Every June, Chef Jim Denevan and a few intrepid companions pile into an intermittently reliable 1962 bus they call Outstanding and spend the next four months driving across North America, stopping along the way, here and there, for a few nights to get to know the locals in a way that most tourist do not. They set an 80 foot long table where no table has ever been set and serve dinner under the sky to as many as 100 strangers.
So recently I found myself "going down to Yasgur's farm", not to "join in a rock n' roll, band" nor "get my soul free", but to "get myself back to the garden". Joined by my own band of intrepid culinary companions, the team from A Divine Event, we had the refreshing pleasure of attending one of Chef Denevan's extraordinary "Outstanding in the Field" dinners. Our location? Not Yasgur's Farm, but close, the Love is Love Farm in Douglasville, Georgia, about an hour outside of Atlanta. It is a sub-plot on the Glover Family Farm, owned by Joe Reynolds and Judith Winfrey.
Outstanding in the Field's mission "is to re-connect diners to the land and the origins of their food, and to honor the local farmers and food artisans who cultivate it. Outstanding in the Field is a roving culinary adventure – literally a restaurant without walls. Since 1999 they have set the long table at farms or gardens, on mountain tops or in sea caves, on islands or at ranches. Occasionally the table is set indoors: a beautiful refurbished barn, a cool greenhouse or a stately museum. Wherever the location, the consistent theme of each dinner is to honor the people whose good work brings nourishment to the table.
Ingredients for the meal are almost all local (sometimes sourced within inches of your seat at the table!) and generally prepared by a celebrated chef of the region. After a tour of the site, we all settle in: farmers, producers, culinary artisans, and diners sharing the long table." We put on our boots, and in keeping with the dinner's Tradition of the Plates, packed up our plates and headed to the farm. It was fun and a great conversational piece to see what size, shape, color and style plate each of us brought.
Love is Love farm went through a bad flood last year. Farmers Judith and Joe faced a challenge farmers dread. Last season high water swept through the farm flooding the fertile ground with several feet of water. Topsoil was washed away and for a time things were not looking good. But after a year of restoration work, we celebrated a renewed farm and this event helped out as a benefit.. Steven Satterfield of Miller Union was our guest chef. Steven had previously volunteered with an Outstanding in the Field event here in 2008 with noted chef Scott Peacock.
But, there is more to the story than a dinner outside on a farm. Chef Jim Denevan has another connection with the out-of-doors. He is an artist. Not just any artist but a sand artistwho creates temporary land art. He works with natural materials to create massive scale drawings in sand and, ice, and soil. His sculptures are not placed in the landscape, rather, the landscape is the means of their creation. Often aerial photography or video is needed to comprehend the final work. He has been featured in many documentaries including a Sunday Morning interview in January of 2008.
I think Jim Denevan is a real renaissance man. Surfer, chef and renowned beach sand artist, he bears an appreciation for the outdoors, not just with his dinners but with his art as well. To create his large-scale beach drawings, using a rake and a simple driftwood stick found on-site, Denevan begins by tracing outward from a central point on the beach. Improvised on the spot and gracefully rendered with his stick and a selection of rakes, his large scale spirals, circles and geometric forms take up most of the beach.
Says Denevan, "When I'm doing a drawing, I'm personifying the place that is empty. A place that is unmarked." These ephemeral sand drawings are performances. Delighted beachgoers follow the curling spiral work like it's a labyrinth, pacing inwards and then retracing their steps. The incoming tide participates as well, and always has the last word as it erases the temporary artworks with the sweep of each passing wave. "People always ask how it feels to have them wash away," adds Denevan, "but who would want it not to wash away?" We all came away from the dinner with an experience that inspired. Inspired us to move forward with our seasonal menus and local product sourcing. To walk the green, "farm to table", sustainable walk.