The table during dinner in the Fig Grove at Knoll Farms
When I moved to San Francisco in 2010, I knew very little about the Bay Area, much less California. In an effort to educate myself, I started working with Outstanding In the Field. OITF is a family style farm-to-table dinner tour based in Santa Cruz that travels across the country every year and sets over 80 tables in the farms, orchards, vineyards and fields of America. At each dinner, a local (often highly sought after) chef joins the OITF crew to serve over a hundred guests locally sourced food and wine. Over five courses of fruits, vegetables, cheeses, meats, breads, wines and sometimes beers, the guests are told about the farmers, winemakers, cooking methods, the chef, and the Outstanding in the Field Tour. They are also treated with the company of new acquaintances to their right and left as they share platters of food for their “family”.
During that first year, I joined the crew of 8-12 staff to serve at four events in Northern California at the beginning of their season. We unloaded and placed tables and chairs, folded napkins, set the table, uncorked wine, greeted and directed guests to parking and reception, served passed appetizers at reception, gave full table service for the four course meal, washed the dishes, and then took it all down at the end and packed it back into two trailers. We worked along side chefs of some of the most notable San Francisco restaurants, and spent evenings in some of the most beautiful farms and vineyards of the region. After my last dinner, I had a slightly better understanding of my new home, but the quality of the food and opportunities I had been given did not sink in.
2012 May 27 Devil’s Gulch Ranch
2012 June 3, 13 & 14 Secret Sea Cove
2012 June 20 Little Organic
2012 July 1 Knoll Farms
When I was given the opportunity to do it again this year, I jumped at it. Over the past two months, I joined the crew for ten dinners all over Northern California. I went with them to Santa Cruz, Davenport, Nicasio, Napa, Healdsburg, Tomales, Sunol, and Brentwood. The chefs were Jim Denevan of Outstanding in the Field, Tom McNaughton of Flour + Water and Central Kitchen, Staffan Terje of Perbacco and Barbacco, Kim Alter of Haven in Oakland, Ravi Kapur of the Liholiho Yacht Club, Greg Dunmore of Nojo, Adam Dulye of the Monk’s Kettle and Abbot’s Cellar, Curtis Di Fede and Tyler Rodde of Oenotri in Napa, Sean Baker of Gather in Berkeley, and Lief Hedendal. We served seafood from H&H, Monterey Fish, Twoxsea and Drakes Bay Oyster Co.; meat from Devil’s Gulch and Prather Ranch; fruits and veggies from Route 1 Farms, Little Organics, County Line, Knoll, Baia Nicchia, Brokaw, Pie Ranch, Mariquita, Dirty Girl, Iacopi, Lindencroft, and Freewheelin among others; cheese and dairy from Bellwether, Andante Dairy, and Strauss; bread from Acme and Model Bakery; beer from Firestone Walker; and wine came from Joyce Vineyards, Robert Sinskey, Cline Cellars, Mantra & Mobius Wines, and Sans Liege among others.
The main difference between 2010 and 2012 for me was that this time I had a local perspective on their locally sourced meals. I had seen the restaurants these chefs were coming from, and I had seen these farmers at the markets. When guests asked me questions about the locations, I understood where the Russian River Valley was and how far inland the Santa Cruz mountains were. When the winemakers told me the elevation of their vineyards in Sanoma, I understood which hills they were referring to. When the fisherman told me which cove they caught the black cod off of, I knew exactly where it was. This year I had a little more knowledge to stand behind, and I was able to learn more.
Top left: Summer leaves with sungolds, serpent cukes, Brokaw avacados, aged Andante cheese & herbs; Top Right: succotash of Iacopi butter beans, green beans, roasted Brentwood corn, grilled Knoll crookneck squash, pickled onions, peppers, basil & garlic; Bottom left: roasted Knoll Farm roots & kale with hen of the woods, ginger & horseradish; Bottom right: Knoll stonefruit & Dirty Girl berries, soft whip & rosemary shortbread, Little City Gardens herbs & flowers
Last night was the final Northern California event of this year’s tour. It was also my tenth and final dinner of the year, and I had the opportunity to take Nik as a guest rather than a server!!! We sat at one of the tables that I had unloaded and unloaded countless times. We drank the wine I had typically poured. We ate the food that I had typically carried. We listened to the stories that I had typically told. Sitting at the table gave me a new appreciation for what we had been doing all along. As a guest, the evening was relaxed and seamless, while as a server, the evenings are a marathon of tasks. The crew’s hard work pays off every night, and now I understand why guests keep coming back year after year. I also understand even more why I want to go back next year.