It seemed like our summer really slipped away from us this year. Little did we know an Indian summer was going to slap us across the face. I’m not complaining. I have had lunch outside five times already this month. And might I remind you that it is NOVEMBER!
Looking back on those dog days, one of my favorite nights was when we did Outstanding in the Field with my in-laws in August. If you haven’t heard of this yet, check it out immediately. It was such a great experience unlike anything I have ever done. I mean, GQ wrote about it for god's sake.
The concept is simple at its core: a traveling dinner party where guests enjoy the local produce and livestock right there on the farm’s land. Imagine a long table setup in the middle of the farm for an “open-air feast in celebration of the farmer and the gifts of the land.”
Those are the words of founder, Jim Denevan, who started Outstanding in the Field fifteen years ago in Santa Cruz, CA. Since then, him and his team have held over 600 dinners during 12 coast-to-coast tours of North America in all 50 states as well as 10 other countries. They have served over 80,000 people. No big deal.
We had been looking forward to this dinner all summer. But the drive there left much to be desired. It was a torrential downpour. (To see rainfall affecting more major life events for me, see here and here.) But, as fate would have it, the clouds drifted apart and the sun set on the farm.
When we arrived, the table was setup under a tent in an S-curve. Ten minutes prior to the seated dinner, the entire staff moved the tables and chairs out from under cover and into the sunlight. This is how important the experience is to this crew. They dropped everything and moved a table set for 200 people over 20 yards. And I’m so glad they did.
This dinner took place at Kinnikinnick Farm in Caledonia, IL, right below the border of Wisconsin. The farm actually started in Chicago before couple David and Susan Cleverdon moved it out to Northern Illinois. They still sell to many Chicago restaurants and are at the Green City Market in the city. They grow all organic produce ranging from greens to tomatoes to root vegetables. And they recently started raising poultry and pork.
They are a Feather Down farm as well. What the hell is that, you say? (As did I.) It’s true glamping (not like bougie Dairymen's as I described it). They are the cutest little permanent canvas tents you can rent for as little or as long as you’d like. Talk about a great way to unplug and get back to the basics. And it doesn't just sound cool to me because they have a wood-fired pizza oven and host pizza-parties every Saturday. That has nothing to do with it at all.
As we arrived we were served Moody Tongue lemon saison and the best Lambrusco I have ever had (Fiorini Lambrusco Corte deglia Attimi from Emilia-Romagna, to be exact).
The delightful servers passed a series of appetizers. My favorite being the sungold tomato gazpacho, made with tiny tomatoes from right there on the farm.
We then took a tour around the farm with the owners and learned all about their approach to growing vegetables and raising livestock. They put everything they have into this place, and you can feel it surrounding you.
From there we found our place at the giant winding table. Each guest can either bring their dishes from home, or the farm will provide them for you. This seems like a small detail, but it makes for a gorgeous and eclectic scene. (We went with minimalist glass. So chic.)
They started us with grilled chicken and arugula salad (both from the farm) with carrots, grean beans and a lemon vinaigrette. You could taste each and every bit of this salad. The light dressing let the ingredients sing. And they sang like Adele. This was paired with an amazing Italian white wine (2013 Gini Soave Classico from Veneto).
Next we experienced Chef’s Spanish focus, much like his cuisine at Vera. He served us roasted chorizo with grilled tropea onions and a romesco sauce. Elizabeth poured us an incredible light, chilled red (2013 Centonze Frappato from Sicily) that was perfection.
The main course was another Spanish specialty: ropa vieja. This dish was braised beef from Iowa with peppers, chilies, red wine and spices, all served over polenta and Kinnikinnick kale. We washed that one down with a Chianti from Tuscany (2013 Dievole Chianti Classico from Tuscany).
Last but not least, a simple rice pudding with Mick Klug Farm blueberries and marcona almonds. You guys! So bomb. It sounds like my worst nightmare (dessert + fruit), but it was incredible.
STUFFED AND HAPPY!
We literally broke bread with a bunch of strangers in the middle of a sun-soaked farm and it was amazing. The food was delicious, simple and well-executed. The setting couldn’t be beat. It was so beautiful, and I would do it again in a minute.
This post is in no way sponsored by Outstanding in the Field. It is, rather, sponsored by the Puder family, who so graciously took John and I to this fabulous dinner. Thanks Senior and Lindsey! You are so good to us.