ginger and salt

dream dinner: outstanding in the field.

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A couple of summers ago, my friend Christine introduced me to the company Outstanding in the Field.  In case you haven’t heard of them, their team travels across the country between spring and late fall, hosting incredible dinners with local chefs in beautiful outdoor environments, giving the term ‘farm to table’ an entirely new meaning.

As she showed me pictures from the dinner she attended in California, I couldn’t help but think that this event seemed like something out of my most visual foodie dreams, the white never-ending table stretching off into the sunset.  I don’t know if heaven exists, but I would imagine it looks something like this.

Flash-forward to a couple of years later and I’m sitting at my desk at 9 a.m. hitting refresh on my browser every five seconds like a Stones groupie trying to score tickets to their farewell tour.  After several failed attempts, the request finally went through and the tickets were in my inbox.

There were two dinners hosted in Washington State, and while I adore Delancey (and worship Molly Wizenberg), I am more or less the unofficial president of the Renée Erickson Fan Club and wasn’t going to miss a chance to spend an evening with her on picturesque Whidbey Island.  I imagined us becoming the best of friends, eating oysters and laughing together over a glass of rosé.  Two out of those three things happened, so I ain’t mad.

Upon arriving at The Farm at Double Bluff, we were served glasses of a lovely rosé from Syncline winery and celery soda and gin cocktails.  The folks from Syncline were on hand to discuss their wines throughout the meal and Anna Wallace (from The Walrus and the Carpenter and most recently, Seattle Seltzer Co.) was there as well, mixing incredible cocktails with her celery soda and Big Gin (made by Captive Spirits in Seattle, also in attendance).   I first tried her celery soda at Rain Shadow Meats Squared in Pioneer Square a couple of months ago and became completely hooked. This stuff will blow your mind.

I could write an entire post about the farm itself, but I’ll keep it brief.  During the walk-through, we befriended one of the twelve owners, Ali, who gave us our own unofficial private tour.  (It was private mostly because we were so caught up in conversation in the chicken coop that the group left us.)  A few years ago, she and her husband, along with ten others, decided to purchase this stunning farm from the early 1900’s on Whidbey Island, less than two hours north of Seattle, accessible by ferry. While it’s not a piece of cake to run the place, each owner has specific duties (gardening, chickens, repairs, etc.) and they split up the weeks over the course of the year.  Their kids go crazy for farm life (as do the dogs, Mia and Wilson) and it’s not hard to see why.

As we downed sipped our beverages, we were treated to a number of delicious small bites.  As I had hoped, there was an endless stream of local Hama Hama oysters being shucked and served on ice, with the same amazing horseradish and mignonette served at The Walrus And The Carpenter.  In front of the oysters, there were large platters of grilled fava beans to snack on, still in their charred shells.  Platters of perfectly oval French breakfast radishes were circulating along with fresh whipped butter for dipping, one of my very favorite snacks. They also served these wonderful 7 Minute Double Bluff Eggs with perfectly soft-boiled, bright orange yolks and a drizzle of green herb aioli.  Lastly, there were two types of toast that reminded me of something you might eat at Chef Erickson’s restaurant, The Whale Wins: one with Little Brown Farm chèvre and pickled cherry tomatoes that melted in your mouth and one with smoked herring, pickled fennel, and garlic scapes.  It wouldn’t be Renée without something pickled.

Drink in hand, I wandered away from the group in front of the farmhouse to take a look as the team put the finishing touches on the iconic table.  These people are not messing around.  One guy stood at the end of the table to assess alignment, while the other worked his way down one place at a time, adjusting each wine glass accordingly, even if just a centimeter.  Basically this was Downton Abbey meets Pacific Northwest (I even pretended the golden lab’s name was Isis).  Mr. Carson would’ve been thrilled at the attention to detail.

It’s tradition at these dinners to bring your own plates from home, which are then arranged at your seats by the OITF team.  We made our way over to the table and found our pastel plates smack dab at the halfway point.  We somehow lucked out and had Leah Scafe, long-time OITF veteran, as our designated server and point person which really made for a wonderful experience.  My parents and I were seated by our dear friends Connor and Ryan (also members of the R. Erickson Fan Club) and their parents, Kathleen and Mike.

Upon sitting down, we immediately started tearing into the chewy loaves of bread, thickly sliced with bubbly crust, and smothering it with the whipped Little Brown Farm butter with chives.  This bread would come in handy later as we used it to dredge the remaining sauce from each course.

Everything was served family style and we started with Hama Hama clams with Willowood Rockwell beans, bacon, mustard greens, lemon peel, vermouth, and cream.  The clams were incredibly fresh and the sauce was insane.  I could not get enough of the combination of lemon, cream, and smoky bacon with the brine from the clams.

Next up was a platter of grilled wild king salmon, served over a thick, creamy aioli.  The salmon was really beautiful, although I tend to like mine a bit more on the undercooked side.  However, there was the added challenge of grilling massive whole salmon filets for 160 people to eat simultaneously, so no complaints.

The salmon was served with a cold mussel salad with cucumber, fennel, new potatoes, and coriander vinaigrette.  I really loved this bright, almost Grinch-colored dish.  The vegetables really soaked up all of the incredible flavors and the mussels were great.  In a perfect world, I would bring this salad to every Northwest beach picnic and keep it all for myself.

The next platter arrived filled with different cuts of beef, all from a cow from the farm.  There were pieces of ribeye, tenderloin, and New York steak piled high and topped with grilled onions and a few pickled beets that looked like octopi with their long tentacles. I generally prefer leaner cuts so tried to scavenge for the tenderloin pieces, but enjoyed the other parts as well.  I loved, loved, loved the potent orange chermoula yogurt sauce on this dish. Apparently it’s a North African spice paste that I need to be using much more of at home.  The best part about Renee’s cooking is that she keeps it simple but inventive, still allowing the few ingredients to shine.

As the sun set and guests started retrieving additional jackets, blankets, and even gloves (yes, I wore gloves in July) from their cars, our last course was served.  The Little Brown Farm butter biscuits with fresh raspberries and pillowy whipped cream looked like something out of a Real Simple spread.  There’s something about this combination that’s so comforting.  My friend Chessie loves to make this dessert and upon tasting it I was immediately transported back to our house in Washington, D.C. the summer after college.  In the August heat we would sit, my three roommates and I, around our wobbly dining room table (mere yards from the A/C unit) devouring this dish.

Renée made some closing remarks as everyone savored their last bites.  She was funny and candid, and I found it really neat to know that about 90% of the food from the night came from Whidbey Island itself. We are so lucky to have such a wide range of wonderful foods right in our backyards, literally.  I’ll admit, I completely acknowledge the luxury of being able to attend a special dinner like this, as there remains an alarming lack of access to affordable, fresh foods for many in this country, but we’ll table that conversation for another day.

Our evening with Outstanding In The Field was a true celebration of local ingredients in a breathtaking location.  We walked away having made new friends, all of whom share an obsession with great food and a sense of place.  (There was even a gorgeous, makeup-free woman breastfeeding her child at the table and it doesn’t get much more Seattle than that.)  Although I’m extremely biased, it goes without saying that it’s pretty incredible to live and eat in the Northwest.

Outstanding In The Field operates largely between spring and late fall, with some events sprinkled between.  See website for more information: https://outstandinginthefield.com/

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6 comments

  1. T, thank you so much for writing this post (and having Ry and I pull the trigger that one fateful night. SERIOUSLY), it transported me right back to Renée/Whidbey heaven. I will be returning to this post in the future just to relive it. Love the Downton references, photos, and a west coast road trip next year is happening, FOR SURE.

  2. alexaseidl

    i was going to say this post is the best yet, but i think i say that every time! absolutely loved the DA reference, obvi 🙂 you’re so good!

  3. Mary

    What a magical evening!! Your description is fabulous and the pictures are beautiful. How special to do one with Renee Erickson!!

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