FIELD NOTES: To Nourish and Delight

A little slice of life on the road through the eyes of tour crew members.
Written by: Ariel Knoebel
Main image from October 21, 2019 | Bisbee Community Table in Bisbee, Arizona

Aug 25, 2023

“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

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