I recently had a magical food experience with a company called “Outstanding in the Field.” As a doctor, I can’t emphasize enough just how important connection TO your food and with others OVER food is to your health. The simple act of seeing where it was grown, picking it, touching it and the dirt it thrives in, chopping it, and putting love into its preparation changes the physiology behind the nutrition, digestion, and health benefits. You heard me right. Your connection to your food changes how much it nourishes you. If you add the way in which you enjoy it on top of that, I may even venture to say that even an unhealthy choice can then have health benefits. That discussion is for another time, but today, I want to talk about this idea of going to a farm, meeting the farmers, touring the grounds, having a professional chef pour love into the ingredient preparation, and sharing a table with hundreds of other people talking and eating family style. That, folks, is exactly what Outstanding in the Field has developed.
I arrived at Kinnikinnik Farms in the early evening with a plate. Why would I bring a plate? Because it is tradition at the dinners to have guests bring a plate to further enhance the uniqueness of each event. Even a dinner on the same farm will change based on what is in season, the chef taking artistic liberty in preparation, and the plates that sit atop the table. The conversations will be unique, the animals on the farm will be new, and the farm will inevitably be different from year to year. The moment in time is taken as a place in time to celebrate all those farmers providing us food to nourish our bodies and souls. Without farmers, what would you eat? To take it one step further and honor the hard work that goes into farming organically and sustain-ably, they choose farmers that exemplify this at these dinners.
There was a cocktail hour, where a fantastic Chicago restaurant, called North Pond, provided champagne and a craft cocktail called the Cucumber-basil cooler. While enjoying the cocktails and walking around the farm exploring, bite size tastings were offered:
Goat cheese mousse, pickle gel and spiced pecan
Buttermilk egg salad, dilly beans, and a tart cherry
Roasted eggplant socca crepe, nectarine, and yogurt
These were all one bite (one delicious bite), and I tried really hard not to fill up before dinner even started! Walking around, I explored the tents they rent out for those wanting to unplug and experience life on a farm, the apple trees that have been there for years as gifts to the farmers, and the donkeys that brought me back to my time in the Peace Corps. Donkeys were abundant in Mali, and I remember how beautiful I thought their marking were. After a word of thanks to the farmers and getting a little bit of history of the farm, they took us on a tour. This particular farm used to be mostly vegetables. The farmers used to have regular jobs. Just as the market, demand, and life evolve, so did the farmers that bought the farm, lived in a trailer, then above the barn before they could afford to renovate the farmhouse on the property. As organic vegetable farming becomes less lucrative, the animal husbandry venture becomes much more appealing. It was fascinating to hear how they evolved, how their animals live, and what they see for the future of the farm as they age.
Then it was time for dinner at a long table in the field, at sunset, family style with strangers. You know how sometimes you eat something you’ve had quite a few times before and somehow this time it feels like the best thing you’ve ever eaten? That is how every course (of the 4 courses) were. I don’t eat bread typically, but I could not NOT enjoy and partake in breaking bread with my neighbors, smeared with cultured butter. The bread was laid out on the table for tearing and I am pretty sure many hands touched it. In some ways this seems unsanitary, and in other ways, this is a traditional way to gain exposure to a diverse set of probiotic microbes. History can often unveil how important certain things are for our health today.
Every course had its own thoughtful wine pairing and the heirloom tomatoes made my eyes roll back…and I don’t even like tomatoes. This is real talk. Another way you know your food is magical: when things you don’t enjoy become somewhat addicting in that moment. I won’t go through every dish served because descriptions don’t do them justice, but I remember thinking to myself how impressed I was with the thoughtful simplicity of the food. The chef did an amazing job letting the food itself shine without any crazy techniques or wow factors, and sometimes that’s exactly how it should be enjoyed. The experience lasted about 6 hours, and guess what? I didn’t have my phone, and I’m not sure anyone sitting around me looked at theirs once (if they even had them available). It was refreshing to enjoy a meal outside, at sunset, without the interruption of technology.
Needless to say, I will be back and encourage all of you to consider it if you are in the area of one. It’s an experience of a lifetime, and will certainly enhance your appreciation for the land, the food it provides, the farmers that tend to the land, the environment you eat in, and the people which you share the simple act of eating with. If I could sum it up in one idea, it would be: “An experience of food from the land to moment you realize the satisfaction and nourishment it provided you.”
I think it’s important to also point out that you do not have to participate in an event like this to get to know local farmers, grow some food, prepare food, or share your food. I encourage each of you to do more of each of those things, and you’ll never look at food the same ever again because it will always have a story. Life is nothing more than a series of stories that fill up your soul. Enjoy it! These were the only pictures I could wrangle without a phone!