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Filed Research : Jim Denevan is bringing back his popular and innovative 'Outstanding in the Field' series--and even taking it on the road.

Merry Planksters

Jim Denevan is literally taking his table on the bus for an anarchic Outstanding in the Field road trip

By Jessica Neuman Beck

Outstanding in the Field is back, and this time they're taking the table on the road--literally. They're buying a bus, and, like the Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test of fine dining, head chef Jim Denevan et al are heading out into the world.

"We're going to put the whole table, everything on [the bus] and then just go from farm to farm," Denevan says. "We're going to go to the Midwest and to the Northeast, and we're going to do five different dinners."

They're also taking a cue from The Red Couch: A Portrait of America and giving their 100-seat table a tour of the nation's landmarks.

"These people took a red couch, and put it in all these unusual environments, like the New York Stock Exchange," Denevan explains. "They took pictures of whoever showed up and sat on it. So I'm going to do something vaguely similar to that. I'm going to set up in neat places, and feed whoever shows up."

I Need a Dirty Girl

Since 1999, Denevan's Outstanding in the Field dinners have brought together award-winning chefs and the farms from which they get their food. This year is no exception. The season kicked off last Sunday with a dinner at Joe Schirmer's Dirty Girl Farm in Santa Cruz. Guest chef Charles Phan from Slanted Door restaurant in San Francisco, who recently won the 2004 James Beard Award for Best Chef of California, did the cooking.

"He does Vietnamese food with sort of an Alice Waters update, I suppose. He's been around with his restaurant for four or five years, but he just had a new restaurant open up in the Ferry Plaza [in San Francisco]," Denevan says. "One thing about Vietnamese food is that they don't use cheese, and they don't use dairy products. What we're doing is a seafood meal."

The seafood came straight from the boat of acclaimed Santa Cruz fisherman Hans Haveman, who used to work as a chef under Wolfgang Puck. "He knows his stuff foodwise," says Denevan. "He sets up at the Santa Cruz Farmer's Market and other local farmers markets. He's actually been fishing since he was 9 years old."

Denevan is no stranger to Dirty Girl Farm--he spent a summer working on the land back when it was called Santa Cruz Organic Farm. "I sold the vegetables at the Farmer's Market, got out of the kitchen. I loved it," Denevan remembers. "I used to make lunches, used to go up in the field and grab whatever and make lunch for the farm crew. It was really fun."

Cave In

It's hard to single out the most unique feature of something as refreshingly original as Outstanding in the Field, but this year's dinner in a sea cave might take the prize.

"I was in Greece some years ago, and I came upon a restaurant that was entirely inside of a sea cave, a functioning business inside of a sea cave," says Denevan. "It was really cool and amazing." Denevan did some scouting, and found a location in San Gregorio that fit the bill. "We found a sea cave that you can fit about 80 people in," he says. "It's very hip. We're going to do a seafood dinner in there." The Aug. 15 Dinner in the Sea Cave with Jacob's Farm will feature guest chef Melissa Perello, who is on the cover of this month's Food and Wine magazine.

No matter how many dinners he does, Denevan doesn't lose sight of the reason he started the Outstanding in the Field series. "We go out there and have dinner on the farm, and it's really beautiful," he says. "Especially in the season, with the farm, whether it's peaches or figs or strawberries--to have a table out there on the farm, it's just very pleasant."

Outstanding in the Field's next dinner will be at Live Earth Farm in Corralitos on Saturday, July 17. For the complete schedule or more information, please visit www.outstandinginthefield.com or call 877.886.7409.

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From the June 30-July 7, 2004 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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