Dinner with the Stars – Outstanding in the Field, Leicester, NC and The Ultimate Critic’s Dinner, Charleston, SC

Ultimate Critics Dinner Charleston-3

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.

Outstanding in the Field at Gaining Ground Farm

Outstanding in the Field at Gaining Ground Farm

Jim Denevan

Founder, Jim Denevan, Leah Scafe, and Chef William Dissen (in background)

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.

Chef William Dissen with Katy Ourster

Chef William Dissen with Leah Scafe

Anne & Aaron Grier

Anne & Aaron Grier

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.


Chefs Tim Peters and William Dissen preparing appetizers

Guests enjoying appetizers and champagne in the barn

Guests enjoying appetizers and champagne in the barn

One of the guests in the barn

One of the guests in the barn

Following this gathering, there was a brief farm tour, culminating with dinner in the field.

Outside the barn

Outside the barn

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.

Guests can contribute plates to use at the dinner

Guests can donate plates to use at the dinner for an eclectic mix of table settings


Spit Roasted Brasstown Farm Sucking Pig with Honey and Apple Chutney

Two of our dinner companions for the evening

Two of our dinner companions for the evening

The wine pairings were excellent

The wine pairings were excellent


Roasted Squash and Heirloom Farro, Shaved Fennel Salad with Orange Thyme Vinaigrette

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.

This was a truly memorable evening

The sun would soon set and we then dined under the stars


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.

Greeting us as we arrived at Ashem Farm

Greeting us as we arrived at Ashem Farm

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.

Mickey Bakst at our first venue by the dock

Mickey Bakst, the evening’s host, at our first venue by the dock

Patrick Emerson

Patrick Emerson serving The King Edward cocktail

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.

Guests arriving at the stables for the second canapes and cocktails

Guests arriving at the stables for the second round of canapes and cocktails

Sean Brock making a pot of Seminole Soup

Chef Sean Brock making a pot of Seminole Soup

Horse stables

The horses garnered much attention during the stop at the second venue

Yes, the recipe from The Carolina Housewife calls for squirrel

Yes, the recipe from The Carolina Housewife calls for squirrel

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.

Chefs Emily Cookson and Mike Lata

Chefs Emily Cookson and Mike Lata

Guests entering the tent for dinner

Guests entering the tent for dinner

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.

With Chef Michelle Weaver

With Chef Michelle Weaver

The table settings were beautifully arranged

The table settings were beautifully arranged

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.

This was one of the most memorable events of 2012

This was one of the most memorable events of 2012

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.

5 Responses to “Dinner with the Stars – Outstanding in the Field, Leicester, NC and The Ultimate Critic’s Dinner, Charleston, SC”

  1. 1

    Doris snider — January 7, 2013 @ 5:18 pm

    It all looks so elegant and I love the historical aspects of it, such as the property, the 1800’s cookbook, and the pairing of modern and farm. Keeping the historical items in mind, are there any more layman’s dinners or festivals that would be available for a vegetarian residing in Fay.,NC?
    The squirrelly soup…..no can do. And when I looked at the horses I thought keep your health boys! ha!

    • Gwen replied: — January 7th, 2013 @ 10:46 pm

      Hi Doris,

      I agree with you on the squirrel soup. I can’t do that either.

      I assume you live in Fayetteville, NC? If so, I know that there are some culinary events, dinners, and charity events (with a culinary focus) that take place in Raleigh, Charlotte, and Chapel Hill and it looks like that is not too far from you. I am not as familiar with your town. If you are on Facebook, you could follow some of the restaurants in those cities and that would give you updates on events.

      You had mentioned the horses at Ashem Farm. They are all rescue horses, so they are completely safe. The former owner of the property, Emily Ravenel Farrow, was a great lover of horses, and these horses were guests for the evening from the Livestock and Equine Awareness and Rescue Network (LEARN).

      Thank you so much for your comment and please let me know if you have any other questions about culinary dinners or events in North Carolina.


  2. 2

    William Dissen — January 8, 2013 @ 6:35 pm


    Thanks for the wonderful article about our event at Gaining Ground Farm for the Outstanding in the Field dinner series. This was my 3rd year hosting the event here in Asheville and we were fortunate to have a great turnout of amazing people from all across the US.

    As always, it is a pleasure to dine with you and Roger. I look forward to seeing more of you in Western North Carolina in 2013.


    Chef William Dissen
    The Market Place Restaurant & Lounge

  3. 3

    Jamie — January 14, 2013 @ 8:50 am

    You ferret out and attend the absolute best food events and this does look like one of the best. Maybe you are simply lucky to live in a foodcentric part of the country where so much happens, where so many are farming and creative amazing basic products as well as inventive cuisine. It is funny that more types of this event don’t happen in France.

    I also remember being at college in Philadelphia where one of our neighbors was a dental student. One weekend he went home to spend with his family and to hunt – his hobby and passion. He came back with 3 squirrels he had shot wrapped in freezer wrap. He kept them for a while in his freezer, not knowing what to do with them, and once in a while we would take them out and look at them, fascinated.

  4. 4

    Denise — June 24, 2015 @ 11:14 am

    Was looking at Google images of these farm dinners and was instantly drawn to Roger’s photo of the table…on my way to Hollywood today for my first Outstanding in the Field Dinner at Wattles Farm! Hope you guys are well – congrats on the cookbook collaboration!

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