The idea ripens
Outstanding in the Field staged its first dinner in 1999 at Mariquita Farm, near Watsonville, California, just a few miles from where we are now.
Since then, Denevan and his crew have rolled out the concept at dozens of locations across the continent, following good weather and seasonal bounty to Canada, Alaska, the Midwest, and New York.
They've served elaborate dinners in sea caves and urban gardens, and even on an isthmus that was gradually surrounded by the rising tide (departure was by skiff).
Other groups, inspired by their example, started creating farm dinners of their own (see below). Their popularity points to a hunger that people have to connect with the land, to sit atop the very soil that produced their supper.
At every Outstanding in the Field event, dinner is preceded by a farm tour. On this evening, Rich and Laura Everett lead us around their grounds, pointing out the corn and the dry-farmed tomatoes, speaking of the values imparted by the land.
"We wanted to raise our children here," Laura says, "so they'd learn respect and hard work and understand where their food comes from."
In a fitting bit of symmetry, the guest chef tonight is Sean Baker, Denevan's successor at Gabriella. Before dinner, he tickled our palates with Dungeness crab wrapped in cucumber slices. Now he sends forth large platters of richly browned grilled lamb tongue with fresh-chickpea ragout and squash blossoms.
As the sky darkens and the Big Dipper appears above us, Denevan stands up at the far end of the table. He introduces the rancher who'd supplied the pork cheeks, which Baker serves to us with gnocchi enriched with eggs from the Everetts' farm.
"The idea of a nomadic restaurant may be unconventional," he says, "but the pleasures of the table are universal."
Wineglasses clink. Conversation crests over generous helpings of strawberry crostata. My wife blows out the candle that flickers before us, and we savor the night's sweetness, dining by the light of a rising moon.