Outstanding in the Field graces Nebraska for the second year in a row
By Emily Beck
The July sky was particularly blue the day Outstanding in the Field graced Nebraska with its presence. The organization travels internationally, touring in, out of and around the United States to connect people to their food through farm dinners. When it comes to location, guests and chefs, each dinner is different—local food from each area is crafted by a celebrated chef of the region—but the mission of these “roving culinary adventures” remains the same: to honor farmers and bring people together through locally produced food.
This farm dinner, which took place the evening of July 27, was the second event to take place in Nebraska; it featured the same chef (Paul Kulik of the Boiler Room restaurant) and farm (Branched Oak Farm, owned by Krista and Doug Dittman) as the year before. And for the second year in a row, the event brought a hiatus from the ruthless summer heat of the plains, dragging with it a beautiful evening.
Upon arrival to the farm, which lies near the small town of Raymond, Nebraska, we were greeted with wine and an assortment of the farm’s cheeses (one fondly named Laughing Priest) crafted by Krista herself; the farm is famous for its homestead cheese, which is made from the farm’s dairy cows and aged in a cheese cave. We also dined on crispy ricotta-filled squash blossoms, salumi on sweet corn bread and a beef pâté with roasted apricot. The hors d’oeuvres sparked conversation between guests, who were eager to meet one another and discuss what brought each to the farm. The Outstanding in the Field team was happily busy, serving guests and answering questions about both the event and the food. The evening had a lovely relaxed air to it; Krista and Doug welcomed us to their home and farm after all of the guests arrived, and Jim Denevan, one of the founders of Outstanding in the Field, told us a little bit about himself and the history of the event. All were remarkably relaxed, determined to enjoy the event just as much as the guests.
After completing the trip to the long narrow table (a trademark image of the farm dinner), nestled in a nearby pasture, we dined on Krista’s own burrata (smooth half-moons of mozzarella and cream) paired with crisp Nantes carrots and watercress, rabbit from nearby Stormberg Farm (whose owner spent the evening with us) served with sweet corn and succotash, and veal from Davey Road Ranch, prepared with tender potatoes and oyster mushrooms. Each dish was an opportunity for new adventure, and the lapses between each course were spent in rich conversation with tablemates. Dinner was served family style, with eight people sharing each platter with one another—as well as their stories. It was difficult to believe that most of the guests did not know each other prior to the dinner; countless friendships were struck as the moon rose, and countless glasses of wine were poured.
The tall grasses of the pasture tickled our legs under the stark-white tablecloth as we sat under the wide, darkening sky. The evening wind surprised us with goose bumps; many trekked back to cars and caravans, parked a world away, to retrieve jackets to combat the chilly air. Chef Paul Kulik and his team kept warm, diligently working over their monstrous ovens set under a tent in the pasture, and as the evening sun dimmed, they crafted courses by lamplight.
For dessert we were showered with flavorful lavender cookies, a raspberry tartlet and creamy quark, a cheese that resembles Greek yogurt. The quark went flawlessly with a touch of raspberry, providing a sweet finish to the evening.
Farm guests were reluctant to depart their newly struck friendships, and after the last lavender cookie was enjoyed, many rose but did not leave, instead lingering by the long table. Diners eventually began the journey out of the field, their path lit by lamps.
All seemed delightfully impressed by the evening, which seemed a short furlough from each’s respective hurried world. Jim Denevan must have breathed his inner calm onto the evening, which was anything but rushed (as one may think when 100 people are to be served four courses in a field). On the contrary, every diner and server seemed not only to be present for the food but also for the atmosphere and company. It was as if the earth was thanking us for appreciating it and its bounty.
|Right: Farm guests toast to Branched Oak Farm, new friendships and the beautiful dinner they shared together. (Photo by Alison Bickel) Center: The view from every seat at the table was a beautiful one. For the second year in a row the sweltering summer weather subsided and provided guests with a beautiful evening. Left: Branched Oak Farm cows munch happily on grass. They are moved onto a fresh paddock every day to graze. (Photos by Emily Beck)|
Emily Beck is a high school student, journalist and intern for Edible Omaha. This was her first farm dinner experience (courtesy of Edible Omaha), and it solidified her interest in supporting local farmers. She would like to include a shout-out to Grant, the friendly nephew of Doug and Krista.