Dinner with the Stars – Outstanding in the Field, Leicester, NC and The Ultimate Critic’s Dinner, Charleston, SC
Seating themselves on the greensward, they eat while the corks fly and there is talk, laughter and merriment, and perfect freedom, for the universe is their drawing room and the sun their lamp. Besides, they have appetite, Nature’s special gift, which lends to such a meal a vivacity unknown indoors, however beautiful the surroundings. ~ Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin
The frequency of food and wine festivals and culinary events in the country continues to escalate as does our preoccupation with food. Every week there is an opportunity to attend a local event or to travel to a unique destination to experience food in a different way. Outdoor dinners have become very popular, especially in the South, where the temperatures allow for almost year-round dining. They afford an opportunity to reconnect with your surroundings and provide a romantic backdrop, especially on a beautiful evening. We had the pleasure of taking part in two of these dinners in October: The Outstanding in the Field dinner in Leicester, North Carolina and the Ultimate Critic’s Dinner in Charleston, South Carolina.
Outstanding in the Field Dinner – Gaining Ground Farm – Leicester, North Carolina
Chef William Dissen – The Market Place, Asheville, North Carolina
Jim Denevan, Founder of Outstanding in the Field, has been credited with creating a movement of connecting people with farmers and chefs while dining under the stars. Jim and his team travel the United States with tables, chairs, cooking equipment, and serving pieces in tow to destinations from coast to coast (and beyond), to work with local chefs to put on these events.
William Dissen, Chef-Owner of The Market Place restaurant in Asheville, NC was the chef for this event. Hosted at Gaining Ground Farm, Anne and Aaron Grier’s family farm outside of Asheville, on a gorgeous evening in early October, it was our first time attending one of these dinners.
While guests enjoyed champagne and appetizers in the barn, Jim Denevan and Leah Scafe, Jim’s partner and assistant, talked about their “mission 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.” The Griers talked about their challenges and successes of owning a small farm. Chef Dissen shared his philosophy and commitment to sourcing and cooking with only sustainable and local ingredients.
Following this gathering, there was a brief farm tour, culminating with dinner in the field.
If you have never been to an outdoor dinner like this, there is something very special about fellowship with new friends while dining under the stars with the moon and candles providing the light. There were 140 guests at the farm that evening, all with the same philosophy around supporting local farmers and chefs who have a mission to do the same.
With the breeze blowing and the sun setting, we dined on beautifully prepared and freshly harvested vegetables and local meats and fish. Guest chef, Tim Peters of Motor Supply Company in Columbia, South Carolina, worked alongside chef Dissen and his team to prepare four courses from these locally sourced ingredients. One of the dishes featured beef from the farm where the event was hosted, Wood Grilled Gaining Ground Farm Beef Brisket with Tomato Jam, Farm and Sparrow Roasted Garlic Spoonbread, served with Rainbow Swiss Chard with Braised Radish. Paired with some lovely wines, this was truly a memorable evening.
The Ultimate Critic’s Dinner – Ashem Farm – Charleston, SC
This dinner was one of my favorite events this past year. Held on a beautiful historic farm outside of Charleston, it could not have been a more perfect evening. I was honored to have been chosen as one of the panel to select the participants for this dinner and was delighted to attend the Ultimate Critic’s Dinner in conjunction with the BB&T Charleston Wine & Food Festival.
The host, beverage expert, and chefs for the evening are chosen by a panel of judges (or critics), much like the voting system for the James Beard Foundation awards. Anyone from the Charleston culinary scene can be nominated and once the first votes have been submitted, the field of nominees is narrowed down to a final vote. The winners of that round of voting plan the evening’s menu from the appetizers and cocktails, through dinner with wine pairings, to the finale and dessert course.
Ashem Farm, where the event was held, was recently donated to Charleston by owner Emily Ravenel Farow (who passed away in 2011), in order to preserve this important piece of land and history in this area. The 55-acre property, located along the Old Towne Creek and the Ashley River, was a stunning location for the dinner. The host for the evening was Mickey Bakst, General Manager of the Charleston Grill at the Charleston Place Hotel. There was no better person to guide guests through the night with stories of the history of the property while escorting us to each new and perfectly chosen venue on the property.
The dishes served throughout the evening were inspired by one of Emily Farrow’s favorite cookbooks, Sarah Rutledge’s 1847 classic cookbook, The Carolina Housewife. To begin the evening, canapes of Smoked Fish with Johnny Cakes and Beef Tongue were prepared dockside by Chef Jeremiah Bacon of The Macintosh and Oak Steakhouse. Guests then followed the trail leading to the horse stables where we were greeted with Seminole Soup (think squirrel) prepared by Chef Sean Brock of McCrady’s and Husk. These two appetizer courses were paired with cocktails chosen by Patrick Emerson, Wine and Beverage Director of Maverick Southern Kitchens.
As the sun began to set on this gorgeous warm evening, we were guided along a path through the trees that were draped with lights and then passed through a draped entryway into a tent alight with stunning table settings and strung lights. The “Ultimate” Dinner was the perfect description as we were served five expertly prepared courses from Chef Mike Lata’s (Fig and The Ordinary) Caveach of Mackerel paired with a Fruilano wine from Italy to Emily Cookson’s (Pastry Chef at Charleston Grill) elegant Rose Charlotte with Raspberry Preserves and Ratafia. The pairing for this dessert course was a Moscato Rose from the Piedmonte Region in Italy.
The other chefs chosen by the critics were Joshua Keeler (Two Boroughs Larder), Michelle Weaver (Charleston Grill), and Frank Lee (Slightly North of Broad – SNOB). As each course was exceptional, it would be hard to select a favorite, but Chef Weaver’s Guinea Fowl Fricassee with Carolina Pilau, Country Ham with Sweet Potatoes and Rosemary seemed to be a real crowd pleaser.
The warm summer evening, moonlit night, and beautifully appointed venue created an atmosphere that will be remembered forever. Be sure to check the Charleston Wine & Food Festival’s page in the coming months for their announcement regarding this year’s event and location.
Our On The Road culinary adventures will be heading to Virginia in April. One of our special evenings will feature a farm dinner, “Dining with the Stars,” and will include leading chefs and a wine maker on a beautiful farm. Be sure to watch for this very special opportunity. More information will be provided in the next few weeks.