By Annette Hinkle
For those who love harvest season on the East End and farm fields in all their late summer glory, it’s a concept that holds the strongest of appeals.
Picture an amazingly long dinner table outfitted with candles and tablecloths punctuated by platters of late summer dishes created using the best bounty of the season.
Now imagine you’re sharing this meal with 140 other like-minded foodies, not in a massive dining room, but in the midst of a productive farm field.
It’s a concept that turns reality next Tuesday when Outstanding In The Field (OITF) makes a return visit to the East End and EECO Farm on Long Lane in East Hampton. Since 1999, this Santa Cruz, California based company has traveled the country (and now Europe as well) hosting al fresco dining events to raise awareness of the efforts of local farmers.
From the mountains of Colorado to the beaches of Cape Cod, from May to November the staff of Outstanding In The Field (OITF) travels in a big red bus putting on dinner parties for communities coast to coast. The company is on its 10th tour of North America and director Leah Scafe explains the bus actually provides living quarters on the road for the staff of nine (including herself and OITF’s founder, chef Jim Denevean). Trucks and trailers follow filled with plates, tables, grills and lighting for the dinners.
“Our last event is right before Thanksgiving,” explained Scafe last week as the crew headed toward an event in Rhode Island. After East Hampton, they’ll drive south and then west, back to California, doing dinners the whole way.
“It’s a long season,” concedes Scafe.
Every year when OITF comes to the East End, chef Jason Weiner of Almond Restaurant is the chef of choice. Since 2008, Weiner has cooked for OITF events. He was introduced to the company by friends Christopher Tracy and Allison Dubin of Channing Daughters Winery and besides EECO Farm, has created dinners at Paumanok Vineyards on the North Fork and even in a community garden on Avenue C in New York City.
But he’s back at EECO next Tuesday where he will create a multi-course dinner plus passed hors d‘oeuvres using locally sourced ingredients.
And he’ll do it all on a glorified camp stove.
“Everything is served family style — like the convivial nature of serving at your house,” says Wiener. “From a practical perspective it allows me to do a lot of stuff.”
“We’ll do four or five passed appetizers during the first hour with a farm tour and we’ll pour something sparkling,” he says. “Then we’ll sit down and do four courses on platters for eight to 10 people.”
“So I’m doing 16 or so platters instead of 140 individual plates,” he adds.
For Weiner, this is a favorite event of the year. It’s one that attracts a friendly crowd of diners truly interested and invested in the local farming community — much different than the summer restaurant clientele on the East End.
“It’s about the relationship with the producers, the story of the producers, the pride itself. I really feel my job as a chef is to get my hands on great products I believe in and get out of the way and not screw it up,” says Weiner who won’t decide on the menu for the dinner until he gets the ingredients, which will come from Balsam farm, Marilee Foster in Sagaponack and Tom Falkowski in Bridgehampton in addition to EECO Farm.
“I’ll also have Amber Waves greens and corn from the Jim and Jennifer Pike,” adds Weiner. “The seafood I’m getting from ‘Dock to Dish’ the new CSF [community supported fishery].”
While some chefs might blanche at the idea of not knowing what they will be making until the last minute, for Weiner, its actually reassuring.
“To me that takes the pressure off,” he says. “It would be hard if I knew exactly what I was making. You let the ingredients lead and you follow. It’s craftsmanship. There are chefs who are amazingly creative and do mind blowing stuff with technology you can’t wrap your mind around. There is a space for that and I love eating and experiencing that, but I don’t consider what I do art at all— it’s a craft. Taking an ingredient, massaging it, giving it a little push or whimsical touch.”
Weiner is also calmed by the nature of OITF clientele — people who love this place and its farms.
“The demographic is self selecting – they’re going to go along for the ride,” he adds. “They’re people who know the focus and are buying into it. It’s the kind of crowd who can eat family style with strangers. It’s not the scene makers and the people double parking or speeding down the back roads. The Hamptons are this place where there are fender benders, Paris Hilton and Romney fundraisers, but what it continues to be is an agricultural and fishing community, and it remains that. I’m proud to be a part of it in a small way.”
“I feel the endorphins flowing and feel relaxed just talking about the event,” he adds. “It’s hectic because 140 people are paying a lot of money and there are variables that come from doing it in the field. But the event is an amazing experience.”
Outstanding in the Field’s EECO Farm dinner begins at 3 p.m. on Tuesday, September 10 with a glass of wine and hors d’oeuvres. A tour of the farm follows and a four-course meal paired with wines. Ticket are $220, all inclusive. To reserve a seat, visit www.outstandinginthefield.com.