Farmers and Chefs
We left Pennsylvania for the DC area; for the next few weeks we would be confronted with the constant threat of rain. Some days were luckier than others.
After a long drive we pulled up to Even’ Star Organic Farm in Lexington Park, MD. Farmer Brett and his lovely wife Christine welcomed us with open arms. Brett studied soil science before becoming a farmer and as we walked through the rows of gorgeous brassicas he bent down to explain how he and Christine had transformed the soil on their land. He took a large handful of dirt and poured a few tablespoons of the water from his glass into his hand. Then he rubbed his hands together to make a snake out of the soil. This, he explained, is an easy way to test the levels of clay in your soil. If it sticks together the soil has higher clay content. His farm tour was equally as engaging and informational, and after a fantastic event we all dispersed ourselves on Brett and Christine’s floor. Christine and Brett did not seem to mind at all, they woke at 4am to fix us breakfast before we left at 5:30am. Brett chatted with us about the coming weather and his deliveries for the day; as the sun began to rise we hopped on the road, ready to press forward.
From Even’Star we made our way to host an event with Joel and Erica at Free Union Grass Farm in Charlottesville, VA. We traveled through the Carolinas with a visit back to Gaining Ground Farm in Asheville, NC and a visit to a new event location at the Dirt Works Incubator Farm near Charleston, SC. Chefs Angus Brown & Nhan Le of Lusca kicked off a great meal with fresh shucked oysters from the Gulf of Mexico at Love is Love Farm in Decatur, Georgia. We quickly moved through beautiful events in Tennessee at Wedge Oak Farm and Kentucky at Woodland Farm. In De Soto, Missouri we arrived to find that the restaurant was already busy readying for the dinner. Farmer Dave of Such and Such Farm had welded a spit in his shop for Chef Josh Poletti and they were stringing up two large pigs for roasting. Guests were awed by the two animals rubbed simply with garlic, rosemary, and salt spinning on a beautiful hand-crafted spit. During dinner, Josh and his team walked the freshly roasted pigs to the table on a huge butcher block, a practice that reminds me of ancient feasts, a traditional celebration for a life given. That evening, Dave and his crew lit a bonfire for us making the most of our rain-free evening.
In the morning we had to split, heading back through the midwest. At this point, Jim had flown back to California to drive out the Bus which was spending time in the shop getting the shocks repaired. 4 months after we left it in California, we had our tiny bunks back; our traveling home. It is hard to describe the comfort that is brought by the bus but it is more then just a cool, retro way to get around, after 4 months of camping, the bus is luxury living.
Onwards to big ole Texas. Outstanding in the Field trucks seems to have a Texas curse. Last year this was the site of major truck trouble. We crossed our fingers. The first event at Johnson’s Backyard Garden in Dallas went swimmingly as did our events at the Last Organic Outpost and Blue Heron Farm in the Houston area, and Boggy Creek Farm in Austin. We made our way across this giant state with 6 incredible dinners and lots of overwhelming Southern Hospitality. We were almost over the hump until we hit San Antonio. Jim, Seth, and I suddenly smelled diesel and not a bit of exhaust, but rather huge bellowing fumes gusting out of the vents of the blue truck. We rolled up the windows. No! Roll down the windows! We pulled as quickly as we could into a Best Western. The problem was a broken fuel line. We called AAA and then waited. Jim found a tiny piece of grass in the parking lot to lie on. I reclined in the truck and read my book, put on lots of hand cream, and scoured the car for snacks. Hours later AAA arrived and towed the truck a whopping 1 mile to the nearest Dodge dealership. Andrew, who had kindly left his cozy sleeping bag, rescued us with the other truck.
Down a truck and 40 miles from San Antonio, the rain finally made good on its dramatic promises. It came in the form of flood warnings, huge sheets of rain billowing down around the beautiful barn at Vintage Heart Farm. I stood with a broom emptying the pockets of collecting rainwater on our pop ups. We were all nervous. It will subside Jim insisted. We all anxiously waited. Guests arrived, beautiful cast irons filled with traditional Mexican stew provided the perfect warmth and sure enough it subsided. By the time dessert went out, the rain had stopped all together. That evening we left a table set for our staff meal. We ate and sang Joni Mitchell as Seth did an interpretive dance in front of the barn door. Oh the odd little Outstanding family, how I love you.
The rain was behind us now as we set off into the desert. Miles upon miles of cacti and red rock. Miles of Fleetwod Mac’s album Tango in the Night. Only two more dinners to go before we crossed that fateful California border, nearly the end.
We have fantastic Chefs that have worked with us for years and we are lucky that Clark Stub from Full of Life FlatBread in Los Alamos is one of them. Clark’s early career was in the music business, working for a while as the VP of Marketing at Capitol Records. He opened Full of Life Flatbreads in 2004, with a focus on locally sourced ingredients, traditional techniques, and communal dining. Clark has been a guest chef at multiple Outstanding Events.
We asked him to share with us the story of his Full of Life Oven. He gave us his oven stories and a whole lot more!
I still call myself a cook. Not a chef. Not even a baker although that is how I got into this business.
With the exception of one introductory course in a Cordon Bleu evening class for working professionals I haven’t been to culinary school. I never ståged at other restaurants (which I still tell myself I will do), I didn’t come from an upbringing that did anything very exciting with food (our neighbors were McDonald’s franchisees and my father was very envious). Although I worked for exactly one day each at an early Subway Sandwich shop and at the restaurant in the Pirates of the Caribbean early in college (I never went back) I have never worked in restaurants other than my own.
Full of Life Flatbread, my restaurant, has been around now for 13 years. Before this I had a bread bakery and café for 4 years in a college town.
I’m a self-taught baker. A self-taught cook. I observe things, the way they work, the way they taste, smell, and filter what appeals to me or what I think will work. Sometimes I get it and sometimes I don’t. With Flatbread I got part of it but mostly I am still tinkering to make it better. We’ve won Best Restaurant and Local Hero and Best Artisan Food and other awards in Santa Barbara every year for the past 5-plus years and I still change our menu every week. I still challenge my fellow cooks as to what is possible with the products and equipment that we have.
Virtually everything that we do comes out of our wood ovens. Friends and I built the wood-burning ovens that we use in the restaurant and for what I call ‘Field Bakes.’ While I built my original oven to largely bake our namesake Flatbread Pizzas, we utilize the flame and heat and smoke, the coals, the hot floor, the hearth, the lasting mass-heat, to produce everything from roasted foods to a black “Ash Sauce” to ice cream bases.
In 1998 when I changed careers and opened a bread bakery I bought a very expensive, very cool French gas deck-oven. Before that point I had only ever baked bread in my home oven which I lined with bricks and pizza stones. That French oven was awesome and the breads I was producing won rave reviews and created quite a following. They were baked from organic levain-based breads from a starter I had made back in 1992 after reading about capturing wild-yeast.
During that time, I think it was around 1999, I went up to Pt.Reyes, to visit the original Cowgirl Creamery. While there I bought an amazing loaf of bread which turned out to be one of Chad Robertson’s. My friend at Cowgirl pointed down the small-town street where his home bakery was and myself and one of my bakers walked over there. He was very gracious and showed us his Alan Scott built wood oven and we talked bread and he explained how his wife utilized the more subtler dying heat after his bread bake to bake her pastries which, along with his breads, they sold at the time at Farmer’s Markets. I loved the simplicity of that oven.
When I was a kid my family had a cabin with 2 Franklin Wood Stoves. The cabin was in the mountains and my dad would have me help him build a fire and then put water in a pot and place the pot on the top of the stove to humidify the dry mountain air. I liked the idea that the fireplace, the hearth, was multi-purpose: it heated the cold cabin, provided some light, and humidified the room. It also roasted Stay-Puff marshmallows which was about as adventurous as my family got in hearth cooking back then.
Around 2000, after a couple years baking in my amazing steam-injected deck oven, my interest in wood cooking was really starting to take shape. What would happen if I wasn’t in such control? I had visited Acme in Berkeley to see they’re circular oven, I had been to Bouley and Bread Alone in NY, the year earlier I had taken an extensive drive through southern France and visited many communal bread ovens, I visited the legendary Poilåne in Paris, and at one point, when sorting through old photographs I found a picture I had taken from a mid-‘80’s trip of a child carrying loaves of dough to a village oven in Morocco. I was obviously, if not realizing it in the moment, obsessed with not just bread but also with fire. During this time I reached out to Alan Scott and began researching building a wood oven that I could bake bread in. A book by Scott, with Robertson on the cover, was my inspiration: The Bread Builders. I had an idea to partner with the Mt.Baldy Zen Center, which was up the mountain from my bakery, and produced a simple wood-baked loaf that could be sold in my shop and farmers markets with proceeds going toward the Center. I wanted to build a wood oven on the mountain and teach the monks to make a really good bread.
This never happened as I took another career left-turn, sold my bakery, and moved to Vermont. In making that decision, however, I gave myself time to observe and experiment: and thus my business today!
The original oven that we built in the middle of what became our restaurant dining room is made entirely from stone and clay. It is modeled on a Quebecan Beehive Oven sort of turned on it’s side. While I was in Vermont I met the genius George Schenk and observed his more rustic version of this style oven. In my research I found an old photo of a woman on the Canadian prairie baking in an outdoor oven like this.
Before I even built my original oven in 2003 I had designed a portable oven on a trailer. Shortly after I opened my restaurant I bought an old wood-splitting trailer for $35 and began building our first portable oven. That oven now has well over 100,000 miles on it and has been to over 20 states.
The basic concept of both ovens is the same: baking, roasting, braising, browning, and cooking utilizing floor heat, flame intensity, air heat (in the oven), residual mass heat, and smoke. All of these things are controllable to a degree by managing the fire, the length of the burn before cooking, and the intensity of the fire, if any, when cooking. Smoke can become another taste or we can cook beyond the smoke point.
There is something very personal and primal in cooking with fire. There is something very honest in the way the food tastes. We can roast for long periods of time in the oven or bake a Flatbread Pizza in 90 seconds. For the cook there is the intimacy of intuition and skill of laying the right amount of fuel in the appropriate place in the oven to yield the needed amount of heat depending on the ingredients.
Given where we are located we use a mix of oak wood: red, white, and scrub as our main fuel. Our oak is not cut down but from naturally felled trees or branch trimming from the ranches that surround us. We also have access to walnut, almond, and cherry hardwoods as well as avocado. All these yield different smoke elements and heat profiles. In the winter we collect grapevine clippings from the vineyards that surround us: these can be soaked and used to smoke different foods.
When we prepare a menu for Outstanding in the Field I always incorporate something indigenous into what we do. We can bring our portable wood-oven with us and compliment BBQ grills or pit cooking. The challenge is always the exciting part. Being in a new place and remote and working with what we have. We have cooked and baked in vineyards, in orchards and communal gardens, on a remote sandspit only accessible by boat and on a cliffside in Big Sur. Making our menu a reflection of the surroundings is something I always try to bring to the table.
Understanding and working with fire we have baked whole fish wrapped in grape leaves and then covered in adobe clay from the very property we set our kitchen up. We have slow braised goat and roasted whole onions, fennel, and leek in the coals to allow the inside to steam and caramelize on itself. We have grilled fresh berries over embers to be served with a smoked ice cream. Of course, we also bake our Flatbread Pizzas with a full flame.
Because one of the concepts of a big table is communal, I try bring that character into the foods that we serve at Outstanding in the Field and in my restaurants. We have done 8 Outstanding in the Field dinners thus far and at each we try to bring something new.
Founder / Owner – Full of Life Flatbread, Los Alamos, California
Out on the road we get to try some of the best food being crafted across the country. At The Hickories event in Ridgewood, CT a few moons ago, Chef Carlos of Spread in South Norwalk, CT made meatballs with Farmer Dina’s gorgeous lamb and pork. Guests could not get enough! The succulent savory of the meatballs, with the light heat from the harrissa yogurt made perfect bite after perfect bite. We had to share the recipe with everyone!
Pork and Lamb Meatballs
5 cloves garlic – minced
3 large eggs
1 tbsp fresh chopped oregano
1 tsp sea salt
.5 tsp cracked black pepper
1/3 cup Japanese breadcrumbs
1/2 pound Dina’s Hickory’s spring lamb
1/2 pound Dina’s Hickorys pork loin
Makes 8 servings of 2 meatballs per each serving. Mix ingredients well; shape into meatballs. Bake in a 375 degree Fahrenheit oven in a parchment paper covered baking dish or cook in a lightly oiled sauté pan at medium heat until ready.
1 cup yogurt ( Greek)
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1⁄2 tablespoon juice fresh lemon
2 teaspoons harissa, sauce
sea salt and black pepper (to taste)
Whip all ingredients together and season to taste
Chris, chef Carlos and the Spread crew
We were fortunate to host a full table of foodies at our farm this June. This was the fourth time our family farm hosted Outstanding in the Field. Each year, the vibe and food is different, but it is always a day when we pause to enjoy our region’s bounty with people who care about how their food was raised and grown.
My brothers and I grew up on our farm, Capay Organic, which our parents founded in 1976. It’s about 45 minutes northwest from Sacramento. As kids doing farm chores and packing produce boxes, we would never have imagined a farm-to-table dinner that brought about 200 people out to our land for multiple courses of mouth-watering food.
It is great to have an event where you see the work of growing produce and protein be enjoyed by the end consumer on site – truly farm-to-fork. There are many terms that are so popular now, and it makes me take a look back at appreciate our roots. My mother and father, Kathy and Martin, began farming when farming wasn’t cool – it was crazy. To scratch a living doing small production agriculture was certainly against the grain, and I would hear stories about my black sheep type father questioning the way of doing things with his dad, an accomplished professor with significant contributions to the agriculture community. Despite the odds against them, my parents made a go of it. With the support of many others including the budding California cuisine restaurants in the Bay Area there was demand for a different and unique products. Radishes no larger than a quarter, mesclun salad mix when iceberg lettuce ruled the menus, and heirloom tomatoes were just a few of the things that were commonplace in my childhood.
The small start of the food revolution was one thing – farming organically was another. My oldest brothers recall working the Davis Farmers Market – one of the premier certified farmers markets in California – during its early days. They would sample product and say, “try this melon, it’s organic.”
A response of “Of course it is organic, it has carbon in it” was one of many statements they recall. This helps me remember how young the organic movement really is.
For us, my brothers and I, I see our role as continuing the movement. Look at how far organic has come. Or farmers’ markets for that matter, there are thousands across the country now and my father was worried nobody would come that first Davis Farmers Market as he drove with his produce an early morning during the summer of 76. So how do we take this movement that has been passed down to us, and carry it further? For me, it is driving information, and creating or improving on a food system that allows that transparency. How do we get to a world where people can know where there food comes from, who grew it, and how they did it?
Farm Fresh To You, our farm’s CSA and produce delivery service, was created in 1992 by my mother after my parents divorced and mom purchased the farm and raised my brother and I (the older brothers were off to college and military academy). She wanted to connect customers to the farm that grew their food and provide some economic stability to the farm. The sourcing philosophy was to use the produce on our farm to make a seasonal box of the best available produce, but then source from neighboring farms to ensure the customer received a selection that they enjoyed. This is delivered directly to the customers’ doorsteps – giving the convenience needed to help a customer change their eating habits to include a box of seasonal produce showing up weekly or every other week.
With the information age we at Farm Fresh To You are striving to take it to the next level. How can we create a system that allows any small farmer to manage the piles of information related many individual customers receiving produce? The addresses, billing, vacations, produce preferences, packing info, quality issues, delivery issues – it can become too much very easily for a farm already trying to do something as complex as growing 50+ varieties of produce. We are accomplishing it today and are making gains each year of making the information more and more available to the consumers that support this alternate produce distribution system that supports local first. We hope to do our first trials next year of allowing others to use our IT system to accomplish their small farm distribution, to service their customers in a way that allows the customer to stick with their farm and spend more with them. This is the first step, if we are as successful as the founders of this food movement, maybe in the future it will be a key piece that disrupts the traditional produce distribution system. Until then we live with the fact that the majority of produce that packs the supermarket aisles is a cost-first, local -second approach, with huge amounts (particularly in the spring for fresh vegetables) being imported from out of the country.
It is an honor to work with Jim Denevan, another driver and pioneer in the food movement, and the wonderful staff at Outstanding in the Field this year. We look forward to next year, and another wonderful farm-to-fork meal under our oak trees in the summer evening.
Freeman Barsotti, co-owner, Farm Fresh To You and Capay Organic
After our great event at Beekman 1802 we asked the Beekman Boys to send us their favorite recipe of the season. Brent sent us this fantastic recipe for tomato tart! What more do you need on a hot August day?…
Beekman 1802 Tomato Tart
At Beekman 1802 we grow or raise 80% of all the food that we consume, and this includes over 100 different varieties of heirloom fruits and vegetables.
The harvest that we look forward to the most is that of the heirloom tomatoes, and this easy to make tomato tart is the perfect summer recipe and can be served warm or at room temperature making it perfect for an “al fresco” summer evening.
- All-purpose flour, for rolling the pastry
- 1 sheet (7 to 8 ounces) frozen all-butter puff pastry, thawed but still cold
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 cup whole-milk ricotta, drained
- 4 ounces soft goat cheese, crumbled
- 2 large eggs
- 1/3 cup chopped fresh basil
- 3/4 teaspoon coarse (kosher) salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 3/4 pound tomatoes, cored, halved, and cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices (using different varieties, colors, shapes and sizes of tomatoes will make for a visual feast)
- Preheat the oven to 425°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- On a lightly floured work surface, roll the pastry out to a 10 x 15-inch rectangle and transfer it to the baking sheet.
- With a paring knife, score a border 1 inch in from the edge all around the rectangle, cutting into, but not through, the dough. With a fork, prick the dough inside the border all over (this is so the border will rise higher than the center that’s been pricked). Brush the center with 1 tablespoon of the oil.
- In a large bowl, stir together the ricotta, goat cheese, eggs, basil, 1/2 teaspoon of the salt, and the pepper. Spread the mixture over the center of the puff pastry sheet. Top with the tomatoes, overlapping slightly. Sprinkle the tomatoes with the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt and the remaining 1 tablespoon oil.
- Bake for 30 minutes, or until the pastry is golden brown and the filling is set.
For more recipes check out their Heirloom Vegetable Cookbook