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.

Outstanding in the Field 048As 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 Outstanding in the Field 041announced, 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.

Outstanding in the Field 004The 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.


As most engaged couples do, Mike and I registered for every kitchen gadget under the sun. Tiny kitchen space be damned, we most definitely did need that asparagus steamer! Oh? And glasses for port which are completely different from glasses with which to serve sherry? Two sets, please.  Well sure, we don’t really drink sherry but we might… one day.

We realized the error of our ways a few months after being married and living with all this… stuff. Most extraneous items have gone the way of the dodo, much to Goodwill’s joy. Somewhere in the DC-Nova area, a budget shopper’s kitchen is decked out with the finest items Crate & Barrel has to offer, courtesy of our family and friends. I hope they found a good home.

However, one item remained unused but stubbornly, cozily at home in the kitchen. It sat in the drawer, peeking out at me every time I grabbed a clean dish towel and mocking me and all of my intentions. That item is the creme brulee blow torch, which we registered for right away because obviouslywe would be throwing DC’s most delightful dinner parties as newlyweds and everyone knows no dinner party is complete without a luscious creme brulee.

Four years later, it was still in the packaging. My mother, perhaps hoping to prod me along, gave us a book of creme brulee recipes for Christmas one year. I thumbed through it dutifully and then onto the shelf it went, next to The Best of Russian Cooking (and we all know how well that turned out). But the June Cookbook Challenge brought this book off the shelf with a vengeance and I am so grateful that it did.

For my first ever creme brulee, I could have gone with the classic vanilla bean. That would have been a safe approach. But once I saw the recipe for ginger chile creme brulee – a spicy and sweet dessert?? – I was hooked. 

Looking back, I learned two key lessons from my first creme brulee experience. One, it takes some patience. Kinda like making risotto. And two, it’s helpful to have a blender at the ready for custard emergencies.

Recipe and more info after the jump. (more…)