If buying local is the way to lower your carbon footprint and enjoy foods at their peak, then you likely can’t get any more local than chef and artist Jim Denevan’s “farm-to-table” dinners. You see, for Denevan’s events, the table is usually just a few feet from the very crops that are being served.
Denevan’s unique concept, dubbed Ouststanding in the Field, began with a few such on the farm dinners and has expanded over the last nine years into a country-wide tour of dinners. Denevan and his team travel in a 1953 bus dubbed “Outstanding.” They follow the harvest season, hosting dinners at farms, and even in sea caves, anywhere that the best of ingredients can be sourced — just feet away from the table. The dinners feature the farmers, fisherman or local food artisans whose harvest comprises the menu, alongside the efforts of local chefs.
The dinners themselves are set up like works of art, arching tables, candles in the earth, each diner’s plate brought from home to give him or her a way to add a personal touch to the event. The events, held for one night only, then whisked away to being anew in another locale have a fleeting beauty to them, not unlike Denevan’s own sand sculptures, some of which stretch for miles, and last only hours.
The menus share this celebration of transient art, with their focus being on what is best, in season and just perfect at the time of the dinner. For those of us not likely to ever be seated at one of Denevan’s movable feasts, there is now a more tangible way to get a taste of the menu.
Outstanding in the Field is Denevan’s new cookbook. The pages feature recipes from the simple, such as the two-ingredient Tomato Water to the sublime, Sausage-stuffed Whole Roast Quail with Grape Sauce. Most of the recipes use fewer ingredients, fresh herbs and simple preparation that allow the seasonal flavors to shine. This approach affirms the pursuit of seasonal eating — proving once again that over-the-top culinary manipulation simply cannot trump nature’s own bounty, naked, ripe and consumed in-the-moment.
The book offers lush photos from the dinners and recipes that, unlike many cookbook recipes, have ingredient lists that can be sourced in the same season, locally. Where unique, heirloom varieties are included, Denevan usually offers substitutes that can work as well.
Favorites marked to try, for this summer month, anyway, include; Corn Chowder with Marjoram, Baked Fresh Shell Beans with Rosemary, Fried Squash Blossoms Filled with Lavender Ricotta.
Throughout the book, Denevan sprinkles bits of information — how olive oil is made, what is a CSA — with tributes to farmers and producers and personal reflection. In the back of the book Denevan organizes the recipes into the same dinner menus where they were originally prepared, perhaps in the hopes that you, the home cook, could share the feast as well.
Haricot Vert and Early Girl Tomato Salad with Summer Savory
from Outstanding in the Field by Jim Denevan
1 small shallot
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
8 ounces haricots verts
1 1/2 pounds Early Girl or other ripe heirloom tomatoes (about 4)
2 springs fresh summer savory
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Fresh ground black pepper
Put the shallot into a small bowl with the vinegar and set aside to macerate for about 10 minutes.
Clean the haricots verts and remove the tops; the tails are fine to leave on. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil and prepare a bowl of ice water. Add the trimmed haricots verts to the boiling water for 1 to 2 minutes. until tender but still firm to the bite (al dente). Drain the beans and plunge them immediately into the ice water to stop the cooking. When cool, remove from the water and dry on a towel. Set aside.
Core the tomatoes and cut them into thin wedges. Strip the leaves off the summer savory springs and coarsely chop the leaves.
Add the mustard and a pinch of salt to the shallot and vinegar and which together. Whisking constantly, pour in the olive oil in a slow, steady stream until all of it has been added and the vinaigrette is emulsified.
In a large bowl, toss together the haricots verts, tomatoes and summer savory. Pour the vinaigrette over the top and season with salt to taste. Mix well to coat the vegetables with the vinaigrette. Divide the salad among 4 chilled plates. Grind a bit of black pepper over each, and serve, or pass the pepper grinder at the table after serving.