Outstanding in the Field is one of the most unique and enjoyable dining experiences you can be a part of. Founded in 1999 by Jim Denevan in an attempt to connect people to the farms that grow their food, it is the ultimate farm to table experience. Each year the OITF folks travel across the country partnering farms with local chefs and literally making magic happen almost every evening.
We have been fortunate to experience many of these dinners, predominantly in Connecticut, but in California and Montana as well. The schedule and opportunity to buy tickets become available in March, and it is best to purchase your tickets then. These events sell out quickly. The price per person is expensive, but it is all inclusive of food, wine, and an unforgettable experience.
This past Wednesday my husband, youngest son and myself, along with 20 of our friends, traveled to Ridgefield CT to The Hickories to where we enjoyed incredible food brought to us by Chef Dan Sabia, and even better atmosphere. OITF does a remarkable job of pairing chefs and farms so that you can go year after year and the experience is always different.
We worked our way to the entrance of The Hickories, which is a visually spectacular organic farm headed up by Dina Brewster and her passionate staff. Coupled with the enthusiastic and always effervescent OITF folks, the evening was destined to be a success. These events go on rain or shine, and Wednesday night had a threat of rain, but in the end the weather held. While it didn’t rain, it was unpleasantly hot and humid.
The events generally start at around 3 pm with drinks and passed appetizers. Everything (almost) is sourced either from the farm itself, or in close proximity.
Aside from local Nod Hill beer, and California Coterie wine, there was Bourbon from Litchfield Distillery . The specialty cocktail of the evening was the Campfire, which was especially potent when combined with the excessive temperatures, so it was wise to alternate with glasses of water.
The setting couldn’t have been more idyllic.
We positioned ourselves to take advantage of the appetizers. The clear winner was the toasted bread with bone marrow and burnt onion salsa.
Chef Dan Sabia cooked the entire dinner over a wood fire, and the smoky aspects were present throughout; sometimes subtle, sometimes bold.
After drinks and light appetizers. the crowd gathered to hear welcome remarks from Jim Denevan. He is still intimately involved with every aspect of these events 20 years later. Unfortunately the eye-catching OITF bus was off being repaired. It’s logged a lot of miles.
Our first stop on the farm tour was to visit the sheep. They are cared for like pets, and their wool is used to create all kinds of projects which are then sold on the farm. The sheep themselves ultimately end up on your plate, but they are well taken care of up until that point.
We learned about what was currently planted on the farm, and worked our way past the table to Dina Brewster’s current passion project.
Everyone stopped to photograph the table which is like a work of art. 200 people are able to dine together under the open sky.
We were led to the Pollinator Pathway, an initiative to provide a safe habitat to birds, insects and bees by reintroducing the plant life that is native to CT. The hope is that they can then thrive and multiply. The Hickories has been integral in the state in getting this project started.
After a brief education from Dina and her adorable son, we were led to the table at approximately 5:45 pm.
Passing by the fire pits, we were tantalized by the cooking process.
Once seated we were anticipating the dishes coming our way. Everything is served family style and there are plenty of options for people with dietary restrictions.
That may look like a lot of butter, but it disappeared quickly, slathered on both the bread and the radishes.
Even the olives had the benefit of the wood smoke.
The grilled salad of radicchio topped with pecorino, garlic bread crumbs and anchovy vinaigrette was a winner.
We were lucky to be able to enjoy mounds of summer’s last heirloom tomatoes. The tomatoes combined with grilled peaches and smoked tomato vinaigrette was like summer in a bowl.
The whole roasted sea trout was absolutely delectable, perfectly cooked and just slightly smoky. The eggplant and squash that accompanied it were freshly picked and grilled.
There was plenty of lamb to go around. I couldn’t eat those adorable critters we had met earlier in the evening, but that didn’t stop most everyone else. The grilled shishito peppers were mild for the most part, but a friend ended up with an incendiary one.
Dessert was a fanciful creation of grilled peaches, burnt meringue and cake crumbs topped with hot honey. The meringue was addictive!
As night fell, it got cooler and Chef Dan made his way around the table to a big round of applause. He thanked his staff and the guests, and we showed our appreciation as well. It was another amazing event in the books! We are already looking forward to next year. If you have any interest, I would advise signing up to be on their mailing list, or following them on Instagram @out_inthefield so you don’t miss your chance to get tickets.