At times, I enjoy living in a big city. I was reminded of this as we circled the tiny town of Jordan at 9:00 p.m. on a Friday night in search of an open coffee shop (to no success). Toronto living comes with its conveniences – like nice little coffee shops that close after the summer sun sets.
But more and more I imagine that a life with some soft toe-hugging grass, a few fruit trees and a pair of chickens would be more than alright.
On Thursday, Sameer surprised me with a little road trip to St. Catharines for Outstanding in the Field. Here is the idea: one long communal table stretches as far as you can see through a farm field. A local chef uses this farm’s produce and animals to write and prepare a dinner. Wines from a nearby vineyard are gathered to serve with the food. A couple hundred strangers share the meal and the table.
Jim Denevan started what would become Outstanding in the Field as a series of farmer’s dinners in the summer of 1998. Soon after, he moved his tables into the fields, eventually setting up a traveling itinerary of dinners with guest chefs throughout California. Six cross-continent seasons later, his farm dinners have grown to thousands of guests toting their plates to tables on tour through North America.
Whitty Farms hosted this year’s one Ontario-based dinner at Thirteenth Street Winery. Doug and Karen’s farm is what you imagine a farm to be: rolling, picturesque, and story-filled. Doug led our 130-strong dinner party – Torontonians and Texans alike – through greenhouses, a bakehouse, fields and vineyards and shared stories of his hundred-plus year-old farm. We landed squarely between a crop of young sunflowers and grapevines, where a table was set for dinner.
What a dinner it was. Stephen Treadwell created a simple and charming meal from the land: a salad of Tree and Twig Farms‘ heirloom tomatoes (Linda grows hundreds of varieties!), Lake Huron perch with a radish-potato salad, veal ribeye with ratatouille and vanilla-roasted peaches to end things sweetly.
The food was very good. But more so, I experienced something curious and welcome as I shared platters of food with a group of strangers. We’ve left our communal table for a private one. As someone who tends away from crowds, I worried that I might feel self-conscious passing platters and conversation, and to some extent, this was of course true. But any awkwardness was overshadowed by our shared reverence and a migration into a field that hundreds signed up for – just to eat a meal. We put ourselves in the farm’s hands and brought to mouth what the earth underfoot and sky above created.