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[whitespace] Jim Denevan Is There Anything Sexier Than a Cowboy With Flowers: No, there is not, as Gabriella Cafe chef Jim Denevan is clearly aware.

Photograph by Stephen Laufer

Field of Dreams

Apple orchards, organic growers, regional chefs and handmade food-- it's harvest time by the sea

By Christina Waters

AS SOON AS you step outside of California for even a minute, you begin to realize just how sophisticated and yet old-fashioned we are in terms of caring for the land and insisting on the freshest seasonal and locally grown foods for our tables. Menus all over the Bay Area now regularly include the estate, orchard or farm source of ingredients, and most of us make a point of knowing where our food comes from.

Jim Denevan, chef at Santa Cruz' Gabriella Cafe, has decided to bring consumers right into the field so they can see for themselves. His brainchild, Outstanding in the Field, is now one of the most innovative dining concepts in the country.

The farm dinner series, in essence a "restaurant without walls," delivers what it promises. You are literally invited to dine in the fields where your dinner is cultivated.

Denevan, whose brother, Bill, is a local organic pioneer, brought together other leading-edge growers, winemakers and chefs to create the monthly alfresco meals. During the past summer, the series has sprouted up in Corralitos, Brentwood, Watsonville and Hollister, and featured the wines of Bonny Doon, Frog's Leap and Storrs, as well as grass-fed beef, handmade chocolates, locally caught seafood, heirloom organic vegetables and artisanal cheeses.

The long afternoons of wining and dining also include tours of the farms, a chance to meet people who grow all kinds of lusciously flavor-intensive specialty fruits and vegetables. While you're touring and getting a hands-on look at how fine produce is grown, the chefs are busy making dinner from the fresh harvest. Everyone gets challenged. The dinners are popular, to say the least, and no one walks away without a fresh new appreciation of how this growing thing works.

On Oct. 6, "Outstanding in the Field" will take place in Bill Denevan's atmospheric orchards. Guest winemaker Michael Martella will pour some of his gold medal Thomas Fogarty Winery creations. Guest chef for this evening is Paris-trained, surfer wunderkind David Kinch of Manresa in Los Gatos and Sent Sovi in Saratoga. Ann Morhauser of Annie Glass and Joe Shirmer of Dirty Girl Farm will join the outdoor table spread under the 70 acres of organic pears and apples grown at Happy Valley Farm in Santa Cruz. If you're lucky, there's still room for you to join the field work. Dinner and tour are $130/person--call 877.886.7409 to make reservations.

Cool summers, a long growing season, warm autumn afternoons--these are the ideal conditions for growing wine grapes. Our Central Coast climate is also perfect for growing apples. South Santa Cruz County is filled with orchards loaded each fall with not-your-average apples, and the La Selva Beach Harvest Festival will let you discover and sample several hundred varieties of apples, from Fuji and Gala to the rare heirloom Court Pendu Plat (alleged to have been consumed by the ancient Romans).

Golden Delicious, Braeburn, Gravenstein, Calville Blanc (Monet painted this variety of apple), Pippin, Macintosh, Pink Lady, Gold Rush, Karmijn de Sonneville--these are just a few of the well-known, beloved and unusual pommes that festivalgoers will be able to taste, compare and fall in love with. If you like locally grown, grassroots Indian-summer events, this could be your new favorite outdoor odyssey.

Inexpensive organic foods will be available and silly fun stuff for kids, too. This year's Harvest Festival will give you a chance to watch out-of-control youngsters work the hand-cranked juice press, sample the wares of local organic farmers and check out intriguing alternative energy and transportation exhibits. There will be plenty of experts on hand to explain what it all means. It's a radically free event, as we Sartreans like to say. The La Selva Beach Harvest Festival takes place on Oct. 5 from 1 to 4 pm on Florido Lawn, near the tiny library and fire station in the beach hamlet of La Selva Beach. If you crave more details, call Ellen Baker at 831.662.2216.

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From the September 18-25, 2002 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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