Check Facebook for updates. Check Twitter. Hit refresh. We wait with baited breath for the announcement of the Outstanding in the Field line-up. Last year’s memory of the lunch at Queens Farm, with guest chef Marcus Samuelsson still lingers, and we want more.
And then, there it is, the 2012 tour, their eighth year on the road. The bus pulls up in Gotham on September 18 for two events: the first at Queens Farm, the second at that glorious rooftop at Brooklyn Grange. I get on the phone to mastermind Jim Denevan to find out more.
What excites you about coming to New York?
People like Roger Repohl and his Bronx apiary. It’s this great story coming from a community garden, and there are so many more stories, coming from just outside of the city. We love working with Just Food who are this great source for locating ingredients and finding farmers who want to participate.
And we’re looking forward to not schlepping up two flights of stairs to get to the rooftop at Brooklyn Grange!
What can we expect from the two New York events?
We have a great line-up of guest chefs. We’re working with Justin Smillie from Il Buco Alimentari & Vineria (for the Queens Farm lunch), and we’re now finalizing details on the guest chef for the Brooklyn Grange rooftop, which will be announced on Tuesday.
And I’ll be at one of the New York events, at least.
What makes Outstanding in the Field so special?
It’s an odyssey. The first years were a struggle, to say the least. We spent the early days evangelizing getting people excited about local ingredients and meeting farmers. And people were like, what’s that table doing out there?
Now it’s popular, it’s more relaxed for everyone. We can truly enjoy it. And now we’re celebrating the culture that’s arisen. It’s a bit of a victory lap, as it were.
We’re served 13,000 people and now taking Outstanding in the Field to other countries. In 2010, Florence. This winter, we went to Brazil, and served all this tropical fruit which was not what we usually get to use. The reception was great, similar to those early years – why are you doing this? But we had 60 people at each table and it was incredible.
What is menu planning like on a scale like this?
We don’t plan too much ahead. We might find out the menu a week, a week-and-a-half before.
The first years, we had one event per week, which was not sustainable – it’s like a restaurant only being open one a day week – and we had to do a lot of research into different farmers, winemakers, cheese makers…Now, we’ve gotten to know so many people, who we need to know, that it’s much easier.
With wine pairing, we try and stay as local as possible. But sometime that’s not feasible, like in the Deep South, but luckily those guys have connections to great winemakers in Italy.
The guest chefs – they know what they’re up against. They get guidance from the previous year’s chefs, but there’s not a lot of hand-holding. They see their effort and they want to match it in terms of creativity.
How do you feel at the end of the tour?
Emotional: it’s both exhausting and exhilarating. And now we’re doing events in the winter: we had six this winter and next year we’ll have 12, all in tropical locations like Hawaii, the Caymans and Puerto Rico. There’s no rest!
Any plans for when you hit 10 years on the road?
The plan is to cross all 50 states that year, and produce a beautiful coffee table book highlighting all the locations we’ve visited. That’s my dream.
Tickets for the 2012 season go on sale on Tuesday 20 March here.