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.

Chef

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

Pork

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

Salad

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

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