The food caravan is coming to town, folks. Step right up for your tickets to a dinner worthy of anyone's bucket list. A few upcoming events in the Midwest still have seats available. But not for long. (The Bailey's Harbor, WI dinner sold out just a minute ago.)
I'm talking about Outstanding in the Field, the organization that stages farm-to-table dinners in idyllic outdoor settings often connected to the meal. They travel the country in their '53 Flxible Transit Bus, collaborating with local chefs and farmers to create an evening that is like a red wine reduction sauce -- a sensory experience made richer by what is taken out, not what is put in. They remove the barriers between farmer, grocer, restaurateur, chef, and diner. And by the end of this season, they will have set the table in all fifty states and many countries as well.
I think the story of Outstanding in the Field attracts me because of the rather roundabout way the founder, Jim Denevan, conceived of his idea. Years ago, Denevan worked as a chef and on the side, hung out at the beach drawing intricate patterns in the sand that lasted until the tide came in. He called these temporary canvases "environmental art", and his restaurant job financed them. As time went by, his kitchen expertise grew as did his installations, becoming so large and so ambitious that they could be most appreciated in an airplane, far above.
Where does one go with these vastly different skill sets? Incredibly, if you are Jim Denevan, you go to a hidden cove, set a table on the beach within the swirls of your art, invite a local chef to prepare the local ingredients, and then invite 150 guests to bring a plate and an appetite for a different kind of meal.
Denevan's creative practice taught him how to understand a landscape -- its curves, angles, elevations and materials. He can site a table the way a great architect can site a house. His restaurant experience gave him the tools to use a plot of land in a new way.
And most importantly, I believe that his finely tuned artistic sensibilities helped him realize the potential of his idea. To expand from a few good dinners in an apple orchard into a busload of employees, a calendar of dates, countless empty plates and wood tables, and fifty states, takes some outsized ambition. But what do you expect from an artist whose sand art is the size of two football fields. He knows how to scale up.
So let this be a lesson. If you love what you are doing, that is enough. You are not God or your mother. You have no crystal ball and you cannot guess the future significance of today's endeavors. Just be and do and learn. And eat. Don't forget that one. Eat here.
Images courtesy of Outstanding in the Field.