizers we were led on a tour of the farm and learned how the farmers are coping and adapting to the challenges of global warming. We were left with some optimism regarding innovations and changes that might help moving forward.
If you go on to OiTF’s Instagram account (@out_inthefield) you will find endless variations of the dining table. There is always just one, and it stretches enchantingly off in to the distance. The long table is a signature of OiTF and it never disappoints. This photo was snapped just before there was a choreographed placing of the flowers on the table.
One of the most satisfying aspects of the meal is that just about everything on your plate is sourced right from the farm you are on. The chefs work with the farmer’s bounty and create a meal accordingly. Allergies and dietary restrictions are given ahead of time, and accommodations are made with a smile. Being gluten free and vegetarian was no problem, and I was happy that the adorable lambs we met on the tour did not end up on my plate.
The actual performance of the meal service and preparation is part of the fun as well. The servers are always unfailingly cheerful and enthusiastic, and the chef along with the support staff shared an infectious excitement and energy. The entire evening is charged with a unique and special vibe. Alongside the magic of the people, there is the magic of the food. Innovative and farm fresh, as well as picture perfect, everyone leaves the table completely stuffed and satisfied.
After the hors d’oeuvres, appetizers and main course, we were comforted by the fact that dessert appeared to be “healthy”, after all it was fruit based. Looks were deceiving as it was decadent, rich, and delectable.
As the sun set on the Hickories guests lingered at the table continuing to enjoy the last bit of wine and dessert. We couldn’t linger too long though, because the OiTF staff had to break everything down in preparations for the next days’ culinary gathering. Personally, I will be counting the days until next years schedule is released.