Outstanding in the Field — for one meal
Special to The Aspen Times
Vermont is a Sabra Fields vision of red barns, white fences and rolling Green Mountains, a quiet place where living sustainability is a way of life. This is where I grew up, and farm-to-table meals were everyday.
New Englanders are hardy folks, especially those from a generation or two ago. They had a sense of humor that leaned towards being bone-dry and to the point. My mother was no exception: Her knack for bluntness made me crazy. The humor rested in the ability to reduce any thought to deadpan simplicity.
On Wednesday afternoon, I wondered what she might have said as I stood looking over a field at the the Copper Bar Ranch in Edwards.
Below me stretched a seemingly endless, white-clothed table setting, with glassware glistening in the evening sun. Dinner plates of every color and pattern provided a festive touch.
I could just hear her say, “Those darn fools spending their good money to eat dinner in the middle of a cow pasture!”
This was my first Farm to Table event, and I was going “all in” to see for myself what it was about.
During this “event,” guests follow signs through the ranch gates, past the chickens, to a ground zero for foodies. This is the real McCoy, the down-on-the-farm version of dining with local food.
Outstanding in the Field, a company out of California, organized the dinner, and without question, they know how to put on a show. After 14 years, they should, as gourmet farm dinners are what the company is famous for. Yearly, they cross America like rock stars in a retro bus, gathering up the best local chefs and fresh food. The stages for the food stars are locations in vineyards, orchards, farms and ranches.
Sitting in the middle of a field with the vegetable gardens on the right and the cows on the left provides for a unique dining experience. It is here that even the most agriculturally disconnected person would be jarred into a bucolic reality.
Caution — this is not a fuel-loading, rib-sticking farmhouse meal. It is a combination of white linens and free-flowing local wines paired with the work of an extraordinary local chef, Mark Fischer, with the cooking and dining all together in the finest room built — the great outdoors.
The evening started promptly with a reception at 4 p.m. Local beverages such as Bonfire beer and Woody Creek Distillers spirits were served. Solid-ice mugs, sculptures and a beer-keg stand that icesculpture.com from nearby Vail created from a solid frozen block added to the display. Appetizers of Olathe corn fritters and Borden Farms zucchini cannelloni were just a few of the creative choices. The guests had grown to a very large group.
At 6 p.m., we headed toward the field for dinner. Along the way, we traveled through the vegetable gardens, where we were shown where our salad greens had grown. At the cow corral, we paused for a personal introduction to the ranch’s highland beef cattle. Kerry Donovan, the ranch owner, explained why 100 percent grass-fed beef is better than the generic term of “grass-fed.” Then she shared stories about the ranch’s rich heritage, which added to our appreciation and sense of place.
Once tableside, we chose our seats informally as Colorado wines were starting to be poured. Jack Rabbit Hill, out of Hotchkiss, provided delicious selections.
There was a total of four courses, each with two gourmet offerings. Family-style platters of food were shared. The professional staff described in detail about each dish as it was served. We learned about the ingredients and where in Colorado they came from. Here are a few mouth-watering examples: Rivendell potatoes coated with a stinging-nettle salsa verde, a beef terrine with fresh rhubarb chutney and a savory heirloom-tomato tart and my favorite, the morning’s lake catch, a cedar-plank-grilled Colorado striped bass.
The evening concluded with a desert platter of Avalanche cheese, roast apricot-rosemary marmalette, raw honeycomb and a hazelnut-brittle olive cake.
As the sun slipped behind the mountain, I said goodbye to my new friends, and we exchanged numbers. Who would’ve thought that having dinner with more than 100 people in a cow pasture could be so darn much fun?
Midweek, I’ll have another dinner story: I headed over to the very next farm dinner I could find, an event Rock Bottom Ranch hosted Friday in Basalt, and I sent pictures to all my new foodie friends.
Joni Keefe moved to the Roaring Fork Valley after a career in landscape design. She is passionate about local food and agriculture. For more information, her website is Farmsfinest.com, or follow her on Twitter. Connect at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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