There are some events where the meal is good despite a shabby setting. And other meals where the atmosphere dominates the menu. Then there are the rare dinners where the environment, the company, and the food is so gorgeous and delicious it all feels like a magazine airbrushed fantasy. Enter Outstanding in the Field.
Outstanding in the Fieldis the brainchild of Jim Denevan, a chef, artist and onetime forced farm laborer (courtesy of his big brother). In 1999 while living and working in Santa Cruz, CA, Denevan got the idea to bring diners, their meal, and chefs closer to its origins by dining on a farm. After all, what could be more gorgeous than dining al fresco in the Santa Cruz redwoods? Well, perhaps Ayrshire Farm in Upperville, VA. Outstanding in the Field hosted three dinners over Labor Day weekend at the historic Ayrshire Farm. Chefs for the dinners featured local talent such as Bryan Moscatello of Zola and Potenza and Robert Townsend from Ayrshire Farms. We specifically selected the Sunday evening dinner for its chef: Anthony Chittum of Vermillion.
As a square-state kid, I’ve set foot on a farm or two in my day. So heading through the rolling verdant countryside of Virginia, I was anticipating a bucolic, natural setting mingled with an honest days work that only a working farm can create. What I did not anticipate is the ever-expansive grandiosity of Ayrshire Farm. From long wooded drive to gorgeous stone house to a stable that puts the chicest Chevy Chase home to shame, this is no ordinary farm.
Mike, Itty Bitty Betty, Bacon Terrorist and I walked up the drive trying to keep our awe in check, lest we be kicked out for being too middle class. I turned to Bacon Terrorist, “You know how people talk about the big real estate dreams they’d act on if they won the lottery? We’re walking on mine.” I had no idea it was about to get so much better.
The event began with a late afternoon champagne reception where guests were able to mingle between the back portico and the lake, sipping Veritas Scintilla Brut and enjoying the perfect country breeze. Soon waitstaff began delivering tray after tray of savory hors d’oeuvres. The pork belly with sun dried tomato was a hit early and often with diners, eliciting the type of eye rolls and throaty gurgles normally reserved for the depths of a massage. “That’s it,” Bacon Terrorist announced, pork belly in one hand and champagne in the other, “this whole thing was worth the price of admission. I could leave without even having dinner and still be happy.”
But the bite-sized fun wasn’t over yet. Soon Mike got his hands on a lamb merguez sausage topped with a drizzling of marinated cucumbers and fresh dill, providing a delicious contrast between the earthy, just-so-spicy sausage and clean cucumbers. The fanfare from the crowd continued. Less of a universal hit but still good was the local veal with squash caponata. I admit, I’m not a huge veal fan for both texture and humane reasons, but I tried it to be a good guest. It was… surprisingly good. Ayrshire Farms raises humane veal calves, giving them fresh air, room to move and a balanced diet. As a result, the veal had a thicker texture and deeper color which is a sign, we later learned from our host, of calves that have not been iron deprived.
The reception concluded with a welcome speech from Tim and tour of the farm where, OMFG, there are piglets. Nothing betrays a city kid more than squealing over a bunch of baby pigs but that is exactly what all the dinner guests did. How can you not? The squat pink nose, giant ears, a not quite corkscrew tail. Piglets are tailor made to be adorable and criminally delicious. The cognitive dissonance would have distracted me if I didn’t have a belly full of champagne and pork belly lamb. The farm tour continued to a pair of curious calves, the impressive stable quarters, and the organic vegetable field.
The evening’s menu and an orgy of food photos after the jump.