Setting Tables With Outstanding In The Field


The sun shines brightly on a hidden sea cove somewhere on Catalina Island. It’s a perfect day to partake in one of Outstanding in the Field’s signature outdoor, multi-course, farm-to-table meals. Founder and CEO Jim Denevan and his crew are preparing to arrange a stretch of tables along the sand – a necessary step for the upcoming feast of spiny lobster and other locally-sourced epicurean goodness being created by guest chef Nyesha Arrington. Then the unexpected happens.

“A buffalo wandered past us on the beach while we were setting up,” Denevan says with a chuckle. “I wasn’t expecting that. It made me wonder; how many people in Southern California realize there’s buffalo on Catalina?”

Denevan’s sense of unexpected wonder and discovery regarding the burly party crasher mirrors the emotional essence behind Outstanding in the Field’s traveling celebration of culinary excellence. Since the organization launched in 1999, its mission has been about exploring the joys of community, be it through local farmers and purveyors of ingredients familiar and undiscovered or with like-minded foodies breaking bread together for the first time in the name of epicurean adventure. “The structure of Outstanding in the Field is designed to create a deep connection with people and place,” Denevan explains. “Agriculture and the farm-to-table element connects nature with culture, and this ends up drawing us closer to what’s really important to us.”

Denevan has drawn lots of people closer. Outstanding in the Field has held events in all 50 states and 15 countries, from Big Sur’s beaches to Burgundy vineyards. He and his team host approximately 100 shindigs annually, with most of them occurring on farms. While the venues shift, the concept remains the same: A table, one that’s meticulously arranged in the middle of farmland or natural splendor, functions as each event’s physical centerpiece. Its surface is a blank canvas; a storytelling device allowing local farmers, purveyors, and chefs to create artistic culinary statements that resonate long past their fleeting existence.

Catalina’s atmosphere is a fitting one for Denevan, who’s also drawn acclaim for creating brilliant and equally transient pieces of sand art, but the events’ collective aesthetic is merely a by-product of the setup process. “There is a compositional component to each event, from location scouting and table arrangement up to the number of people in attendance,” he states. “However, the story behind Outstanding in the Field is not a question of whether or not what we’re doing is art. Its focus is mainly on the farmers and purveyors behind the experience. They’re the creators of the story, and therefore, they’re the ones that create the event’s overall aesthetic.”

“Agriculture and the farm-to-table element connects nature with culture, and this ends up drawing us closer to what’s really important to us.” — Jim Denevan, Founder & CEO, Outstanding in the Field

Even though Outstanding in the Field crisscrosses the country seeking out stories, they’re willing to listen if you’re itching to tell your own tale. “We do a small number of private events throughout the year,” Denevan states. “If someone’s interested, all they have to do is give us a call and let us know what they’re thinking. If we think we can pull it off, we will.” According to Denevan, the bar for pulling things off is set rather high. “We once did a private event on a cliff in the Grand Canyon, about 3,000 feet high,” he says. “People were flown in by helicopter.”

What story do you have to tell?

Outstanding in the Field | Location: Secret Sea Cove. Catalina Island, California

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