EDIBLE ICONS: BIG SUR BLISS

Globe-trotting farm dinner series
shines a light on local land preservation

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Range to table: Chef Brett Cooper with beef grazed and cooked on site at Glen Deven Ranch.

PHOTOGRAPHY BY CAMILLA M. MANN

“This is the one. Maybe the best OITF event ever!” reads the caption for the photo that Outstanding in the Field posted on Instagram about its epic dinner at the Big Sur Land Trust’s Glen Deven Ranch late last fall. “The day, the place, the people, the food…it really was as good as it gets.”

Jim Denevan, the Santa Cruz chef and artist who founded OITF, admits that he almost regretted making the statement. “I’ve never said that before—best event ever—because I don’t like to think there’s a hierarchy of events.”

Still, the caption remained. And chef Brett Cooper of San Francisco’s Aster, the featured chef at the Glen Deven Ranch dinner, echoes the sentiment. “The weather was so perfect. There was no wind. It was beautiful and warm and sunny. Everything played out perfectly. Everything went right.”

Denevan created OITF in 1999, when the idea of a culinary event on a farm or ranch—at the source of the food—was still novel. He wanted to connect guests with their food by setting outdoor, communal tables right on the farms, where participating farmers, chefs and food artisans could be showcased and brought closer to the general public.

Over the past 17 years and for nearly a thousand events, OITF has set its table in all 50 states and in a dozen countries around the world, from Japan to Mexico. While many individual farms host farm-to-table events, OITF is the only farm-to-table dinner organizer that is international in scope, and its dinners are now held in a variety of natural settings.

Chef Brad Briske of Home restaurant in Soquel, who regularly cooks for onsite farm dinners all around the Monterey Bay region, has served as chef at three different OITF events over the years. “It’s a great concept… and a great name,” he says, admitting that for a chef it’s grueling.

“That second dinner, we hiked everything we needed a quarter mile in, across dunes, to this secret cove. It was a crazy experience,” he recalls. “That night I did 60 whole fried fish and gazpacho. But, at the end, I got a standing ovation and I have to admit that was cool.”

In the case of the Glen Deven Ranch event, 120 guests as well as staff from the organizers and participating purveyors—including Corral de Tierra Cattle Co., Kunin Wines, Fort Point Beer Co. and TwoXSea — converged high atop a coastal ridge between Carmel and Big Sur to create a restaurant without walls. OITF didn’t name the spot in advance on its website, but described it as an extraordinary secret setting: “Every direction is majesty—ocean, forest, grassland, 360-degree views; it’s all here.”

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Top Left: OITF founder Jim Denevan at left, with chef Brett Cooper

“Fog produces a good quality
grass, and grazing animals
create vivacious ecosystems and
reduce fire fuel.”

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Glen Deven Ranch is part of the more than 40,000 acres conserved by the Big Sur Land Trust. Donors Dr. Seeley Mudd and Virginia Mudd bequeathed the 860-acre property to the land trust in 2001 with the dream of sharing it with others and inspiring conservation, goals that aligned perfectly with the land trust’s mission. Throughout the summer, the ranch hosts youth nature camps which are attended largely by teens from the Salinas Valley. “For many this is their very first opportunity to connect with land and nature, to sleep under the stars, to enjoy quiet time and consider the possibilities,” says Jeannette Tuitele-Lewis, the land trust’s president and CEO.

The land trust has also maintained the ranch tradition of partnering with Glen Deven’s neighboring community. The ranch serves as an emergency way station for the residents of Palo Colorado during fires and floods. In fact, from where the tables were set for the OITF event, we could see the jagged fire lines that were hand-cut to prevent last summer’s Soberanes Fire from consuming the entire hillside.

“The ranch was integral in defending the canyon during the fire. You can see the drastic, beautiful, scary power of fire. It’s a reminder that we are vulnerable,” Tuitele-Lewis says.

Against that dramatic backdrop, Cooper and his team served eight different dishes, including Devoto Orchards Arkansas black apples with smoked Klingman Ranch pork belly; Laguna Farm Forono beets with Flying Disc Ranch dates, olives, pecans, and preserved Hamada Farms Meyer lemons; and smoked TwoXSea black cod salad with First Light Farm fennel, Hamada Farms mandarins, and shiso.

It was especially moving for Cooper to be able to prepare two beef dishes—a tartar and one that was grilled—with meat provided by Corral de Tierra Cattle Co., which grazes animals at the very ranch where the dinner took place. “I was overcome by the beauty of the wonderful history—the story of the ranch and the generations of people running cattle in Big Sur,” Cooper says.

Mark Farr, the rancher behind Corral de Tierra Cattle Co., says grazing cattle at coastal Glen Deven Ranch is good for both the cattle and the land. “Fog produces a good quality grass, and grazing animals create vivacious ecosystems and reduce fire fuel,” Farr says.

Passion on the part of all the participants was clearly evident—Denevan’s mission to bring producers and consumers to the same table; the culinary creativity that earned Cooper a Michelin star within one year of opening Aster; Farr’s dedication to producing high-quality grassfed beef while embracing sustainable land stewardship; and the Big Sur Land Trust’s commitment to preserving and sharing the beauty of all its holdings.

Even the diners displayed remarkable determination to be there. More than a few people flew from out of state to attend. “We barely made it,” I overheard one man say in the shuttle bus to the ranch. “Our flight from Chicago was delayed and then we hit traffic on the way from the airport.” People drove from the Los Angeles area that afternoon; one couple making a weeklong vacation out of their trip booked two back-to-back OITF events for while they were in the area.

Having only been to one OITF event, I can’t say whether it was the best event ever. But there certainly was some alchemy on that bluff that evening. The fog started to roll in as we sat down for our first course. But it stayed at bay for the duration of the dinner, allowing us to revel in the drama of the coastline and witness the sun transform the sky into a vibrant persimmon orange as it dipped into the Pacific Ocean. It was magical.

Camilla M. Mann is a food writer, photographer, adventurer and passionate cook. She blogs at culinary-adventures-with-cam.blogspot.com and lives in Seaside.


THE BIG SUR LAND TRUST WANTS YOU

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BSLT staff and friends: Matt Millea, Rachel Saunders, Jeannette Tuitele-Lewis, Amber Sanchez Leon, Kate Mitchell Mehle and Todd Farrington

The Big Sur Land Trust recently acquired 73 acres in Salinas’ Carr Lake Basin and is eager to work with the community to create a longawaited central park.

Land lovers and conservation enthusiasts can support the land trust’s mission in a number of ways, such as becoming members, contributing funds to replant redwoods, and including the land trust in their estate plans. In return, members receive special access to attend events and hike on certain lands preserved by the land trust.

Business owners can partner with the land trust to sponsor community events such as local hikes and donor-appreciation events.

Big Sur Land Trust
bigsurlandtrust.org


DINING IN THE FIELD

Outstanding in the Field will release its 2017 tickets for sale on the first day of spring, March 20. Prices will range from $215 to $320 per person.

If you want to meet and support local farmers by dining on a Monterey Bay area farm while spending less money, be sure to read the EMB weekly newsletter throughout spring and summer to stay informed about upcoming farm dinners hosted by the farms themselves. Outstanding in the Field (OITF) events, however, can get you into places you might otherwise never go—such as Glen Deven Ranch, and its events are known for consistently stellar chefs and high-quality participating purveyors and service. The events are open to the public, but demand is high and tickets sell out fast.

Through May and June, OITF will be setting tables at farms up and down California. After the 4th of July weekend, the OITF crew hits the road to tour North America before returning to California in November for a few end-of-season events.

Outstanding in the Field
outstandinginthefield.com

 

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