Monday, July 2, 2012

Dinner "Outstanding In a Rice Field" in Richvale, CA

I am so very lucky to have a thoughtful husband. It was because of his thoughtfulness that we were able to take part in a unique dining experience. Being that we are a farm family, you would think that dining out in the middle of a field would be normal for us? Well, not really. Outdoors yes, next to trees yes, but linen covered tables, stemmed wine glasses and four courses all paired with wine. This is not our normal. We did however get to eat on our own actual dinner plates. More on this later.

It was because of social media that my husband spotted on Facebook a posting by our friend Ana Simcox promoting a link that she had been made aware of by the Sierra Oro Farm Trail Facebook Fan page that announced the Outstanding in a Field (OIAF) organization would be hosting an event for the first time in Butte County and it was going to be in the middle of a rice field that belonged to Lundberg Family Farms. Long sentence but I made my point.

I saw the same posts, clicked the links and thought, "that would be fun." That was the end of it for me. However my husband on the other hand had a different reaction. Later that day I got the following text message, "Get a sitter for Jun 23, I bought tickets for Dinner in a Field." AWESOME! Just another reason I love him.

So what is OIAF? According to their website, and what they told us, their mission is to "re-connect diners to the land and the origins of their food, and to honor the local farmers and food artisans who cultivate it." What a fun job if you ask me. To do this OAIF is setting up dinner for 100-200 people in 87 different locations, in the middle of food producing fields, in North America in 2012. They have been at it for a few years now but 2012 has them coordinating more dinners that ever before. And by the popularity, I think they we will have to expand their calendar even more.

So here it is, a long post with a number of pictures to try and give you an idea of how much fun this evening was.

The event took place in Richvale, California at the Lundberg Family Farms headquarters.

The evening started with wine and appetizers and a welcome from OAIF founder Jim Denevan.

When we got to the table, we found this lovely card that identified all the great eats we would be experiencing as well as the wine we would be drinking.

I mentioned we got to eat dinner on our own plates. When this little (now huge) venture started, folks who attended brought their own plates. They still do the same today. It really is cool to see this huge table with lots of different plates. Of course they had extra plates if you didn't want to bring yours.

After appetizers and wine, we of course got a walking tour of Lundberg Family Farms. If you are going to eat dinner in a field, it is helpful to know what is in the field and how it got their and what happens to it when it is harvested. Our tour was led by Grant Lundberg. Thanks Grant, it was great!

And then there was the walk to the table. Remember dinner was in the middle of a field. Not on the edge close to a paved road - in-the-middle-of-a-field!

Of course if you are going to eat in the middle of the field, the food must be cooked there too and it was. The Chef for the evening was Ella Dinning Room & Bar Executive Chef Michael Thiemann.

Here is the first course. A lovely salad with heirloom tomatoes and homemade ricotta. Delish!

Everything was served family style.

For many, this was their first experience on a rice farm. Lundberg was gracious enough to allow the willing a chance to jump in, feet first, and feel the mud between their toes. I am certain a few Christmas card photos were made this one evening. And no, the Cecil family photo will not include us in a rice field. Sorry to dissapoint.

If you are going to have great food, you need great wine. Jake and I were lucky to sit across the table from the husband of the winemaker at the New Clairvaux Winery. He had a wonderful knowledge of the wine and was fun to talk to. In fact we enjoyed having dinner with people we did not know. We also sat next to a lawyer who likes to chase hurricanes and was in New Orleans when Katrina touched down. And yes, he went there for the hurricane. Crazy! But a nice guy from Durham. Now back to the food.

Here is the roasted pork. There was also a smoked California Tombo (a firm salmon like fish) served with grilled nectarines. I guess I really liked this one because I ate it so fast I forgot to take a picture. Oops!

Here is a look at nintey people at a really loooong dinner table.

Yes I loved every bit of it. Can you tell? And these are our everyday square cobalt blue Fiestaware plates that I carried in my purse to dinner.

This was dessert. Rice brioche with fresh local berries and cream. I can still taste it as I am writing this post. Amazing.

Here is a picture of Mr.Thoughtful, my best friend and husband. Love that smile and love him! 

At the end of the evening Jim thanked us all for attending and introduced us to Chef Michael. He is the third one from the left.

One would think that dinner in the middle of a field in Northern California in late June would be miserable because our normal temperatures are usually triple digits by now. Would you believe Jake took a coat and I had a wrap to keep my shoulders warm and they offered us blankets as the sun went down? It was chilly but gorgeous!

We had so much fun that we said we can't wait to do it again. The only thing we would do different is attend an event in an agriculture area that we are not familiar with. After all we do live in Butte County and while we don't grow rice, we know the basics for growing this important California crop.

Thanks for reading this really long post. And who knows, maybe you too will be inspired to have dinner in a field tonight or someday soon.  ~mrs. c

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