On a 70F sunny picturesque day, I set out for my 3rd Outstanding in the Field
, a unique event in its 7th year that brings together farmers and chefs from across North America to collectively host a 4-hour outdoor dinner party levearging organic and local produce, seafood and meat from the host farm and surrounding local areas.
This time, I set my sights on a farm in Pemberton, BC not only because it is a 20 mile jaunt from beloved Whistler or because I love venturning through British Columbia. Rather, I have been eyeing this particular venue’s stunning panormic views of the mountains for a year now.
There isn't a bad seat in the house - Both sides of the table look out into the mountains
The host farm is Jordan Sturdy’s North Arm Farm
, and as I check out his grounds, I notice he grows a wide array of produce such as blueberries, Chinese artichoke, rhubarbs, strawberries, garlic, corn, pumpkins, okra and rasberries.
The first hour of the event consists of mingling, self touring around the farm sprinkled in with appetizers and drinks. I scour the crowd and notice the diners are a healthy mix of locals and North American travelers from across the US and Canada, ranging from a retiree couple sportin’ a bright red Alpha Romeo to a wide-eyed and cute down-to-earth twenty-something pair visiting from Hawaii. Some of the diners proudly mention it is their 8th or 12th Outstanding in the Field event.
After checking out the scene, I quickly shift my focus to food and drink. The wine is tasty, but the clear adult beverage standout for both sexes is a pink rhubarb drink served in a martini glass consisting of vodka and an extract mix from a organic distillery across the street from the farm (Pemberton Distillery
).The liquid concoction is smooth, fruity and refreshing and I am pretty sure it is mostly attributed to the local distillery’s creation and handling of the vodka. To make the vodka, Pemberton Distillery uses local Pemberton potatoes and local mountain water from glacial sources, which they distill in small batches, and follow a natural fermentation process sans chemicals or additives.
Not sure what is most desirable right now - the panoramic mountain view, the rhubarb vodka drink or the dude serving it
As we sip our organic foo-foo looking drink, we concurrently nibble on foie gras puff pastry and gazpacho.
Gazpacho served in ceramic capuccino cup
After we have had our fill of appetizers and drinks, we gather around for an introduction of Outstanding in the Field from founder and Santa Cruz-based Jim Denevan who is a chef and artist by trade. We learn Outstanding in the Field is expanding to Europe this fall with dinner events in six countries ranging from Denmark to Italy. Staff members are also scoping out new sights for 2012 in places such as Hawaii, Japan, China, Uruguay, Chile, and Kenya.
Denevan talks about the history of the farm to table concept and mentions some of the influencers who inspired him to start organizing these events across the country.
Crowd listening to the spiel from Outstanding in the Field founder Jim Denevan
As my mind wanders and I feel myself feeling fidgety impatient for the spiel to end so we can get back to eating and drinking, I do a scan of the audience and notice I am in the select minority. The crowd is entranced, hanging on Devenan’s every word, vehemently nodding like Baptist churchgoers, and asking a lot of questions.
I start to piece together what is happening. Unlike Seattle and Portland, the farm to table concept is still in its infacy in a lot of places and some of these diners have traveled hundreds of miles (from Nebraska, Hawaii and Texas) to experience their first farm to table meal. For some, this is their first time stepping foot on a farm (a certified organic farm, nonetheless), and for others, it is their first time taking part in a locally sourced organic meal.
I realize the paramount impact of “farm to table” events such as Outstanding in the Field in helping to spread the word, and like a light switch, I turn off my antsy attitude as the founder introduces host farmer Jordan Sturdy.
You can immediately tell burly Sturdy who coincidentally also happens to be the mayor of Pemberton – in his Oakley sunglasses, and ear piercings – is a straight-shooter. When someone asks him to move a large orange machine in the field that is helping to hydrate the crops, he flat out says no and nicely explains North Arm is a working farm whose primary purpose is to grow crops and not to remove traces of farm equipment just so we can stare into the mountains without seeing it.
Orange watering contraption farmer Sturdy refuses to move
Sturdy talks about how he the bought the farm in 1991 and certified it organic in 1996. The farm is named North Arm because the grounds used to be situated at the end of an island called the North Arm Island.
North Arm farmer and mayor of Pemberton - Jordan Sturdy
Mayor/Farmer Sturdy then takes us on a guided tour of his farm that ends up at the center of his land where we will be feasting on a 4-course menu from Araxi’s
executive chef James Walt as we look up at majestic Mount Currie.
I am not going to lie – I feel giddy like a schoolgirl as we sit down and start chowing down communal family style on dishes such as Tofino salmon and short rib crunchy ravioli, but the message that Outstanding in the Field is more than just about eating a fine meal in a beautiful locale has resonated loud and clear.
Tofino salmon in local greens - I sat next to the seafood distributor who supplied all of the seafood for the evening
- Zucchini blossom with dungeness crab stems lightly fried with tomatoes
Chef James Walt (left) prepping dessert with one of his longstanding staff (right) who has been with Araxi for 30 years (unheard of in the restaurant industry)
Our lovely server for the evening
Strawberry mille-feuille with chocolate ice cream bars in the background
: $190 all inclusive of reception, 4-course menu, wine, tax and gratuity. Prices vary, depending on location. Click here
to view the 2011 tour calendar.