Outstanding in the Field returns to Berkshires


For the third consecutive year, the Outstanding in the Field bus will roll into the Berkshires this summer.

According to its founder, chef and artist Jim Denevan, OITF is "a roving culinary adventure; a restaurant without walls."

"Wherever the location, the consistent theme of each dinner is to honor the people whose good work brings nourishment to the table," he said.

From its experimental start -- a few farmer dinners at a café in Santa Cruz, Calif., 16 years ago -- OITF has evolved into seven months of about 90 dinners each year in 35 states -- sometimes even in Europe.

Late one warm afternoon last September, 160 guests brought their own favorite plates -- an OITF tradition -- for a dinner set on a hillside at lifetime environmentalist and 30-year sheep farmer Lila Berle's Stonehedge Farm in Great Barrington. A few minutes of light rain caused not a ripple in the expert, low-key food service, nor in anyone's pleasure or spirits.

"After a tour of the site, we all settle in: Farmers, producers, culinary artisans and diners sharing the long table. Dinners are served family-style and everyone dines at the same table," Denevan said.

The experienced waitstaff carried big bowls and platters from field kitchens through the mown grass to the farthest reaches of the long, linen-clad table set with cutlery, cloth napkins and glassware for wine-pairings.

Course after course of the summer's freshest and finest local products -- large heirloom tomatoes of many colors, seasonal greens and other vegetables, cured and uncured lamb, farmhouse cheeses, ripe peaches, High Lawn Farm heavy cream and much more -- had been transformed into simple, full-flavored, imaginative dishes by chef Dan Smith, owner and creator of John Andrews A Farmhouse Restaurant in South Egremont.

The event appeared casual. Even homey. It was, actually, opulent, for people with passion for local, seasonal, understated cuisine.

The OITF group so enjoyed putting on their dinner at Stonehedge Farm, they are doing another there this August.

"Everyone enjoyed it," said Berle. "The OITF people are so professional and the community of food producers and great chefs here have come together to make the Berkshires a place known for food."

In 2011, marketer and planner Angela Cardinali founded Berkshire Farm & Table, a nonprofit organized to promote Berkshire food culture and agro-tourism.

The next year, "OITF was lured here by me," she said. "Many people did not even know who or what they were.

"Brian Butterworth, at The Red Lion Inn, sent me a link years ago. He said we should be doing dinners like this here. It took two or three years to convince the OITF people that the Berkshires were worth a stop on their bus route.

"Indian Line -- the story of the first CSA in North America -- was what I presented as the lure."

Indian Line Farm in Egremont hosted the first OITF dinner in the Berkshires in 2012. Brian Alberg of The Red Lion Inn was chef.

"I am excited to be a part of the inaugural OITF event in the Berkshires," Alberg said.

Last year OITF also presented a dinner at Hancock Shaker Village prepared by Alberg.

"We ask our guest chefs to design the menu in the weeks leading up to the event based on the freshest available ingredients. We want the dinner to be artistic, spontaneous and of the season," OITF's Denevan said.

Late this summer, when Berkshire produce is again at its peak, the Stonehedge Farm dinner will be prepared by Alberg; another, at Hearty Roots Community Farm in Germantown, N.Y., will be prepared by chefs Jeremy Stanton and Jim Gop.

Tickets go on sale Thursday. They often sell out in two to four hours.

"Eighty percent of OITF guests [at the Berkshire dinners] were from out of the area because the Berkshires is a destination event," Cardinali said.

That's twice the usual out-of-area guests at OITF dinners.

"The young people who came here for the dinner, from places like Brooklyn or California, have some money and they choose to spend it that way," Berle said. "They come for a few days and have a good time in the Berkshires."

Outstanding in the Field 2014 tour events in the Berkshire region

Dinner at Lila Berle's Stonehedge Farm, Great Barrington; featuring chef Brian Alberg of The Red Lion Inn, Stockbridge

Sunday, August 31, starting at 3p.m.

Cost: $235 inclusive; tickets go on sale Thursday, March 20, 2p.m. edt.

For more information go to http://outstandinginthefield.com/events/north-american-tour/?dinner_id=450

Dinner at Ben and Lindsey Shute's Hearty Roots Community Farm, Germantown, N.Y.; featuring chefs Jeremy Stanton and Jim Gop of Fire

Roasted Catering and The Meat Market, Great Barrington.

Monday, September 1, starting at 3p.m.

Cost: $235 inclusive; tickets go on sale Thursday, March 20, 2p.m. edt.

For more information go to http://outstandinginthefield.com/events/north-american-tour/?dinner_id=487

Mushroom Conserva

Makes about 6 half-cup portions

Chef Brian Alberg, executive chef and director of food and beverage at The Red Lion Inn, Stockbridge, created this dish of preserved mushrooms and fresh corn. It was one of the hors d'ouvres served at the Outstanding in the Field dinner at Hancock Shaker Village in 2013.

Alberg says, "This is a vegan dish that stands alone with a good grille bread. Or it can be a topping or side for fish, poultry, pork or beef. It is getting huge compliments and is one of the most asked for recipes at the Inn."

1/4 cup olive oil

3 cloves garlic, sliced

2 shallots, sliced

2 pounds mushrooms, sliced -- recommended mushrooms include shiitake, oyster and maitake (also known as hen-of-the-woods.) If using portobello, remove the gills by de-stemming and scooping out

1 sprig rosemary

3 sprigs thyme

1/4 cup sherry vinegar

3 ears sweet corn on the cob, blanched and de-kerneled

Kosher salt, to taste

1 1/2 cups olive oil for topping off the jars

Place a large skillet on medium heat. Add about 1/4 cup olive oil to the pan. Heat until simmering. Add garlic and shallots. Cook for about 3 minutes until translucent. Add mushrooms, rosemary and thyme. Simmer 20 minutes.

Add sherry vinegar. Stir to deglaze the pan. Simmer another 10 minutes. Add in blanched sweet corn. Season with salt to taste. Remove from heat.

On a large sheet pan, lay out cooked mushroom mixture to cool. When they have reached room temperature, about 30 minutes, place in sealed quart containers.

Top each container with the remaining olive oil so the mixture is completely covered. Refrigerate.

For catered events at the inn, we use pint-sized mason jars to store the Conserva. When serving, we bring the Conserva up to room temperature and serve directly out of the jar at the table.

The conserva will last about two weeks because it is slightly pickled and preserved in olive oil.


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