In the beginning
It all started in the summer of 1998 with a series of “farmer dinners” at Gabriella Cafe in Santa Cruz, California. The founder of Outstanding in the Field, chef and artist Jim Denevan, invited several of the restaurant’s regular producers out of the field and into the restaurant; the night’s menu would feature dishes where the ingredients came straight from the farm and the girl or guy that grew the food or raised the animals or caught the fish would join everyone for the meal. When the first farmer stood and addressed the hungry diners with “this came from my farm” it was clear, people wanted to hear from and appreciate farmers.
An even better idea
Jim’s older brother Bill Denevan, a pioneering organic grower in California was one of those farmers that brought his ingredients and his story into the restaurant. Bill’s productive orchards in the scenic Santa Cruz mountains are planted among groves of tall redwoods. From experience working and staying on Bill’s farm as a teen Jim knew there was an even better place to celebrate the farmer… right on the farm! With this idea in mind in August of 1999 farmers were contacted, a schedule was developed and fingers were crossed. Would anybody come to this thing? The word went out and guests did arrive, enough to fill a long farm table. In a tradition that continues, people came toting their own plates showing myriad colors and style, brought from home, each diner contributing to the unique table composition. After a welcome greeting guests were shown around by farmer Andrew Griffin, the farm tour ending at a table set among flowering irises and ripe tomatoes. On a warm late summer afternoon Outstanding in the Field founder Jim Denevan and chef friend Tom King prepared a 5 course meal with ingredients right from the field.
Finding our way
After a few seasons on the farm Jim decided to expand the idea to farther fields. Guest chefs were recruited from around the greater San Francisco Bay Area and a detailed schedule was released with events taking place from late summer into fall. Participating chefs and farmers collaborated on open air feasts at several ranches, vineyards and orchards. Notable chefs like David Kinch of Manresa, Traci des Jardins of Jardiniere, Craig Stoll of Delfina and Charles Phan of The Slanted Door joined us in the field. The support grew, guests returning again and again, with colorful plates in tow. Encouraged, in 2003 Jim organized the first events outside Northern California: an event at Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture in New York and at Coleman Family Farm near Santa Barbara.
A big red and white bus
Katy Oursler joined the farm dinner team in 2003 after experiencing an event under the ripe apples at Bill Denevan’s farm in the Santa Cruz mountains. Katy and Jim hatched ambitious plans to take the farm dinner idea from coast to coast. A beautiful but cantankerous red and white bus was found on the SellaBus.com website and an optimistic crew of Katy, Jim, Natalie Mock and Caleb Coe hit the road. Numerous adventures and misadventures later the crew safely returned home.
Who are we now?
The OITF team comes from around the world
Founder Jim Denevan goes on the road each season. Our core staff is from Chicago, Illinois; Atlanta, Georgia; Burlington, Vermont; Portland, Oregon, Vancouver, Canada and Santa Cruz, California. Other temporary staff has included folks from the Netherlands, Switzerland, Germany and Italy.
Where are we going?
Farm dinners are happening! Everywhere people are excited to get to know farmers, visit farms and celebrate real food culture. Farmers are even seeing a degree of renown. Farmers like Michael Grady-Roberson in New York, Romeo Coleman in Santa Barbara, Bob Munson in Boulder and Jordan Sturdy in Pemberton, British Columbia are celebrated both in their communities and further afield. Farm dinners have caught on, we now organize as many as 90 events a year. Celebrated chefs like Dan Barber, Paul Kahan, Frank Stitt, Mourad Lahlou, Gabrielle Hamilton and Scott Peacock have joined us. We have crossed North America nine times, gone as far as Alaska and Florence, Italy.