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An Evening with Outstanding in the Field

2017 June 19

“Food is our common ground, a universal experience.” – James Beard

A few years ago, I wrote a post about how I don’t believe in date night. A lot has changed in the five years since and while the main impetus behind the article remains true to my heart (don’t rely on date nights to keep your marriage healthy and strong; enjoy them by all means, but look to all the moments in between date nights and focus just as much of your effort there), a proper evening out in a beautiful setting with food and drink and my husband by my side is always welcome.

So for my birthday a few months ago, tickets to Outstanding in the Field were the only thing on my wish list. I had been following the farm-to-table dinner series for years online and was always inspired by the vision, not only for the food, but for the evening itself. One filled with community, nature, authenticity and, of course, wine. It did not disappoint. Tickets for their entire season go on sale at once and some dates sell out fast (i.e. Big Sur) while others are easier to nab…sometimes even last minute. We ogled the list and all the beautiful locations but ultimately decided that for our first one, it would be easiest (and most cost effective) to pick one close to home so we chose the spring event at the Temecula Olive Oil Company (tickets for the same event in October are still available here).

We made our way to the little town of Aguanga (practically Palm Springs, if you’re counting) through winding, dust-covered roads and were greeted by a lively cocktail reception where guests mingled and took in the OITF vibe over gin cocktails, tray passed appetizers, the best watermelon and basil popsicle I have ever had, and flowing Riesling. It felt casual and comfortable, a mix of couples young and old, a few groups of friends, and some obvious regulars. OITF hostesses took our coats and sweaters and piled them on bales of hay for access later. Guests are asked to bring a dish to the table (a common gesture of good will at a communal dinner) and those were stacked high as well, some of them custom-made for the occasion. If you missed the plate memo (ahem, like us), there were plenty on-hand as most people leave theirs behind as a donation at the end of the evening. The founders, Jim and Eden, gave a brief overview of their journey and the events’ origin and background and then the founder of the Temecula Olive Oil Company led an informative – albeit, a little lengthy – farm tour and olive oil tasting. The property was stunning, as are all of their destinations for the dinners, taking on just as much importance as the menu, without a doubt. Rows of majestic olive trees, vine-covered pathways, evening sun just peeking through.

The evening was already off to such a memorable start and we hadn’t even been seated yet. That’s where it became magical. A family style table set for 165 people, stretching so far through the lush corridor of olive trees you couldn’t even see the end of it. If you go with a small group of friends, the OITF team will set out reserved plates for your seats but otherwise, it’s come as you are, sit where you can. The mixed assortment of dishes on the table was really pretty, even to my typically OCD eye for aesthetics. Food and drink is served family-style, with a dedicated waiter for each group of 6-8 guests (ours was really great and the service rivaled any fine dining restaurant, from start to finish), and what starts out as a slightly awkward exchange as you knock elbows with strangers and stretch over them to capture a pic or two (the Italian sausage with torn croutons is above) quickly moves into easy banter by the second course. Conversations flowed to the left and right of me. Politics and preconceived notions were left at the door. Ageism didn’t exist as I chatted with a woman in her 60s and a girl in her early 20s about everything we had in common, a span of four very different decades between us. And by the time the sun started to set and votive candles were dotted down the winding table and string lights lit up the trees as dessert was served, quiet conversations had turned into full blown laughter and wine-fueled inside jokes.

Almost five hours after we arrived, we gathered our belongings in the glow of the candles and string lights and said goodbye to our new friends. We would see them again, on social media, the next morning, all sharing similar perspectives on the experience: the table, the food, the canopy of olive trees. But somehow, I am sure it meant something different to all of us. To some, it was about the food. To some, the farm. To some, the time spent with a friend or loved one. To some, the gin cocktails.

But whatever it was, I believe in it. And I can’t wait to do it again. You should, too.

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