Even if you throw huge dinner parties for a living, as we do, it’s not every day you see a single table set for 220 people. On the top of a remote mountain surrounded by vineyards. But Jim Denevan, founder of Outstanding in the Field, does this for a living, traveling to remote, always stunning locations across America (and now Europe), outsourcing food and spirits to one night only partners. They rarely, if ever, visit the same location twice, or work with the same chefs and vintners.
We’ve always wanted to do an Outstanding event, and thanks to our good friends at Flowers Vineyards & Winery, we were afforded this opportunity on June 23. Outstanding handles all the logistics, from choosing the location to picking up the last dessert spoon, but the task of pulling off a remarkable, locally sourced menu that does justice to these truly outstanding locations falls to culinary talent working without a net, with no refrigeration and only the most basic cooking implements (think fire).
Camp Meeting Ridge Vineyards, where Flowers Vineyard & Winery is located, is on the Extreme Sonoma Coast on the top of a rolling mountainous range two miles above the Pacific. When an unexpected heat wave made their original choice of location, which Flowers had spent weeks grooming, untenable, they took it in stride, relocating a 300' long, single sinuous table to a graceful setting under an oak tree grove whose boughs dipped and dived over the heads of bemused, but now happily shaded diners. Earlier in the day, when the Barndiva team arrived at Camp Meeting Ridge (elevation 1150') in a refrigerated truck, Ryan, Andrew, Jordy, Lukka and Cathryn were met by a dozen or more OITF staff beneath two spacious tents, adjacent to four long charcoal grills. As the evening progressed it increasingly felt like the last night extravaganza of a foodie summer camp. If the group had broken out in song midway through the four hour dinner service (more Celebrate than Kumbaya) no one would have been surprised. It's obvious that for OITF pulling off a great event every time has to be, first and foremost, chill for all the participants. While that starts and ends with the guest list, it happily includes chefs and vintners who cannot help but be inspired by the hip professionalism of OITF's team of expediters and servers.
In honor of that spirit, here then is an album of the evening as viewed from BOH. From the oohs and ahhs reported by the servers who scaled dark hillocks loaded with groaning platters, I'm happy to report the food was a success; for anyone fascinated with the speed and timing and smallest details of food production, the real action was down in the tents, redolent with grilled duck smoke, sounds of laughter, the pulling of numerous corks, low recitations of the ingredients and purveyors of each dish headed up to diners.
First Up: As the OITF bus ferried diners to the tasting room lawn, Flowers poured copious amounts of their Rosé, while Barndiva began the evening with a modern take on a precolonial cocktail, Fleurette @ Flowers, a collaboration with New Alchemy Distilling. Canapés consisted of lemon verbena infused watermelon cubes, Dungeness crab tostadas, deep fried goat cheese croquettes sprinkled with lavender flowers and honey, and Scotty Noll's caviar crème fraîche black pepper panna cotta cups .
Fleurette @ Flowers featured New Alchemy's Arborist gin, pink grapefruit juice, BD Farms rosemary honey, In Pursuit of Tea's Jasmine Pearls, and clarified whole milk. It was finished with Fleurette gin and garnished with bachelor buttons from the Barndiva gardens.
Following a 2nd course of Bernier Farms baby gem lettuce Caesar (plated in the refrigerated truck), the 3rd course was grilled "ratatouille," with rosemary brushed romesco sauce, green and gold squash, roasted tomatoes, garlic sherry vinaigrette, vibrant basil pistou and Pennyroyal Farm's delicious Laychee sheep and goat milk cheese (milked and made in Boonville, the heart of the Anderson Valley. Laychee is Boontling for milk.)
4th course was Liberty Farms grilled duck breast and legs, served on a mount of stone ground polenta, finished with Barndiva pickled ramp bulbs, fresh chives and a glistening stream of roasted Flowers Pinot Noir duck jus. Grilled halibut and vegetarian entrées were also provided.
All hands were on deck for the dessert course of Russian River Farms macerated strawberries, Scott Noll's brown butter financier cake, cream quenelles, and a light sprinkling of lavender, lemon zest, bachelor buttons and black pepper.
A big shout out to the OITF staff, especially ace expediter Matt. To Chantal and all the folks at Flowers Vineyard & Winery, you rock it, especially Jake Whiteley (and I’m not just talking wine). To Ryan and Andrew, for the planning, organization, prep, cooking and presentation, wow, what a meal, accomplished with the same finesse you manage in the Barn and the Bistro. Caps off to Jordy, in charge of the fires, who remained extremely cool under Chef's steely glare while managing to keep four enormous charcoal grills to an exact temp before the “fire duck now!” order went down.
Lukka had the most arduous and greasy jobs of the event: driving the precariously loaded truck from Healdsburg up the 18% Meyers Grade without spilling the jus, then jumping into the heart of the smoke when Jordy and Andrew just could not handle the number of duck breasts and legs that had to hit the heat at the same time. Our restaurant manager Cathryn was everywhere, as she is here at the Barn: mordantly funny but a dead calm participant. Last but certainly not least, a huge thank you to New Alchemy Distilling's Jason and Chandra Somerby. When OITF asked us to provide a celebratory libation to start the evening we wasted no time roping them in to help. They not only devised the kick ass cocktail (a two day process to clarify the milk tea infusion until it was crystal clear, thank you Isabel!), they somehow managed to serve it chilled without breaking a sweat.
While I have only been a watcher to the entire process (not counting a 6am bachelor button harvest for the cocktail garnish), the OITF event with Flowers has been an unmitigated delight. There are so many complicated pieces to serving great food to large groups and family-style is not our usual approach, but oh how we love its abundance, and the joy of watching everyone dig in. While the beauty of each course did not suffer for the speed at which the platters needed to be assembled, the flavors sang a beautiful song of summer in this time and place.
We were all pretty exhausted by the time it was growing dark and we hauled out huge containers of macerated strawberries for a financier shortcake, but it presented a final perfectly syncronated moment for the Barndiva team: Andrew forming perfect vanilla whip cream quenelles, Jordy sprinkling lavender flowers, Ryan grinding black pepper, Cathryn grating lemon zest (lightly, no rind!), Lukka sprinkling blue cornflowers. It did not matter we were on top of a mountain, what I saw in their teamwork was analogous to what we do everyday here at the Barn. Great food is the product of great producers and chefs who are inspired and, yes, obsessive to every detail - wherever that food is served. The Outstanding in the Field event with Flowers on June 23rd was an Eat the View moment to remember.
Wish you were there.