2012-09-14 / Front Page

‘Outstanding’ brings table to farm

Cape Elizabeth event serves up dinner for 160 people, all at one table
By Jack Flagler
Staff Writer


Guests await the first course at the Outstanding in the Field farm dinner on Green Spark Farm in Cape Elizabeth Saturday, Sep. 8. Chefs from Hugo’s in Portland prepared grilled swordfish belly with an Israeili couscous and bean salad, beef with gai lan and an eggplant puree. For dessert, ice cream sundaes with heirloom tomatoes, corn gelato and tomato sorbet was served. (Jack Flagler photo) Guests await the first course at the Outstanding in the Field farm dinner on Green Spark Farm in Cape Elizabeth Saturday, Sep. 8. Chefs from Hugo’s in Portland prepared grilled swordfish belly with an Israeili couscous and bean salad, beef with gai lan and an eggplant puree. For dessert, ice cream sundaes with heirloom tomatoes, corn gelato and tomato sorbet was served. (Jack Flagler photo) CAPE ELIZABETH — At Green Spark Farm in Cape Elizabeth on a Saturday afternoon, Jim Denevan and his traveling band of food lovers from Outstanding in the Field made final arrangements to prepare for the arrival of 160 guests, all of whom would sit at one long dinner table for a meal.

Denevan has been featured in news stories from GQ, The New York Times Magazine and “CBS Sunday Morning,” among other media outlets. A few feet from him, chefs from Hugo’s, a downtown Portland restaurant, get ready to serve lobster rolls, steak tartare, charcuterie and swordfish belly.

But neither Denevan nor the Hugo’s chefs are the stars of this afternoon. The stars are working to slice up a Jamaican gherkin, a cucumber-like fruit they passed out to guests before anyone sits at the long table to eat.

Mary Ellen and Austin Chadd met when both were studying agriculture at Evergreen State College. The couple moved back to Maine after college and started farming in 2009, across town from their current location, on a tiny 1.5-acre plot of land. Now, they have 15 acres where they grow melons, butternut squash, Jamaican gherkins and other heirloom vegetables they sell to local restaurants and to the public either at their farm stand or at Portland Farmers Market.

Denevan, a chef from Santa Cruz, Calif. whose brother is an organic farmer, started the Outstanding in the Field tour to celebrate farms around the country that he felt were overlooked as celebrity chefs started to become a cultural staple on Food Network shows such as “Chopped” and “Iron Chef.”


Top, Hugo’s chefs prepare appetizers before the meal: steak tartare with egg whites on a fried pastry and lobster rolls served on steamed buns. From left, Aaron Mallory, Mike Mastronardi, Jessie Ford-Diamond and Kim Rosillo. Left, the first course was charcuterie with infused melon and other melon-family fruits and vegetables grown on Green Spark Farm.(Jack Flagler photos) Top, Hugo’s chefs prepare appetizers before the meal: steak tartare with egg whites on a fried pastry and lobster rolls served on steamed buns. From left, Aaron Mallory, Mike Mastronardi, Jessie Ford-Diamond and Kim Rosillo. Left, the first course was charcuterie with infused melon and other melon-family fruits and vegetables grown on Green Spark Farm.(Jack Flagler photos) “It seemed that was the missing piece of the culinary world in the United States, and it was time to feature the farmer,” Denevan said.

There’s a benefit to Outstanding in the Field’s meals on the chefs’ side as well. Chefs used to the hot, confined space of a kitchen have the ability to get into the outdoors and out of their comfort zone.

“It’s definitely a departure from what we do in the restaurant, but it’s still the same respect to the food,” said Hugo’s general manager Arlin Smith.

Smith, along with chefs Andrew Taylor and Mike Wiley, purchased Hugo’s this spring from Rob Evans, who still owns Duckfat next door. Last year, on their way to Four Season Farm in Harborside, staff from Outstanding in the Field stopped at Duckfat and decided to reach out to Hugo’s owners for this year’s Portland-area stop.

Everything the chefs from Hugo’s served on Saturday, Sept. 8, was either from Green Spark Farm or from other vendors around Maine. The oysters come from Winter Point Oysters in Bath, “another friend of ours,” Smith said, and Allagash Brewing of Portland served beer to guests as they mingled in a field and sampled appetizers.

The local ingredients Hugo’s uses is indicative of locally grown food’s increase in popularity nationwide, said Leah Scafe of Outstanding in the Field. She joined the tour in 2007, when the group was traveling on a 1953 Flexible bus. Now, that bus is in the shop, and the eight-person staff traveled to Green Spark Farm in trucks.

Scafe said when she joined Outstanding in the Field, the group didn’t have the option to go to many of the restaurants they did this year, simply because those restaurants didn’t exist. Outstanding in the Field went to Nebraska for the first time this year when they stopped there on Aug. 4. The chefs at that event, Scafe said, were from one of just two farm-to-table restaurants in the entire state.

While diners in Portland may be starting to pay attention to the names of the chefs who prepare their meal in the kitchen, Denevan said it’s equally important to consider the farm where the food is being produced. Chefs already champion the cause of the farmers. They shop at farmers markets for kitchen ingredients and put the name of farms on their menus, but that hasn’t quite translated to the general public, although over time, he said, that too has changed.

Guests at the event paid $200 for a seat at the long dinner table, and came anywhere from the next town over to Massachusetts and Maryland.

Austin Chadd said he was excited to see all the new faces at his farm, but was somewhat disappointed that the farm couldn’t accommodate more of its local supporters.

“Part of me wishes my customers could be a part of this crowd, but the tickets were sold out before we could really get the word out,” Chadd said.

Nancy Teel, who drove two hours from New Hampshire, has been to Outstanding in the Field events in four different states, and said “It’s nice to give the farms exposure.” She bought tomatoes and cucumbers from Green Spark’s farm stand.

The Outstanding in the Field tour will head down the east coast throughout fall before it winds up in Texas in late October and finally back in California this winter. The group stops in a new city nearly every day, and Denevan said they try to eat lunch somewhere with a local flavor at each stop.

In Cape Elizabeth this year, they stopped at the Lobster Shack on Two Lights Road for French fries and a lobster roll, which Denevan said was “probably the best” he’s ever had.

Clearly, these are people that appreciate a good meal.

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