Meet the Artist: Joanne Lee of Sunday Studios

Joanne Lee of Sunday Studio is a multi-disciplinary designer with a background in fashion and home decor. She creates one-of-a-kind hand-built vessels and sculptural objects inspired by the feeling of a sunny Sunday. After setting the table with her handmade flower vases at our Governors Island event this summer, we knew we wanted to showcase her work in the shop.

Joanne Lee Wants You To Use Her Spoons

To some, Joanne Lee’s path to becoming a full-time artist may seem a winding one. “Let’s go back to my childhood…No, not quite that far.” She jokes as she starts her story by explaining her upbringing in an Asian-American immigrant family in Southern California; “parents always want you to study something academic, traditional – be a doctor, be a lawyer, etc. Going to college, I was like, ‘I’m going to be a good student, follow this traditional path,’ but kind of needed to be more creative, to work with my hands. Putting something out there that is more physical is always something I’ve enjoyed.” 

After school, Lee spent several years in merchandising and fashion design, which satisfied her need for creation for a while. “I was drawing pictures, sending out something that was in my mind and then just drawing a sketch. To get a physical product back from that was super interesting and exciting. But, after you do something for a while, unless you’re really climbing the ladder and going on a certain path – I was really questioning, ‘what is my role in this industry?’” She began to interrogate how her work in fashion played into her personal values of sustainability and living responsibly. Meanwhile, she started taking a weekly pottery class on Sundays. 

“To me it was such a hobby that I enjoyed, it was playing. I was like, I can’t make a living out of playing!” Her weekly date with wet clay inspired her to think about what life outside a corporate structure could look like, but she wasn’t quite ready to leave design (or a regular paycheck) behind. Joanne transitioned to interior design just in time for COVID to shut down New York, then the world. 

Joanne’s weekly clay date became one of the few outlets she had during the pandemic, and she started to spend more time at the studio, alone due to social distancing. “I really took that time to come up with new ideas and new techniques, more exploratory. I started delving into more handbuilt, sculptural objects.” She used her design eye – honed by many years in the fashion industry – to create her signature style defined by soft curves and clay coils. Over time, her playful experiments caught the attention of buyers online. 

Playing with Clay Turned Into a Full Time Career

Her handmade ceramics now live on countertops and coffee stations, in cupboards and on crowded mantles across the world. “When I make my bigger pieces, they’re more decorative and maybe they just sit on a mantle and occasionally they hold flowers or whatnot, but most of my pieces – they’re not meant to be precious,” Joanne explains her relationship to her pieces’ functional uses. “It’s funny. When I do some markets, there are a few things that people ask ‘what is this, what do you use it for?’ For instance, I make a ceramic spoon. To me, it’s a spoon. Scoop things with it, stir sugar into your coffee, whatever. People always think that I will dictate exactly how it should be used. I’m not going to police what you do with these objects; once you take it home, it’s yours. You can do whatever you want with it, and if you come up with a special way to use it that I didn’t think about – that’s amazing. You put your life into it.”

“I want you to enjoy it. I want you to use it every day. Sometimes things happen; you break it, you chip it, but also – if you can salvage it – that becomes part of the object’s story. I put it out there, but you take it and you make it your own.” In that way, Joanne sees her work as a collaboration between herself and the people who buy it, who incorporate each piece into their everyday rituals. “I have to let it go, let it live its life.”

From the Studio to Your Home

Joanne’s hope for her work is exemplified in the inspiration behind the name Sunday Studio – the feeling of a sunny day off at home. “Something about candle light and little objects on the table adds ambiance and sets the tone for an evening,” she says when thinking of the ideal environment for her handmade candle holders

“I’m not seeing them in a specific kind of space, but for them to be part of a group of friends getting together, contributing to an occasion where people get together and have conversations and discuss ideas. That’s them serving their purpose. That’s why I put them out there.”

Sunday Studio Tapered Candle Holders Set

FIELD NOTES: A Taste of Place

I’ve learned something new about you this year. We’ve all suspected it for a while, but you’ve confirmed it this season at events in California and Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and South Carolina. It prompted us to change our Winter Tour planning. It led Nolan to spend several hours in the steamy heat of New York City with a power drill and fresh plywood, building us a brand new bar. What is it? Your most defining and uniting characteristic? You love oysters. 

Why wouldn’t you? Oysters are a particularly wonderful food. They delight. They confound. They lend themselves to be enjoyed in any season, mood or preparation: slurped with champagne, cool and crisp and reminiscent of a day at the beach in the height of midsummer. Fried, with crispy edges, lemon and tartar sauce in a grease-marked paper boat on the seashore. Stirred into a stew with a side of their namesake crackers or steaming sourdough to warm chilled bones in the winter. Slathered in herb butter and broiled, served bright green and bubbling on a bed of rock salt. 

Oysters are as diverse as the areas of the country in which they grow. “American oysters differ as much as American people,” says great American food writer M.F.K. Fisher in her own ode to the bivalve, Consider the Oyster. “There are, oddly enough, almost as many ways to eat such a simple dish as there are men to eat it.” Oysters are unparalleled by possibly any other food in both their romance and literary representation. For those of us who value food that tells a story, they are a goldmine (or a pearl, if you will allow me to stretch the metaphor). 

Not to mention the second life of oyster shells – paving beach house driveways with memories of backyard parties, piled into middens lining the coastline with reminders of ancient history or, with the help of hardworking people like the Billion Oyster Project, making their way back into estuarine waters to restore lost coastal ecology.

“Nothing connects you to the place where food is grown like an oyster.” Josh Eboch from Barrier Island Oyster Company told the gathered crowd at our first event on his farm, held just a few days ago as I write this. Unlike almost any other ingredient, the oyster doesn’t require translation via a chef, butcher or winemaker. The whole product can be served from the farmer’s own hands – when you’re really lucky, right on the dock, plucked straight from the cage, still dressed with seawater and maybe a shake of tabasco from a bottle left in the boathouse for just such occasions. Recent guest chef and James Beard Award Winner, Rob Rubba, named his restaurant Oyster Oyster after the mushroom and the shellfish, respectively. This restaurant was founded on principles of sustainability, and is fully vegetarian except for oysters (although some would say the oyster still qualifies, due to its lack of central nervous system), an ode to their importance to the ecology of the nearby Chesapeake Bay. 

Even their shells, large and striped with stone and steel, or petite and white with streaks of mossy green and brown, look like miniature landscape paintings, an illustration of their homeland in distant waters or just down the road. 

Oysters are the ultimate exercise in farm-to-table dining, really. They improve the environment by actively cleaning the waters in which they grow, preventing erosion and offering habitats for marine life. They taste of the water from which they came, briny and fresh or delicate and fruity, flavored with clay soil or slate or the salty tidewaters in which they’ve been washed. Even their shells, large and striped with stone and steel, or petite and white with streaks of mossy green and brown, look like miniature landscape paintings, an illustration of their homeland in distant waters or just down the road. 

As the Tour Crew travels the country, many of us will tell you we are most excited about the oysters. We’re not immune to their charms, either. On a day off in Maine or Malibu, the coast of Washington or along the Gulf, you’ll find us at whatever local oyster bar last night’s host farmer or chef recommended, slurping a taste of place as we pass through town. They’re poetry embodied, these hard shells that may be so easily overlooked in the overall landscape, cracked open with precision and skill to reveal a softer side, a deeper story, an invitation to a vulnerable exchange (as anyone who has ever eaten a bad oyster will tell you, it is a risk to down that dozen). 

We often talk about breaking bread together being the ultimate form of connection. I want to offer an alternative metaphor, that of shucking the oyster. From the farmer’s own hand to yours, a story to be told in the time it takes to swallow a bit of the ocean embodied, a celebration of place and the people who tend to it – the cages they control and the tides they do not, the long hours of work they put in to tend to their harvest, its progress one that few of us ever get to see – a true example of dining as an act of connection to something deeper. 

It’s no wonder you all love these silly little shellfish so much.

—— Ariel

FIELD NOTES: To Nourish and Delight

“I think you’re doing a great job.” I affirmed, as melon juice gushed over the knife and pooled on the cutting board around the perfectly ripe cantaloupe Fred was slicing in half. “Thank you.” He replied with French-infused inflection, “I feel like I’m wasting a lot of it.” He seemed almost embarrassed by the richness of its flesh, the perfection of this Platonic ideal of summertime fruit. This set the tone for the weekend, a Platonic ideal of the community that is built around the table – the spirit and inspiration behind our Community Table Series. 

We were finishing up a site walk through his vineyards the day before our event at Vignoble Camy, a small winery just south of Montreal, when Fred Tremblay Camy and Isabelle Leveau mentioned to Seth that they were grilling a chicken and some vegetables from the garden. If they were making lunch for themselves, it simply made sense to make a bit more and feed us as well. (I love this type of straightforward hospitality, almost aggressive in its humility without being precious about it). Fred and Isabelle proceeded to set the wooden table on the front porch of their small winery with fresh grilled zucchini, roast chicken (from their own flock, of course), summer tomatoes smothered in herbs and that perfect melon for dessert. We threw onto the table a few cheeses from our trip to the market that morning, feeling it made a paltry addition to their abundant spread, while Fred opened a bottle of cider made from wild apples scattered around the property. 

“We don’t even know what kind they are,” he said as he caught the lively foam that rose from the neck of the newly opened bottle in his glass. “We just pick them up off the ground and see what happens. Every year is different.” We sat under shelter of the winery’s overhang while the skies gently misted a bit of this year’s ubiquitous summer rain and enjoyed a simple, perfect meal with our hosts. Right after we left, Josh Crowe, our guest chef, arrived to stay with them for the night so that he could be on site and ready first thing in the morning to set up his kitchen, complete with a dried fish-bone garland he made to hang above the pass and a laden table display honoring each of the farmers and vendors whose work contributed to his artistic meal. 

Sometimes the magic of our dinners comes from the beauty of the surroundings, sometimes from the story of the food on the plate or the wine in the glass, and sometimes from the people by whom all that is created. Here, it was the people behind every bite, sip, and bit of soil that made it so special – from the service team from Monkland Taverne that committed their day to helping us produce this event because of their love for their chef, to the artist who created the custom poster that we featured on the menu, to the farmhands sitting at the table with Fred and Isabelle, who dressed up after their workday to celebrate the fruits of their labor. While some of the crowd was from nearby Montreal, there were people in attendance from all over the world – as far away as Berlin, Germany and Asheville, North Carolina – a fact which our hosts could barely believe. Why would so many people travel so far to come to their little vineyard project? Like so many passionate producers, the potency of their work is difficult for them to see through the haze of tarps to roll up and order notes to fill in and those spots of mildew they found while inspecting the grape leaves this morning.  

Three languages flowed easily across the table, translated through gestures of tearing off thick slices of sourdough to spread with soft goat cheese, scooping duck-fat roasted potatoes onto another’s plate, offering up the last slice of summer tomato sitting in its own brothy juices before taking it for oneself. Community is universal. Abundance doesn’t require strict translation, nor does a smile or the clink of toasting glasses. 

This is the spirit of our Community Table dinner series.

 – an evolution of the Outstanding mission to connect us through the celebration of all that is handmade, local and personal. The connections formed around the dinner table transcend the many differences that tend to occupy us every day –  from backgrounds to beliefs to how and for what we hunger. It is in satiating that hunger that we recognize our common humanity. Hunger extends beyond just the physical, as we all know. It encompasses the need we all feel for beauty, for connection, for a purpose related to something bigger than ourselves. 

While this was not one of our official Community Table dinners on the schedule this year, I couldn’t help but think about that series while at Vignoble Camy, watching the winery’s farmhands chat with the chef, who was standing next to the artist, who dined across from one of the farmers from down the road who grew the tomatoes they were sharing. This is the spirit behind our Community Table dinners, where we’ve expanded our showcase from farmers and chefs to potters, spoonmakers, florists and flax linen weavers. The abundance of stories that make up these tablescapes overwhelms me, as someone who loves a good story – especially those told around a crowded table, the blush of a glass of wine coloring cheeks gathered under eyes twinkling on the edge of laughter. 

After each of our Community Table dinners, I have had the pleasure of getting to know the featured makers a bit better, in order to tell their stories to you. I’ve learned the importance each one places on their contribution to the table, how they approach their work with such care, such thoughtfulness – but that they aren’t precious about it. 

Plates are made to be used, which means they sometimes break. That doesn’t detract from their beauty.

Ceramicist Drake Bialecki at our June 16, 2023 Santa Cruz Community Table event in Santa Cruz, CA

Wooden spoons get stained with wear – marks of memories and meals enjoyed. 

Spoon maker Paul Pendola at our August 02, 2023 Galena Community Table event in Galena, IL

Wine spills on tablecloths during a particularly well-told story, when enthusiastic hand gestures drive the punchline home, so we dye them indigo and celebrate their next life to live. 

Indigo linens by Kitchen Garden Textiles at our August 02, 2023 Galena Community Table event in Galena, IL

So often, we are running through our lives without thought for the everyday art around us, the potency of the work difficult to see through the haze of routine – the carefully poured foam on top of a properly made latte, the stitches and dyes on the napkins on our lap, the mural tucked around the corner on a morning run, a sketch drawn in the sand of a summer beach, and yes – the food on the plate in front of us. Good art, like good food, does not have to be precious. It should first and foremost be intended to nourish, but at its best will also delight — and isn’t that really one in the same? 

—— Ariel

Meet the Artist: Ty Williams

Ty Williams Is Always Looking For an Escape 

Ty Williams is an irreverent visual artist based in Southern Maine, who uses the ocean as a main source of inspiration for his vibrant, playful work. In celebration of his collaboration of our collaborative merch collection, we thought we’d get to know Ty a little bit better. On one of the first sunny days of summer, we met up with him for an afternoon coffee at Smalls in Portland, Maine’s West End. He arrived with his partner and fellow artist, Jasmine, their hair still wet at the ends from a quick swim in the ocean before joining us for the afternoon. As we sat in a sun-filled window booth of the bustling neighborhood cafe and market, we talked about Ty’s artistic process and inspiration, his love of his home state of Maine, and a few of his favorite surf spots. Rather than telling you all about it, we thought we’d share our conversation in Ty’s own words. 

This conversation has been edited and condensed.

On Art

“I’ve been drawing and making stuff my whole life.”

“I’m from Southern Maine, a little seacoast town. It’s actually nine miles from the water, on a little horse farm. My parents are a little older, so growing up, drawing and making stuff was always kind of like the first option that my parents gave me to keep me busy at home. It was the early 90s, so other kids were always wanting super soakers and to play video games. I really wanted that, but my parents were pushing pencils and pens and crayons. A lot of my childhood was spent drawing, almost wishfully, what I couldn’t have. I was drawing a lot of dinosaurs and dragons and stuff like that. Then, always, my fascination with the ocean fueled everything. I ended up basically growing up on the beach. When I wasn’t on the beach and I was at home on the farm, I was drawing sharks, marine biology, all of those types of things.

“The whole entire time from age 14 to like 30, I was always working a restaurant job and then art. I started making t-shirts in college, bootleg style, and selling those. I did that for years  – well after college – while working in restaurants all the time. I’m always inspired by the ocean and friends in the restaurant element. Maine being a wild restaurant frontier, I always think there can’t be much more – I won’t be able to do much more. Then from oyster farms to restaurants to friend’s surf brands to clothing, there’s always more work to do. I’d be lying if I said I wouldn’t love to be doing large scale paintings and selling them in galleries – and I do a little bit of that – but this all kind of pulled me in this direction. There is something special about seeing your work used in a restaurant or other experiential setting.”

On Surfing

Ty received his first surfboard in his early teens, a gift from a young man running the skateboard booth at a Maine agricultural fair. Ty floated past herding demonstrations and jam tastings towards a graphic displayed on the bottom of a board hanging on the wall. After talking skating for a few minutes, a casual question opened up a whole new world that the native New Englander had never considered: “do you surf?”

“I was like, ‘can I do that?’ He was from here, he was from Portland. He was like, ‘I have an extra surfboard, I’ll give it to you.’ 

“That was the catalyst. He gave us completely the wrong surfboard to learn on, a short board. But, I went out onto the water and I just caught the bug. It took me a while. I was a really really slow learner. I wish I had more of a community, I think I would have learned faster. 

“There were no surf lessons, no instructors, in Maine. No one else knew what surfing was. I got into doing little surf contests, so I’d get to travel. I’d go down to Massachusetts, Rhode Island, eventually California. All the while I’m drawing all of the time. My mom was like, “you’ve got to keep a journal,” and even though I was rebellious about almost everything else, with the art stuff I was good. The surfing led to travel because I wanted to surf other spots, and then totally in an organic way I was being exposed to different art, different people, different styles of clothes. 

Through surfing, I was traveling. At that time, I was like, I want to be around other surfers. My community is really small, so I’d save up some money working at Bob’s Clam Hut in Kittery so that I could go out and travel, be around other surfers and progress. By default, I was seeing more art, more design. I was seeing surfboards with cool logos, listening to new music.  

Sometimes being transient is when you’re the most creative. The best work I’ve ever made in my life has been in motion. If I’m on a surf trip, traveling, sitting at a restaurant with friends, waiting for a table or whatever, I get an idea and I have my notebook and I draw in it.”

On Music

“Music is such a huge part of my whole creative process. When I started to travel, people would exchange cassette mix tapes and stuff. I’d listen to a cassette tape, making mix tapes with my walkman. That would then affect what I’m doing in my journals, which then sometimes would end up being a t-shirt or sold in a gallery or to a surf brand, ultimately to pay for me to go on another surf trip. 

I’d come back to Maine, my hibernation zone in the winter, and I would have just been in Jamaica or in the Caribbean where I was listening to reggae, and it affected my work. People see my stuff and be like, it’s always bright and tropical, but I’m from Maine. “

On Maine

“I’ve spent a large swath of my life elsewhere, traveling, but I always come back. As a kid, I was always drawing palm trees. It was a wishful thing. Yeah, I’ve snowbirded forever, and I still – I was talking about it today, where are we going to go for the winter?

But Maine, for me, is vital. All of my inspiration, for the most part, is incubated here. 

Maine, to me, is a very resilient place. Mainers are wildly resilient. I don’t think of myself as being overly resilient – as soon as it’s winter time and there’s no swell, then I don’t want to be here. If it’s -11 degrees and there’s waves, then I’m fine. If the weather is really shitty and there’s no waves, I get soft. All of my friends that are from here I really respect and am inspired by, because of what they are able to do in an environment that ultimately is pretty adverse. 

Inherently, Maine is a place that births creativity because the weather is pretty tough, but a lot of people want to be here. There’s a major art community, whether it be people from here or people who have second homes here. When you’re around it, it feels so electric. I feel like I’m constantly finding out about people doing stuff, and it’s not an environment necessarily like Los Angeles or New York, where you’re like of course I know him, and he makes paintings like mine. Here, you have to work a little harder to find it, and when you do it feels so special. You have to put the effort in, and that really means something. It means something to me if someone drives two hours to visit, or three. I think that’s ultimately – Mainers are tough. We’re a little harsh. 

I tried living in California for three years, and it was…fine. I found myself always missing home. I feel like I get more work by not being there, if that makes sense.” 

Because you’re not from there.

“I think that’s why. I think if we lived in California, I probably wouldn’t be as prolific. I know that. Because our weather patterns here, I believe in this – winters are the time to make stuff. I am so insanely busy in the winter making things, because I’m doing that and I’m thinking about where I’m going to travel. When I lived in Topanga [California], for the three years I lived out there, I didn’t do much. I surfed every day, because the waves are fine every day – by New England standards, awesome. Every day, I was just eating burritos and people were like, “are you making stuff?” I was like, “yeah, a little bit, when I go visit my parents in Maine.” Even today, with the weather switching, I was like “holy shit, this is magical, we have to swim.” 

For Ty, it always comes back to the ocean. 

FIELD NOTES: Welcome to the (Tour) Crew

I’m currently sitting in the Seattle airport after spending a few weeks on the road, with the new tour crew and without. First, a few of us spent dusty days in the warehouse repacking the trailers, visited future sites we have yet to see, and hosted the first few events of the season to give the new team a chance to pack up their lives and make the appropriate arrangements to get on the road for the next seven months. There is surprisingly a lot to figure out in that time period: where will your mail go? Do you have to put things in storage? Who will hold onto your car – or maybe even your cat – while you’re gone?

Last year around this time, I remember giving away the last key on my key ring. I shedded the one to the front door of my old workplace, the apartment that had been my home for many years, the mailbox I always forgot to check and finally my car, which would take me to the airport with someone else behind the wheel. I felt immediately unmoored. I’ve had a key ring since I got my driver’s license at 16. It has held keys to friend’s houses, to storefronts, to many places that felt like home and a few that were simply a place to sleep. It’s opened doors across the country and lived in purses and jacket pockets for more of my life than not. On tour, I felt its absence every time I left a house (none of them my own anymore, always borrowed for a night or a few) reciting the routine refrain of “keys, phone, wallet” to keep track of my most practical belongings. Except now, I had to learn to keep track of all of my belongings, at all times, packing them in and out of the two bags I was allotted in order to maintain enough space in the trucks for six individual identities. 

For the rest of this year, I will be a visitor on tour. The full-time crew will be on the road together, day in and day out. It’s strange to see the dynamic from the outside; even this early in the season, you can tell this collection of individuals is braiding into a unit from which they will never untangle, regardless of where their lives take them from here. 

Meet the Crew


Service / Tour Manager

Will still sleeps New York bartender hours (read: very few, and never before 3am), and concocts the most delicious mocktails you’ll ever find on a farm. He manages to ooze both professionalism and goofiness in perfect balance, and can work a full farm dinner in a cream-colored sweater without staining it. I promise the latter is a more Herculean feat. 


Driver / Infrastructure Manager

Nolan is a lanky Santa Cruz native with a lackadaisical swagger who drives the truck and trailer with a film camera on the dash and a birding book on the center console, pointing out wildlife as we cruise down the freeway and beautiful plants as we wander through strange cities. 


Driver / Reception Manager

Lily is an effortlessly cool and exuberant young woman with countless adventure stories and a collection of refined skills that make her as suited to driving the trailers as she is to manning the reception kitchen (and maybe, if we’re lucky, one day whipping us up some croissants at an airbnb). 


Host / Marketing Coordinator

Megan is taking over my role as host for the year. While she is petite enough to necessitate that she stands on two boxes to get into the same photo frame as Jim during opening remarks, don’t let that sweet smile and small size fool you. She is strong as hell.


Front of House Manager

Rose may just be the kindest person you’ll ever meet. The service staff that she manages love her for the unshakable sense of calm and radiating positivity she brings into every service, from cold, dewy early mornings through to late nights loading the trailer. 


Expeditor / Kitchen Manager

Brent is my former teammate back for his second year as the Kitchen Manager and Expeditor. Last year, after a beach event grilling in ankle-deep tidewaters, one chef told me he executed dinner so well only because he felt metaphorically swaddled in Brent’s arms the whole time. I’ll just leave it at that.

 While watching this year’s crew find their footing on uneven ground over these past few weeks, I was constantly reminded of my first days on the road – the bruises up and down my forearms from carrying tables, days of layered sunburns from before I learned how often to reapply in the California sun, sore muscles from lifting and a raspy voice from yelling over ocean breezes. There were plenty of moments in those first few weeks when I asked myself, “what did I sign up for?” But I also remembered, in my bone-tired haze, the late nights rubbing aloe on each other’s backs to soothe those sunburns, laughing until I couldn’t breathe at my teammates’ faux-bickering in the front seat of the truck, the wonder I felt with each new site we visited, feeling unspeakably lucky to be able to set foot in some of the country’s most beautiful places – and then trusted to share that with hundreds of others. 

This week, the team left California for the PNW. This is the first major milestone of the tour, when the trailers fly the nest, the Watsonville warehouse is no longer a drive away to pick up lost supplies and there’s no option to call in reinforcements for difficult events without some extra planning and purpose. The team is embarking on their own, producing memorable experiences for hundreds of people each week – and countless unforgettable moments for themselves. I can’t help but feel so proud of them — and a little bit envious, if I’m being honest. There’s nothing like the joy, exhaustion, abundance and never ending challenge of being on tour.

In my last note, I talked about flow — that feeling of effortless immersion in the task at hand, a separation from oneself in service of a single task. That flow state is not easy to come by. It necessitates hours of practice and countless repetitions to burn a memory into tired muscles. That kind of ease only emerges from earned expertise, from a lot of painfully obvious effort. I’m watching this wonderful new crew tackle the same difficulties and excitement and the lack of understanding that I felt last year, and even now seems only to expand as I continue to wrestle with its margins. But I guess that is what mastery is all about — learning more and more of what you don’t know as you climb on top of what you’ve learned.

If you’re attending an event anytime in the near future, I hope you take the time to say hello to these folks, many of them mainly operating behind the scenes. They work really hard, and the work is endlessly rewarding because of people like you. Your presence at the table allows them to earn that expertise, to grow into a place where the effort becomes invisible, or at least a little harder to see.

—— Ariel

The Road Is A Great Romance

Here’s to beginning our next adventure.

Last week, I found myself driving myself up and down Highway 1 on a two-hour roundtrip in and out of Santa Cruz, sourcing some ingredients for an upcoming dinner. I relished in the gentle, joyful solitude of driving alone on this particular stretch of road. The windows were rolled down, the salt air still cool on the fresh breeze of spring. Frothy yellow and soft purple wildflowers, vibrant after weeks of heavy rains, skimmed up and down the hillsides.

I turned up the volume on the stereo, listening to the kind of country music I try not to admit that I like. It made for a romantic soundtrack, all about false loves and unrequited wanting, missed opportunities, and waking up on the wrong side of the sunrise. I had only my own thoughts for company, soft and rubbery as they wobbled through my mind. I couldn’t help but envision a movie’s opening credits as I propped my elbow on the sunny windowsill, hair blowing across my sunglasses. It would most certainly be a love story.

The open road — and the promise of freedom at the far end of it — is addicting. Ask anyone who has managed their way through a full season’s tour (or a few) and you’ll be able to see it in their eyes — at once wistful and a little bit war-torn. It’s hard, certainly. But the romance is real. Our truck is a little clubhouse, home of whispered secrets and long hours of good conversation, comfortable silences as we all gaze at the changing view and singalongs when the landscape gets mundane. It’s a special kind of intimacy, unmatched by many typical experiences. Being on the road together is about camaraderie, it’s about ritual — the gas station stops for special treats, assigning beds at the end of a long day, knowing which flavor of energy drink each person prefers, knowing when to chat and when to slip into silence on those long drives after long hours of work and truly no time alone.

Photo by: Neringa Sunday

Driving for hours on end requires a unique combination of stamina and long-ago-learned skill, a practiced focus and a release of oneself. It turns out, there is a name for this. It’s called a flow state. You hear about “flow” a lot from athletes and artists, when they are fully immersed in their work, with no distractions, often no sense of time, sometimes fully removed from their body. It’s a level of focus hard to find in our world today, with its constant notifications and never-ending inputs. I find one of the easiest ways to slip into it is by driving down the open road.

A really good event can also put you into a flow state — and not just as an individual, but as a team. Suddenly, service seems to become a ballet; food is ready at the exact right moment and you hit the table with wine just before those seated begin to think about wanting more. Waters stay full, supplies are under your hand when you reach for them, and walking paths remain clear. Everyone is working in perfect harmony, in complimentary motion.

Photo by: Neringa Sunday


Suddenly, the sun is setting and it’s time to break down. The event is over. Smiling guests are leaving, and you surface from the flow to realize it all happened in a gentle, perfectly choreographed blink. It’s cinematic; you can almost see the tracking shot along the table, showing a cheers here, a platter being served there, conversations surfacing from a general, joyful chatter. This movie, also, is a love story.

As with any great love, there will always be something to fight over — and the road will test you with everything it has. But, when the sun sets over the Bonneville Salt Flats or the Midwestern sky lights up with lightning from a summer thunderstorm, when the truck goes quiet not out of boredom with each other’s endless company, but in awe of the wonder of this world we get to travel, it’s easy to forget the struggles of every day and fall a little bit more in love with this life, again and again. To me, that is the greatest love story imaginable.

See you out there.

—— Ariel

How do you find your sites?

Sometimes, it’s not that easy

Towards the end of our time on the road last fall, we were lurking at the back gate of a ten-foot fence lined with bougainvillea, hoping no one would call the neighborhood watch, trying to figure out how to get into Wattles Farm. Could this even be the right place? Could there actually be a secret garden big enough to host an event for 150 people behind this wrought iron fence in a residential neighborhood at the mouth of Runyon Canyon? Toby, our event host, rounded the bend to find us. Her bird-like frame was draped in black, and she had a shock of white-gray hair framing oversized sunglasses that whispered old Hollywood. She took a few seconds to scan each of our sunburnt faces as she let us in through the gate, and declared, “well, I don’t recognize any of you. No wonder you don’t know what you’re doing here!” 

Little did we know as a first-time Tour Crew, but Wattles Farm Community Garden is one of those sites that feels a little bit like home to OITF veterans (before you go looking, it is not on the schedule for this year, sorry!) Hosts like Toby are as much a part of our team as the Crew itself, welcoming us into their homes and onto their land for the day or the weekend. Jim originally found Wattles when wandering around the neighborhood, staying at a friend’s place. Much like us, he peeked through the fence and wondered if there really could be a garden oasis tucked into the steep, crowded streets of Hollywood. So, he jumped the fence to find out for himself. 


Wattles Farm

The big reveal

When I welcome guests at each event, I get to watch them round the corner or come up the hill or down the stairs – whatever it may be – to catch their first view of the magical place where weve set table that day. Sometimes, they’ve been walking for ten minutes, winding through fields or orchards, drinking in the pastoral beauty of a place. Sometimes, they have just turned off the street, confused about where the farm they were promised may actually be. After spending the morning running around thinking about trailer placement and leveling tables, it often feels like I finally get to see the site for the first time through their eyes. So often, it feels like walking into a different world. Invariably, people break through that sense of wonder to ask, “how did you find this place?” Or, entrepreneurially, they think about their favorite farm, their friend’s land or even their own property and inquire, “how do you choose your sites?” 

As we always say, every site is unique – and their origin stories are equally so. The recipe for choosing our sites is one part logistics, a healthy seasoning of good relationships and a sprinkle of serendipity. Sometimes, that means jumping a fence and taking a chance on what’s on the other side.

Mapping out the tour

To balance out the magic of serendipity, we are always wrestling with the reality that we have one team and two trailers that have to drive everywhere we go. So, we start each year with a spreadsheet. We build our road trip schedule, making a point to get out of Southern California before the Santa Ana winds sweep up the hillsides. We get to the Midwest and Northeast just at that manic moment the peak late-summer produce makes the residents of those regions forget about the biting winds of March. We wait to hit the South until the sun releases some of its summer intensity, leaving us lightly baked but not totally burned by the end of the afternoon. We map long drives and try to predict where the Tour Crew will sleep (we try to give them enough time to do so). Then, we start filling in our farms.  

Everett Family Farm

The classics

There are some sites that we know we will go to each and every year: The bluffs above the Pacific at Markegard Family Grass Fed, where Doniga rides her horse through reception and her son Larry helps us shuttle tables on the ATV. Along the shore of the river at Everett Family Farm, where we try not to run over Rich’s sprinklers with the bus (but we’ve had to replace them more than once). The craggy shores of Lopez Island, the expansive mountain views of Lowry Ranch, the charming Midwestern farmers who make us feel at home. In Ohio, the Thaxtons cook breakfast for the crew and literally open their home to let us do laundry. We simply can’t pass that up, especially halfway through the summer (and the cross-country trek), when spirits can begin to sag and our bodies are aching but there is no end in sight. Then, there’s the Hickories, where the livestock guardian dogs serve as our alarm clocks and the farm crew stays late to share a toast to a job well done after dinner. Right before we make a big right turn on our route to head back west, there’s the otherworldly beauty of the golden hillside of Burnt Hill. We always stay for a few days, a welcome moment of stillness for the crew after the whirlwind of the Northeast. There’s Boggy Creek, where Carol and Larry talked Jim into doing just one more cross country tour in 2005; and the autumn olive harvest at Temecula Olive Oil Company, where Thom builds us a bonfire to gather around after dinner is cleaned up from the darkened groves.


The Thaxtons!

Discovering new locations

In addition to our old favorites, we like to add in something new each year in order to keep learning. Sometimes, this comes from you – a farmer at the table who insists we need to join them next time, down the road or across the state. Or, a guest sends an email because they just really love their local CSA farm and want to see them celebrated. When we hear these kinds of things, usually someone makes a visit to see the property in person.

Emily, our Events Director, was busy putting together the schedule this spring when she took a road trip through the Driftless region of Wisconsin. She just moved to the Midwest, and was excited to get to know its local lands a bit better as the bitter winter began to thaw. Driving through Viroqua, she discovered one of the densest concentrations of organic farms in the country – and the region’s local hype man, Luke Zahm. Luke also happens to be the executive chef of the Driftless Cafe, and all it took was one conversation for Emily to know we needed to work with him. “Chef [Luke] already feels like a homie. I want to hang out with him and his wife and just eat good food with them,” says Emily, when retelling her tale of discovery. Luke connected her to Andy Hatch at Uplands Cheese, a legend in the already legendary Wisconsin cheese world, and the planning started from there. It’s with that type of foundation that we can confidently invite you for dinner on a new farm with a new chef we’ve never worked with, because we know that they already have a story to tell. All we need to do is set the table to celebrate it.

We often hear from guests requesting events in places where an established personal connection doesn’t yet exist. Last year, when we were planning the 2022 tour, we knew we needed to add a dinner in the Carmel Valley, a nook of California wine country outside of Monterey where we always have more people that want to come to dinner than we even have seats at the table. So, we reached out to our California winemaking friends. A well placed recommendation led us to Tira Nanza, where Greg and Sydney welcomed us – perfect strangers at that point – with open arms to sleep outside their tasting room and take over a ridge of their ranch. Just before dessert, as the sun streaked the sky pink over the undulating hills, we sprinkled blush-colored rose petals along the table, a dramatic touch from our guest chef, Ben Spungin of Cella. The petals occasionally drifted into glasses of wine poured straight from the barrel, still too young to be bottled but specially poured for their first dinner with new friends. That’s the kind of magic we are always looking for, but we can’t just create ourselves. 

Tira Nanza

I have written in a note somewhere from tour a quotation from Jim;

“Everywhere we go could be considered on the way.”

Whether because a farmer gets a taste of our experiences and wants to connect or we pass by a magical corner of the world and meet someone kind enough to welcome us in, every stop we make is an opportunity to discover something more. If we’re lucky, we get to share it with you the following season. Every summer is a chance to visit old friends, make new ones, and set the table for countless celebrations of place and the people that make each one special.

I can’t wait to see what serendipity this season will bring.

—— Ariel

FIELD NOTES: Let’s Talk Business…

Let’s Talk Business…

There’s a moment at dinner, after opening remarks have been said and the farm tour walked, all the guests have been seated and greeted and poured wine and served their first course, when I sneak away – to go to the bathroom. 

Stay with me! 

I know it seems unconventional to talk to you quite so personally; and yes, there is some practical purpose to this (hydration is important on event day), but the bathroom trip is truly one of my favorite parts of the night. The cheerful, rolling chatter of the table fades away as you walk – sometimes a little farther than you may expect – down the path or around the corner or up some steps and across the yard – to the sweet little beige bathroom trailer tucked in a beautiful nook all its own. Suddenly, it’s quiet. Peaceful. A strong contrast from the boisterous crowd just minutes away. You may hear birds chatter, or notice the breeze in the trees, or finally catch the scent of the nearby dill plants wafting through the air. At Big Sur, a site full of breathtaking views in every direction, the view from the bathroom is my favorite of them all, because it’s the spot you have a chance to actually take it all in. That giddy, delicious, breathless feeling that follows most of the event gives way to a true sense of awe, a chance to really commune with the sense of a place. 

Sometimes, the bathroom isn’t set on a cliffside with a view of the ocean, but somewhere a bit more mundane. Regardless, the walk to it is always a chance to capture that moment, for the wonder of the day to soak in like a soothing balm on sunwarmed skin. In more ways than one, it is an absolutely integral part of the evening. 

“Regardless, the walk to it is always a chance to capture that moment, for the wonder of the day to soak in like a soothing balm on sun-warmed skin. In more ways than one, it is an absolutely integral part of the evening.” 

If you are a longtime guest of Outstanding in the Field, however, you may remember a very different bathroom experience. 

“The only complaint that I heard consistently on tour that we couldn’t take care of during the events was about the porta potties.” Austin Daly, who was on tour crew in 2018, spent the season trying to elevate the bathroom experience despite the fact that our restrooms were a far cry from the current situation. They were, in fact, porta potties. 

After buying lights and fans to make them more comfortable, picking flowers to dress them up and arranging them into a perfect semi circle on top of the mountain in Big Sur, Austin knew there had to be a better way. While driving his teammates across the country, he scheduled conversations with several luxury trailer builders, and he went into business. Daylee Business. 

Since then, Austin has followed our tour crew in his own truck, bringing his thoughtfully designed, lovingly maintained restroom trailers to almost every event. He tows them across ridgelines, through ravines, and along beach boardwalks. He walks the site, scouts the best locations (where they are subtly seen, not in the way, but not too far out of the way, and easy to access from both sides) and moves them between reception and seating to make sure they are always close by. In short, he creates an Outstanding restroom experience. 

Austin is an outlier in our crew structure; not on tour crew, but not quite a satellite either. Having been on tour crew, he finds the independence exciting. “I’m the only person I’m technically responsible for.” He says, “I can map out if I want to go to this state park or national park. I’m touring BBQ places. I want to go meet up with my friend here or go to the beach and swim. It is definitely a really cool way to run a business and get paid to, in essence, travel the country and speak to farmers and chefs and producers, even other staff.” 

After five years of being on tour, in one way or another, he is looking towards the next steps of his career. On his current travels across the Southern United States with our Winter Tour crew, he is doing some major research and development for a new trailer-based business, Florida Man BBQ. Austin explains, “to now be starting on this new venture, to take everything that I’ve learned and inherited, all of the knowledge that I’ve gained from being around all of these super cool chefs and farmers, picking up on what they do or how they do it, I’ve gained so much inspiration.” He hopes to pass the opportunity for this type of enriching experience onto others as he transitions out of his role on tour. “My goal is to hire people and pay them a good wage to do a good job and hopefully then set them up financially for something that they want to do,” Austin says. “That’s what you’re supposed to do as a business owner.” 

As with so many things, a powerful mission is inspiring, but what I love about these bathrooms is that they are simply very nice. They are air conditioned (heated when they need to be). The lighting is perfect for a pre-event selfie in the mirror. The signs to direct you to them are painted to match the style of our Outstanding in the Field dinner signs, so that they blend seamlessly into the rest of the event. Finally, they are full of countless thoughtful details: The True Green toilet paper is woman (and fellow Floridian) owned and made from bamboo and sugarcane (both highly renewable fiber crops), the paper towels are 100% recycled materials, the soap is all sourced from a certified B corp, and the essential oil sprays are pure Florida grapefruit and Oregon spearmint. Dried flowers decorate each stall, picked from our partner farms – a small nod to the old days of Outstanding bathrooms.

Often at our events, I have to convince people that they should take the trip to the bathroom. They always come back to tell me how wonderful they are. I am here to put it in writing, even if it feels a little bit far, it will be worth the walk. If you really want, take a selfie while you’re in there, and share it with us. Whatever you do, don’t forget to take a minute to take in the view. 

FIELD NOTES: A Love Letter to Our Guests

To our guests, a love letter. 

I know I’m supposed to be taking a break, but I have to pop into your inbox to say, hi. I miss you. 

As I finished dinner tonight, I looked down at my plate and I thought about yours. I love your plates – I love hearing why you brought them, where they came from, what they mean to you. I love seeing those vintage store finds, your wedding china you never get to use but brought to the dinner you planned as an anniversary surprise, the apple orchard themed plates that you painted for your first dinner fifteen years ago and you’ve brought to every one since. I get to know you through your plates, their endless variety and incredible backstories. My plates are terribly boring in comparison. They have nothing to say, it seems. 

Now that I’m home, I miss a lot about our events. I miss the dopamine rush when the level app on my iphone turns green to signal a level table (also, yes your iphone has a level built in and you’re welcome). I miss our early morning stretch circles with the satellites and the crazy icebreaker questions we come up with, although I miss those a lot less when I’m in my own warm bed at 6am. I miss the smell of woodsmoke when we fire up the grill midday. I miss the clink of your cheers when I’m up on the box during opening remarks. More than anything, I miss the soundtrack of dinner – the way the volume rises as the night goes on from polite chatter into a dull roar. I miss sitting down and hearing your stories, and I miss those nights when I walk the table and can’t even get a word in because you are too engrossed in good conversation with your dinner companions. Those are the nights I feel the most successful. 

We often talk about our dinners as the pieces of art that they are. There are so many aspects to that: the exact placement of the table so that it seems to grow right out of the environment, setting the stations perfectly so in order to make service seamless and keep the view stunning, timing everything so that it flows smoothly from greeting to goodbye. The wine is art as expression of place, and of course the dinner itself is a gift of talent from our chefs and our farmers, and the main event of it all. I love the perfect picture of the clean white table, I love getting to taste the amazing food and how it pairs with the wine, I love seeing everything that it took to grow it and I love getting served a perfect cocktail from a bar that seems to be falling off the mountainside. I love this collaborative art piece we get to build together. Even more than the art, though, I’m in love with the people. I’m in it for you – and I know I’m not the only one. 

You make these dinners what they are. The clean white table is great for those pictures, but it comes to life when you set your plates down, and all the meaning that they bring, to start the meal. Your laughter, your outfits, your stories, even the red wine stains leftover from some enthusiastic gesticulations during that story told over the third course — they make each event stand apart. When the crew talks about tour we talk about you like old friends, whether we’ve met you once or you come to every dinner. We wonder about your lives, what made you travel to see us, where you’ve been and where you’re going. Every once and a while, we would run into you the morning after an event at breakfast, or see you weeks later in a totally different city and get to hear your stories of the night you came to dinner. Those moments revived us, they reminded us why we do this work, why we try to build the impossible, why we work to make it perfect every time. It’s a love letter, really – take a look at the back of your menu the next time you dine with us, and read it as just that. A love letter to our farmers, our chefs, our producers and partners across the country and the world. Above all else, it is a love letter from all of us to you – because we could never do it without you, and we truly do it for you. Every time, every day, every platter served and plate washed. Every story we have from the road is really about you. 

“When the crew talks about tour we talk about you like old friends, whether we’ve met you once or you come to every dinner. We wonder about your lives, what made you travel to see us, where you’ve been and where you’re going.”

I wish I could have you all over to my house to relive your favorite moments from this summer. I would pour you tea and cook you dinner and listen for hours. I would step away, to grab dessert or a glass of wine, and I would hear that dull roar I’ve learned to listen for, the chuckle of a good story and the whisper of a close connection. I would invite the neighbors, because that’s what a good host is supposed to do. I know the meal would be good (certainly not as good as a farm dinner, but I can hold my own), but the company would be better. I hope that we would get into stories good enough to spill our wine. I hope that you would remember it fondly, maybe even tell your friends. 

Unfortunately, my dining room table is lacking enough room for us all, but I’m sending you cheers from across space and time. If you are reading this, please pour yourself a glass, from me. Better yet, invite someone over to share one with you, and tell them your favorite story. I hope that I run into you soon, and you can tell me too. I can’t wait to hear it. 




FIELD NOTES: Was it all a dream?

Was it all a dream?

I have a confession to make: I haven’t spoken to anyone in three days. 

Ok, that’s maybe not entirely true – I ordered coffee the last two mornings and I snuck to the fancy wine bar downtown for a glass and a snack last night. But generally, I’ve been sitting in a friend’s borrowed apartment watching Netflix and doing laundry. In checking in with my teammates (those five people I saw every day for the last six months who are now scattered across the country in various states of settling in post-tour) it seems like the general trend is one of hunkering down. Whether back home where they started or in a brand new city starting over, everyone is in deep recovery mode after six months on the road. 

Tour crew has been chasing the summer around to produce farm dinners. We’ve been living in eternal sunshine (with some pretty interesting tan lines to prove it) and operating completely in the moment. Whether we were following crowds during farm tour, evaluating dinner timing and plating, or mapping out the next drive, it was impossible to think much farther ahead than the next course, the next dinner, the next sunset over that distant horizon. Then, suddenly, we packed our bags and boarded planes that took us to different cities where we found ourselves on our own once again, no longer entangled with the schedules or needs of others, suddenly responsible for only ourselves. 

Meanwhile, across most of the country, it got cold! It’s decidedly fall – more dramatically so than expected, even after our last few dinners where we were sure to break out the fire pits and pass around blankets. Coastal California is strange that way; its weather only whispers of the season to come through the relative thickness of the morning fog that forces you into several layers, the slight weakening of the strength of the midday sunshine that causes you to strip down to shirtsleeves. It both shelters from the changing seasons and offers a little bit of each one throughout the day. I, however, came back to New England post-tour, which does not whisper but declares – sometimes quite loudly – that summer has come to an end. Where the trees were just dusting themselves in gold as we left our last East Coast dinners they are now standing naked in the wind, which seems to promise snow as it blows in after dark. The light during the day is decidedly blue, carrying none of California’s thick golden glow. It was (dare I say) shockingly dreary to come back to.

It’s a strange feeling to be winding down as everyone around you is gearing up for holiday festivities. I was still unpacking my bags as Thanksgiving approached, trying to remember standard meal times and recalibrate my sleep schedule. Everyone was asking about my plans and planning dinner parties, but I couldn’t help but think about how the last thing on my mind –  for the first time in many months – was a dinner party. I am writing this two weeks to the day after my last event, but the whole experience has already taken on the fuzzy glow of a distant dream, gilded in the thick golden light of a California sunset. It is not lost on me that I’ve spent the last season of my life helping to put together some of the most memorable moments of countless others’, to the point where it all kind of blends together. For each of us on tour crew, there are countless moments that stick out – Chef Trevor grilling watermelon in calf deep Atlantic tidewaters, crossing I-80 on foot to get to the Bonneville Salt Flats, the dinner our satellites cooked us at the Petaluma KOA, skunks eating our gummi bears at the campsite in Martha’s Vineyard, the Texas shaped waffles at that hotel in Austin, that sunset, that sunset, that sunset….somehow, even the remarkable moments start to become difficult to disentangle from each other. In working to create a dream for others a few times a week, it seems we built a bit of a dream world for ourselves – a collection of surreal moments shaped by six strangers brought together by their passion for food and farms, and their (mostly) unwavering commitment to making the most of the experience. 

For me, right now, making the most of the experience is drinking an espresso martini and eating takeout tiramisu in the hotel room I am sleeping in blissfully alone before moving into my new apartment tomorrow. As we move into the holiday season – a time full of unforgettable moments, and the pressure to make them so, may I share with you a little bit of perspective from the other side of it all. While the grand dinners are wonderful, and those major celebrations certainly matter, some of the sweetest moments are those in between. So, if you find yourself on  a coffee run for those up early cooking the holiday meal, or zoned out on the couch with an anonymous sports game chattering in the background, or spending the day alone by choice or by circumstance, I encourage you to look up and enjoy it. If you’re at a gathering, take in everyone around you. Catch a candid smile as they are deep in conversation, or a wistful gaze across the room as they try to catch a loved one’s eye. If you’re alone, breathe in the invitation of this season: to turn in, to slow your pace, to hunker down. Knowing that, you are far from alone. There are at least six other people out there, scattered around the country, sleeping in and savoring the quiet of an empty room. 

While our dinners are on break for now, I invite you to host your own gatherings – whether they be for many or for just one or two – to celebrate the beauty of this particular season, its hearty bounty, and those gathered with you to take it in, together. We’ll be back in the New Year with opportunities to escape the cold (have you seen the winter tour schedule?), but for now, embrace it. Don’t let those memorable moments pass you by, they’re easy to miss in the thick of it all. 

— Ariel