Dinner on the farm means locally grown food
By Cara Rubinsky
LYME, Conn. — Forget the maitre d’ and imported caviar. Sophisticated diners are now tromping across muddy fields and braving mosquito bites to eat gourmet food at its very source.
Outdoor dinners at family farms, popular on the West Coast for several years, are making their way east as part of a local food movement fueled by concerns about tainted food and a desire to eat vegetables grown nearby rather than halfway around the world.
"The cruel irony is that this is the way everyone used to eat," said chef and restaurant owner Jonathan Rapp, a co-founder of Connecticut’s Dinners at the Farm series. "Now it is special, and hopefully we’re going to get to a point where it becomes ordinary again, where eating wholesome, locally grown delicious food is every day."
A California company, Outstanding in the Field, started with two farm dinners for 60 to 70 people in the Santa Cruz area in 1999. A few years later, Chef Jim Denevan and his crew were traveling across the country.
This year, joined by chefs from all over, they’ll have served 80 to 140 people at each of 14 dinners in California, Massachusetts, Canada, Illinois, New York and Kentucky since June. The next is Sunday in California’s Sonoma County.
"Everybody has to eat and they eat every day, yet previously no one had any idea where their food came from," Denevan said. "People realized along the line that the story of where the food came from might make food more interesting but also make it taste better."
Connecticut’s Dinners at the Farm series was conceived last fall as Rapp hunched over a Weber grill in the pouring rain to cook at a fundraiser.
He and local farm owner Chip Dahlke wanted to feed more people the same way. They enlisted Drew McLachlan, a chef and gourmet market owner, to join them in planning and executing 10 dinners, each held at a different farm to raise money for charities.
They outfitted a 1955 Ford F600 with a smoker grill and a six-burner commercial range and approached area farmers about supplying produce and locally raised meats.
"We’re friends with the people who grew all this food," Rapp said. "Most of the people who eat here know the people who grew this food. It adds a whole other human element to it."