Outstanding In The Field, A Farm To Table Feast

Yesterday was a first for me. My first farm to table meal actually served on a farm, outside, at a very large table, yes, my very first Outstanding In The Field.  If you haven't heard of OITF before, it is a moveable dinner party/feast, started in 1999, held at farms across the country, connecting diners to great farms and famous chefs. Yesterday's event was at Lake Meadow Naturals, a local egg/poultry farm just 20 minutes from Orlando, with guest chef Melissa Kelly of Primo fame.

OITF claims 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." They certainly lived up to their mission. The event started at 2 pm, with wine and cocktails (my favorite was the Old Fashioned) and 5 different appetizers - all using ingredients from Lake Meadows or other local farms - including deviled eggs, chicken liver mousse, fritto misto (with some of the tastiest octopus I've ever eaten), and beef tartare.

From there they broke us into groups and sent us on a farm tour. We got to meet Dale Volkert, the host farmer and owner of Lake Meadow Naturals and check out their free-range chickens, the egg operations, and all the other animals (a lot of poultry, chickens, quail, ducks, geese, etc but also goats) as well as the produce, herbs, and more. It's a beautiful place and such an inspiring time.

 After walking around and touring the farm, all 180 of us walked over to the massive dining table, chose seats, got to know our neighbors, and got settled in for the 4 courses and wine pairings that were on the way. An interesting tradition, should you decide to join an OITF event in the future, is that guests are encouraged to bring their own plates. They have plates for you to borrow, of course, but it made a lovely table setting seeing everyone's different china patterns adorning the table. At the end of service, plates are washed and returned to their respective owners.

From Italian wedding soup featuring duck meatballs and duck brodo from Lake Meadow Naturals ducks, to the chicken two ways using local romanesco, cauliflower, and turnips from Primo's own garden, the meal was a locally grown treat, with wonderful wine pairings and ending with bourbon laced hot chocolate. Many of the courses are served family style and while I've read reviews from others that claimed they did not find the servings large enough, I left quite stuffed at the end of the evening. Chef Melissa Kelly planned a simple, delicious meal. I found the portion sizes perfect and there was no hesitation from the servers to refill wine glasses during service. At the end, chef Melissa Kelly and her crew made their way through the group, receiving cheers and applause.

The only negative thing I can even say about the evening was that it was unseasonably cold for us Floridians. The daytime high only got into the upper 50s, practically freezing for Florida, and much cooler than usual for this event. The sun had set right around when entrees were being served, and one-by-one, you could see guests putting on hats, wrapping up in scarves, jackets, gloves and mittens. By the candlelit end, it hovered in the 40s, arctic weather for those of us conditioned to the sun and humidity.

Outstanding in the Field tours the United States, hitting farms and communities across the country. It's a special evening and a wonderful time, highly recommended.


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