Artist, visionary, chef and chief inspiration for the farm-to-table movement, Jim Denevan is more than an EcoHero—he’s kind of a sustainable missionary. A grass-roots organizer from the get-to—in the early 1990s, Jim founded the Santa Cruz, CA-based People Power bicycle advocacy group, which influenced the worldwide Critical Mass movement. Now, he’s spreading the word about the connections between sustainable food, community, art and culture.
Jim is the founder and organizer of Outstanding in the Field, a restaurant without walls that flips the concept on its head: Instead of bringing food to the guests, they bring the guests to the food. From August to October, the Outstanding in the Field bus travels across the country to organic farms, where they recruit local chefs, plan multi-course, locally-sourced meals, set up tables and white linens—and ask attendees to bring their own plates. Recently, I talked with Jim about how the farm-to-table movement started.
EcoStiletto: What was the inspiration to start Outstanding in the Field?
Jim Denevan: My brother [Bill Denevan of Happy Valley Farm] is an organic farmer and pioneer of the organic food movement; he’s 14 years older than me. At Thanksgiving, I’d hear these long detailed descriptions of architectural practices. The other family members would sort of drift away, but I thought it was fascinating.
Years later, I became a chef. I used to go to the farmer’s market twice a week to get produce for the restaurant—Gabriella Café, where I was for years—and I’d see the farmers there. We started putting the farmer’s names on the menu for different ingredients, and then we’d have an entire meal organized around one farm, with the farmers at the restaurant. The farmers were really pleased about being appreciated by the people who were enjoying the food—right then and there.
And then we decided to take it to the farm. It was 1999 and everyone was talking about chefs. Now it seems like a no-brainer that people would want to go to something like [Outstanding in the Field], but back then it was all about the chef—not local foods and farms.
ES: It seems like Thanksgiving would be a great farm-to-table opportunity. Even if we don’t all have access to a farm, are there a few essential components that readers can try to implement to create the Outstanding in the Field experience this holiday season?
JD: We have a lot of people send us pictures of their Outstanding in the Back Yard events. And they talk about what they did and how it relates to what we did and it’s just cute as hell. Maybe they’re using their own produce from the garden or from their neighbor’s garden.
I think it could be pretty neat if people get together with family and friends from the neighborhood and then use the vegetables that they’ve grown in their yards. And then maybe they could go to the local farmer’s market and ask one of the farmers to come over and be a guest. People love a free meal! Invite the farmer and their family to be a part.
Chocolate Rosemary Cake
This Thanksgiving, forget the pie. Try this mouth-watering Chocolate Rosemary Cake recipe from Jim’s Outstanding in the Field: A Farm to Table Cookbook and end your meal with style. [Editor’s note: All ingredients are locally sourced, organic and fair-trade whenever possible, of course!]
12 ounces semisweet chocolate with 60% cocoa solids, chopped
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces, plus more for greasing the pan
3/4 cup heavy cream
3 rosemary sprigs
7 large eggs
3/4 cups sugar
whipped cream for serving
Makes one 10-inch cake; serves 14
Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 10-inch springform pan with butter and line the bottom with parchment or wax paper. Butter the paper and then dust the pan with flour, tapping out any excess. Set aside.
In a stainless steel bowl placed over a saucepan of simmering water, heat the chocolate and butter, stirring occasionally, until melted and smooth.
In a small saucepan, combine the cream and rosemary. Heat until just starting to bubble and then remove from the heat. Cover and let stand to infuse for 7 minutes. Strain, discarding the rosemary, and set the cream aside.
In a large bowl, beat together the eggs and sugar until lightened in color. Whisking constantly, slowly add the melted chocolate mixture to the eggs. When fully incorporated, whisk in the cream thoroughly.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake just until the edges are set and the center is lightly set but jiggles slightly when the pan is gently nudged, 35 to 45 minutes.
Let the cake cool completely in the pan; it will fall and perhaps even crack a bit while cooling. When the cake is completely cool, run a paring knife along the sides of the pan to release it. Invert onto a rack or plate and remove the parchment paper. Turn right side up on a serving platter. Serve with whipped cream.