Jim Denevan stood on a wooden vegetable crate and welcomed the roughly 200 wine sipping guests strolling the dirt paths of the Ocean View Community Gardens in Santa Monica. “I was feeling spontaneous today and thought I’d pay homage to a different kind of roots since it’s the World Series!,” he said. This explained why, as the Dodgers and Astros were about to slug it out, a massive white linen clad dinner table was set up on the dusty adjacent baseball field rather than in the gardens where guests were expecting it.
Spontaneity is never far from Denevan who as a visual artist with some notoriety, has left a mark by creating massive scale temporary land art using natural sources such as sand and ice. Many of his projects are so large it takes an aerial view to gain perspective. However, on this day, we are listening to Jim speak from his role as the founder and chief organizer of a worldwide movable feast called Outstanding In the Field. “Our purpose is to celebrate the people who work hard to bring good food to our tables,” Denevan said. In an era of “farm to table” restaurants, Denevan has flipped the concept by bringing the table to the farm. Having been to one of his events before, I knew we were about to sit down to a six course feast of the best local cheeses, meats and wine all orchestrated into a unique menu prepared by a celebrated local chef (in our case Chef Nick Erven of Erven Restaurant.) What I hadn’t heard before is Jim’s curb moment.
Twenty years ago, Jim was working as a chef for a small restaurant in Santa Cruz, CA. “My brother had an organic apple farm not far away and I was always visiting his farm, as well as other small farms, to get the best produce for my restaurant. I also used to bring my restaurant staff with me to the local farmer’s markets. The idea hit me that it would be great if we could connect the people who work so hard on the farms with the people who eventually ate the food that was grown there,” he said. So Denevan started hosting small dinners on local farms and vineyards in Northern California. The dinners were an instant hit and before long, Denevan was taking his dinners on the road coordinating logistics from a 1950’s red and white bus and bringing community events to farms, first across the country, and then around the world.
“We have regional teams and we set up mostly outdoors but we’ve been in caves and greenhouses too. We try to stay true to the desire to reconnect people to the land and the origins of their food. We usually have a lot of fun doing it as you’ll see in a few minutes,” shared Denevan who went on to thank the team who had created the night’s event. “We get in, we set up, and we aim to create a little magic for the night, and in a few hours we’ll be gone and on the road again although I can’t remember where we’re going next,” he laughed.
Jim’s curb moment has since translated into Outstanding in the Field dinners in 13 countries set up everywhere from mountaintop meadows in Chile to remote sandy beaches in Hawaii and he and his teams have served thousands of locavore enthusiasts. However, despite life as a serial a globetrotter his mission stays closer to home roots; connecting people to the farmers who grow their food and to the land from where it is came.