By Analiese Paik
August 25, 2010 marked the first time Outstanding in the Field (OITF) held a dinner in the state of Connecticut, despite having taken their “roving culinary adventures” to farms and other plein air venues across the US and back for more than a decade. Interestingly, it was through social media that the organizers were clued in to Millstone Farm in Wilton, along with sustainable chef and food pioneer Michel Nischan and his Westport restaurant, The Dressing Room, and came to select the farm and chef as the team to host their first ever event in Connecticut.
These dinners really are adventures. Expect to tour, eat, learn and appreciate what’s grown on the farm and how it’s prepared by the guest chef. At Millstone Farm, guests were greeted with a glass of Riesling from Keuka Lakes Vineyards in the Finger Lakes served alongside cooling cucumber gazpacho, rich chicken liver pate, and bursting with freshness heirloom tomato bruschettas. We literally stood out in the field, mixing and mingling while taking in the beautiful open space dotted with horses and sheep, a pony training ring (the farm was originally exclusively for pony training and is still home to the Wilton Pony Club) and a large barn with the iconic red OITF bus parked out front.
Jim Denevan, founder of Outstanding in the Field, and Director Leah Scafe, explained their coast to coast, farm-to table dinner concept held annually since 1999 as a celebration of local, peak-of-season food, cooked simply but expertly by local celebrity chefs and enjoyed as a community on the farm where it’s grown. Farm owners Jesse and Betsy Fink welcomed guests to their farm and introduced their staff and each person’s roles in keeping the 75-acre farm running, quite a complicated operation considering that they not only grow vegetables and ground fruit, but also raise livestock.
Ten of the acres are wetlands and only half an acre is under cultivation, growing vegetables for notable farm-to-table restaurants including host restaurant The Dressing Room, LeFarm, The Schoolhouse at Cannondale, and all the Barcelona Restaurants. Master Farmer Annie Farrell noted that they were getting two crops out of some varieties due to the warm growing season and were enjoying pumpkins in August.
In addition to the challenges of climate change, the farm regularly deals with pest problems, like infestations of squash bugs (the chickens were put in the garden to eat them), moles, rabbit, coyotes, and Cooper’s Hawks sneaking under the hen house (a protected species). “It’s hard to have free range chickens” noted Betsy Fink.
Since the meal we were served was sourced in great part from the farm, we literally experienced firsthand where our food was coming from, who grew it, and how it was grown. We sat at OITF’s tables set end to end to accommodate over 100 guests and enjoyed course after course of Michel Nischan’s delicious seasonal cuisine, served family style.
This year, the host farm will be Waldingfield Farm in Washington, CT, the same farm that hosted last year. The dinner will be held on Sunday, September 16, 2012, and the price, guests chefs and time will be announced when tickets go on sale on March 20. Check back for those details on our blog.