POPSUGAR Celebrity

A Truly Memorable Farm-to-Table Beach Dinner

Jun 20 2012 - 6:30am

Imagine burrowing your feet underneath warm sand while breathing in a swirl of fresh sea breeze and smoked salmon. You're surrounded by interesting new friends, engaged in intimate conversations that that seem as bottomless as the wine refills. There's no distractions, no place to be, and nothing to think about other than passing around the heavy ceramic bowls full of the freshest produce, picked literally hours before dinner service.

Yes, this event is real. It's called Outstanding in the Field [1]. The organization connects diners with the food on their plate. Founded in 1998 by Jim Denevan, the dinners are organized all around the United States to bring diners, local farmers, and sustainable chefs together. Each event is located on or near a farm in stunning outdoor locations.

I was lucky enough to attend one of these dinners, hosted by Freewheelin' Farm [2] in Santa Cruz, CA. The rustic, family-style dinner was prepared by Kim Alter, the executive chef of Haven restaurant [3] in Oakland, CA. Enter my version of culinary heaven by taking a look at the photos of the food and scenery from this truly outstanding dining experience.


Bring your own plate, that is. One of the traditions at Outstanding in the Field [4] is to bring your own vintage plate to add to the countrified charm of the table. As we arrived at the farm, we dropped off ours. My parents and I brought antique Delft plates from the Netherlands.

Red White and Blue Beach

Historically, this secret cove in Santa Cruz was a private nude beach called Red White and Blue Beach. Now it's home to Freewheelin' Farm [5] and was opened up to Outstanding in the Field [6] for this event.

Founder With a Vision

Jim Denevan, a California native, started out as a restaurant cook. His experiences living in Italy and France made him realize how significant the culture of food is and how, back home, Americans didn't truly understand the origin of and labor behind their food. That's why, in 1998, Jim organized the first farm dinner, connecting people to organic farmers and local chefs. The idea grew into Outstanding in the Field [7], a tour of farm dinners across the country. This year alone, there will be 85 dinners.

Makeshift Bridge

Jim is very hands-on when it comes to setting up the farm dinners. The morning of the event, Jim and his crew built this bridge made entirely of tables.

The Iconic Table

Outstanding in the Field [8] is known for its signature, seemingly infinite tables that are covered in brilliant, white linen.

Beach Bonfire

Even though this beach scene looks warm and inviting, it was actually quite cold. That's why Jim and his team set up a large bonfire to light when the sun set.

Field Strawberry-Infused Corpse Reviver #2

With gin, Cointreau, Lillet Blanc, lemon juice, and a spritz of absinthe, this particular Corpse Reviver was modified slightly from the 1930s Savoy Cocktail Book. The addition of field strawberries made it syrupy sweet, a perfect afternoon refreshment while hors d'oeuvres were passed.

Grill Everything

In the field, there is no oven, so the chef relied on the charcoal grill for most of the cooking. Beautiful peaches were grilled ahead of time for a spinach salad.

Foie Gras, Rhubarb, and Barley Cracker

Before the ban is fully implemented in California, chefs everywhere are serving foie gras. Chef Alter began with a delicate foie gras mousse on an airy barley cracker, garnished with a mix of candied and raw rhubarb. Sweet, rich, and fatty, this hors d'oeuvre was a bittersweet farewell to the delicacy.

Cornbread, Uni, and Black Garlic

The Southern girl in me loved this moist cornbread, slathered with a butter-like uni spread and garnished with fermented black garlic purée.

Smoked Potato, Creme Fraiche, and Housemade Bottarga

Smoky flavors are often unusual, save for smoked salmon, so it was a wonderful treat to have smoked fingerling potatoes with a dollop of tart crème fraiche, topped with chive and roe.

The Migration

Once all the hors d'oeuvres had been served, everyone migrated across the bridge to the tables for the main courses.

Protective Sand Barrier

Noticing the tide was coming in toward the table, Jim and his team created a sand barrier to prevent our feet from getting wet! While it was a close call, the barrier was successful in keeping everyone dry.

The Menu Card

All the ingredients were listed on the menu card in the order that they were served.

Unti Wines

Wine was provided by Unti Vineyards [9] in Healdsburg, Calif. The small, family-owned vineyard practices a unique farming method, using the lunar cycle to farm self-sustaining vines without the use of pesticides or herbicides.

Bread and Butter

As always, brioche-style bread and salted butter were a warm and inviting introduction to the table.

Beet, Green Strawberry, Balsamic, and Goat Cheese

Pickled beet purée, sour green strawberries, foraged mustard flowers, and Cowgirl Creamery goat cheese . . . the mix of sweet and sour flavors awakened the palate and was an inventive twist on the traditional beet and goat cheese salad pairing.

Spinach, Peach, Housemade Ricotta, and Nasturtium

Words cannot express how forever changed my impression of spinach is after this salad. Buttery and full of ribbed texture, there's no going back to the flat, chalky, stringy stuff at the supermarket. The spinach was dressed up with nasturtium pesto, grilled peaches, pickled peach vinaigrette, Japanese shiso leaf, nasturtium blossoms, and house-made Strauss ricotta cheese.

Grilled Lettuce, Fish Sauce Vinaigrette, Garlic Confit, and Squid

To maintain the shape of the baby gem lettuce, the entire bunch was grilled, resulting in a charred flavor without, miraculously, wilting. The bunches were then dressed in a fish vinaigrette and whole squid, sashimi style.

Israeli Couscous, Young Fennel, Cucumber, Cabbage, and Onion

This Mediterranean-inspired salad with a cucumber-mint-fennel-yogurt dressing also featured fava beans, young enough to be served in their skins.

Grilled Cedar Plank Salmon

I certainly wasn't aware that there were wild salmon in Northern California. The freshly caught salmon from H & H Fresh Fish Company [10] in Monterey Bay was grilled atop fresh herbs and a cedar plank.

Salt-Baked Black Cod

Moist and immaculately prepared, the black cod was the last item to come out of the kitchen, and it was one of my favorites.

White Chocolate Namelaka, Strawberry, Fennel, Hazelnut, and Lavender

Namelaka, meaning "creamy texture" in Japanese, is a ganache, whipped with gelatin to create a firm yet creamy dessert. The farm experience came full circle, ending with the ripe strawberries, picked at the height of their season. The best part of the dessert was definitely the sliced fennel, which added a distinct licorice flavor.

Bonfire Building

Jeff helped start the large, glowing bonfire that kept us all warm as the sun set.

Bonfire Blazing

Everyone gathered around the bonfire to eat their dessert.

A Final View

Before the sun set, I took a final picture of the stunning cove. Stretching wide to relieve my full belly and feeling toasty from the bonfire, I bid adieu to the secret cove. Satisfied by this farm dinner experience, I walked away from the beach to return to the city.

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