Since 1999, Santa Cruz-based Outstanding in the Field has been setting up its one long table in the dirt between lettuce rows and grape vines, dusty garden paths and very windy secret coves.
This weekend's dinner site was a private beach five miles north of Santa Cruz. On Saturday, 170 guests picked their way over rocky crags to one long table in the sand.
"Even with the waves and the wind and the threat of the water it's still an amazing experience and you'll still keep coming back," said Jeannie Lella, who sat to my left.
Guests smiled at the stray sand grains between their teeth and antagonized an ever-rising tide with their cheers, while gale force winds whipped through summer jackets and left no hair untouseled.
Aside from being one of the sweetest women I have ever met, Lella to my left is the mother of Hans Haveman of H & H Fresh Fish, who sourced rockfish and sanddabs for the dinner. Even as a baby Haveman was drawn to the sea.
"His diaper was always filled with sand. He loved how it felt when he was teething," Lella told the table, making the two Southwest flight attendents (hailing all the way from Nashville and Oklahoma City) across from us laugh.
The honored farmer of the evening was Darryl Wong, of Freewheelin' Farm. When Amy Courtney and Kirstin Yogg started the farm over a decade ago, they pedaled their vegetables into town on bikes. Today, they supply restaurants and CSA's with fresh produce and are deeply devoted to the local educational program for youths, Food, What?!
Freewheelin' Farm grows their vegetables on 8 acres overlooking the Pacific, where shell mounds mark the days of long lost Ohlone Indian feast grounds.
Jeff Larkey of Route 1 Farms also helped source the dinner, bringing boxes of lemon verbena, Italian parsley and other herbs he had grown just a few more miles up the coast, for the chef du jour: Peter McNee from Poggio Trattoria in Sausalito.
Just around sunset, a more frantic kind of a cry erupted from the far end of the table as an ice cold wave splashed under it—a carefully calculated detail by Jim Denevan, founder of Outstanding in the Field, who took the opportunity to light the huge bonfire he and his crew had built earlier that day.
(Ingredients harvested from Freewheelin' and Route 1 Farms)
Bread with a trio of pots: cured salmon, horseradish beets, fennel agrodolce
corn sformatino, grilled porcini mushroom, butter poached lobster, chives, arugula
shellfish roe spaghetti, clams, mussels, salt cod, rock shrimp, tomato, chile, parsley
mixed grilled fish: sanddab, rockfish calamari, sardine, octopus, salmon, head-on prawn, lemon, potato, artichoke.