From Farm to Table (Without Leaving the Farm)


Carter Pettit

Five years ago, we hosted our first Outstanding in the Field dinner. It was Jim Denevan and Company's first nationwide tour of holding dinners in, or adjacent to, farmers' fields. Since 1999 with dinners all over California, he has taken the chef and the diners to the field, instead of luring them to the restaurant. A wonderful concept. The dinners include local food and wine and a tour of the host farm by the farmers. Hard to do that in a restaurant!

The guests tend to come from other areas of the country, following Outstanding in the Field dinners like fellow gypsies, year
to year.

In 2005, Denevan called and asked us if we could host one on short notice as the farmer who had promised a farm in the Hill Country had to cancel. Someone told him, "Call Boggy Creek; they are up for anything."

And we were. Of course, our farm is located in the bottom land of Old East Austin, not quite as bucolic as anywhere in the Hill Country, but we were accommodating just the same. So with only a few days notice, we were able to persuade 35 diners to be in on the experiment. Other producers (cheese, meat, wine) were invited as well. It was too short notice to entice a local chef to do the cooking, so sand artist Denevan cooked the local pork and our vegetables in our farmhouse kitchen. We recruited helpers to assist in shelling pecans, waiting tables, and washing dishes. It was a wonderful evening for the diners, if not the helpers. The food ran out before the helpers got an end-of-the-event chance at it....

The next year, Denevan wanted to do a make-it-better encore, and of course we said yes. Still couldn't drum up more than 35 diners, but we did get the wonderful chef at Lake Austin Spa and Resort, Terry Conlan, to create the meal from local ingredients.

Denevan and his group travel by bus, and they parked it under our pecan trees. They tended to spend their nights down on Sixth Street, Austin's "live music capital of the world," and the days arranging for the supplies for the dinner.

After the dinner, Denevan borrowed my string mop and headed to Boggy Creek, which lies across the road from the farm. The creek bed has been encased in concrete for 30 years, and Denevan wanted to try out some concepts of mopping out a painting using water on concrete creek beds, such as those found in Los Angeles. Like his sand drawings, these works of art would be photographed for permanence, as the tide soon erases the sand drawings and the sun cruelly eradicates the water art within moments.

Denevan couldn't attend the two dinners we had this October, so I don't know how his Los Angeles art turned out. But since local food is now the rage, as it was definitely not in 2005 and 2006, we were able to attract over 100 guests at each dinner.


Carol Ann Sayle

La Condesa's chef, Rene Ortiz, spent Saturday night camping out at the farm, tending to two pigs butterflied on easels over an oak fire. This toasted image greeted the diners Sunday evening, adding a bacchanalian flare to the dinner even before a single glass was poured.

The tables stretched along the back vegetable field, with the Outstanding in the Field bus holding court at the far end. The guests tend to come from other areas of the country, following OitF like fellow gypsies, year to year. And while it is unusual for them to hold two dinners at the same farm within just a few days, the second dinner, sans the ceremony of two pigs over a campfire, was another big success. James Holmes, of Olivia fame, used Gulf Coast shrimp, Thunder Heart Bison, and Loncito's lamb, plus our vegetables to wow the crowd. The weather agreed to be nice for both dinners, as is its custom in October.

The next day, the bus departed for California and the end of the North American tour, leaving diners thinking about booking next year's farm dinners. Local food on a local farm has its allure, it seems.