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din farmdinJim Denevan opens his nationwide Outstanding in the Field tour in Davenport

Reconnecting inquiring diners with the land and its harvests, Jim Denevan is on the verge of launching the 15th season of al fresco grazing known as Outstanding in the Field.

The 2014 tour begins here at home on May 18 at Swanton Berry Farm (chef Denevan himself at the helm), and ends up in December at Pie Ranch near Pescadero.

In between, Denevan, his crew and the nomadic al fresco kitchens will explore fields up and down California, into Oregon and Washington, then east across Wyoming and the Dakotas to the East Coast, and back.

Many of these events are sold out, but some still have places at the table, including the tour’s season opener on May 18.

During a recent Q&A, OITF founder Jim Denevan, former Gabriella chef and a renowned environmental artist, told me how he views the upcoming farm-to-table/table-to-farm dining experiences that have amazed roving gourmets all over the U.S. and beyond.

GT: On the eve of your fifteenth season, are there still big challenges?

JIM DENEVAN: The team is so experienced now, they’ve stood out in a lot of fields. We’ve done 650 dinners, in nine countries and 45 states.  It’s taken off where we can go to North Dakota and have a full table.

Given your success, others have imitated your template. What do you think of that?

I expected more of this kind of thing to pop up, yes. To popularize a category of cultural experience, like these field dinners, others really have to be doing it, too.  It’s nice when they do their own version of it. I’m a student of culture and of enjoying good food and the outdoors. It seemed like the “food as culture” idea was in the air.

Who are your diners?

We have a lot of regulars now, folks who join us for seven or eight events a year. We call them “field heads,” because they want to try the unpredictable places—not just the two coasts. Our tables are from all over, not just locals. It’s a mix of people who want to see what’s happening in the area. The “food as culture” movement is as strong everywhere else in the country as it is in California.

Do you have your own favorite locations?

The eccentric ones. There’s place in Pennsylvania, Culton, where the farmer grows these exotic vegetables. He’ll get up on the table to talk about the dishes. I always love the places with the quirky backstory.

Does it feel like homecoming to be here?

I’m very connected here. It’s fun to have my brother here at the table. And at the very end of the season, we’re at Pie Ranch, which is really steeped in Santa Cruz warmth. If it’s not windy, we’ll be at the Coastways site on the cliff, overlooking the beach. If there’s wind, we’ll be under the Monterey cypresses. I’ll go out there in advance, walk around the fields, and look around. That’s really a fun process, just being out in the land and looking around, seeing what’s coming and what we can harvest for the dinner.


Tickets for Outstanding in the Field events start at $180 per person (plus a service fee) which includes a reception with wine and passed appetizers, four courses with wine pairings, all gratuities, talks with grower, winemaker and chef, and a tour of the farm.

Kudos to Discretion

Discretion Brewing just won a gold medal at the 2014 World Beer Cup, in the category of English-style Mild Ale. The award-winning brew is called Song in Your Heart, a sentiment perhaps induced by the thirst-quenching liquid itself. Congratulations to Brewmaster Michael Demers. Hoist something award-winning over at Discretion, located at 2703 41st Avenue in Soquel.

Christina Waters was born in Santa Cruz and raised all over the world (thanks to an Air Force dad), with real-world training in journalism, painting, music, woodworking, winetasting, trail running, reiki, organic gardening, and teaching. She has a PhD in Philosophy, teaches in the Arts at UCSC and sings with the UCSC Concert Choir.

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