For five months a year, he and a small collection of colleagues roam the country, arranging rustic dinners that close the gap between consumers and the land. With every meal they put on ― at dairies, ranches, vineyards, and farms ― all the ingredients are local, down to the chef.
He or she prepares a five-course repast for as many as 130, including the people who produced the food. Attorneys break bread with cheesemakers. Teachers dine with ranchers. City dwellers raise a glass to the vintners who supplied the evening's wine.
At conventional restaurants, the farm comes to the table. Outstanding in the Field works the other way around.
"There's a strange phenomenon in our culture that makes celebrities out of chefs while ignoring the people who actually produce our food," Denevan says. "That's part of the idea, to focus our attention on the work they do."
Denevan himself was working as a chef at Gabriella Café in Santa Cruz when he came up with the idea for a roving restaurant.
Born in San Jose in the early '60s, he carried childhood memories of South Bay orchards of nectarines, plums, and apricots giving way to subdivisions. How sad, he thought, that the apple had become the region's best-known fruit.
Committed to the premise of enlightened eating, Denevan launched a series of farmers' dinners at Gabriella, inviting local purveyors to share their experiences and their food. Interest in the events was so overwhelming that Denevan took the next logical step.