Texas plates at Catalina Island

Four Georgetown foodies travel North America for farm-to-table fare

It was October 5, 2008. The 150-person table was set in a grassy meadow among towering oaks and adorned with white tablecloth, wine glasses, and fine flatware at Johnson’s Backyard Garden in east Austin.

Guests began arriving at 3 p.m. for wine and guided tours of the property. Many brought their own dinner plates and, with them, stories of previous meals they had attended—in Illinois mustard fields, amidst desert scrub in Canada, and on secret Californian beaches—and of conversations they had shared over family-style dishes with travel writers seeking inspiration, fans following their favorite chefs across the country, and legacy farmers struggling to make a living in an age where convenience often trumps sustainability.

At 5 p.m., guests were seated and served a five-course meal of farm-to-table foods produced by local award-winning chefs Jesse Griffiths and Tamara Mayfield of Dai Due, an Austin-based restaurant, butcher shop, and supper club known for its emphasis on wholesome ingredients.

OITF ladies holding Texas plates

Photo by Rebecca L. Bennett

After the fourth beautiful course—braised lamb necks with Texas chives, sweet potatoes, sour orange, and kale, paired with 2006 Norton Claros wine from Stone House Vineyard—retired Georgetown ISD educators and long-time friends Stephanie Blanck and Jan Williams caught each’s other glance across the table.

“We were realizing that the people around us weren’t just from central Texas but from all over,” says Stephanie. “We looked at each other and went, ‘Girlfriend trip! We need to start doing this.’”

The event was organized by Outstanding in the Field (OITF), a “roving culinary caravan” of foodies who execute more than 100 outdoor pop-up dinners in the United States and Canada and in select international locations every year. Organizers bring in esteemed professional chefs, including Top Chef and James Beard award winners and nominees, to cook with fresh, locally sourced ingredients in their traveling open-air kitchen.

OITF sign at Johnson's Backyard

OITF’s founder, chef and artist Jim Denevan, created the company out of a desire to epitomize the farm-to-table model and increase consumers’ mindfulness about food. “It’s about appreciating where our food is coming from and seeing those connections,” Jan explains. “When we go to the grocery store once a week and we’re just hurrying and shopping, we don’t think about where our food came from and what it took to get there.”

Over the next few years, Stephanie and Jan recruited their mutual friends Linda Simonson, another retired GISD educator and owner of Casa Linda Florals, and Karen Sheldon, president of the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce, to accompany them to OITF events. The four women became fast travel companions and have developed a reputation among OITF veterans and organizers as the “Texas Ladies”—especially after they began attending dinners with matching ceramic Texas flag plates.

“We started out with 4 or 5 day trips, sharing two hotel rooms, but now we go for a full week and rent four-bedroom houses,” says Stephanie. “It’s an excuse for the four of us to travel somewhere unique and share an experience. It’s nice that we have this dinner as the anchor, but it’s bigger than that. It’s permission for the four of us to go.”

Kualoa Ranch, Oahu, Hawaii

As the Texas Ladies recount their memorable experiences throughout their 10 OITF trips together, it becomes clear that the women are as hungry for adventure—and misadventure—as they are for delicious food. They’ve missed flights, seen their luggage routed to the wrong location, brought the wrong clothing for the conditions, and lost Kindles and keys. They’ve waded into mucky oyster fields in Massachusetts, encountered “velociraptor eggs” left at a Jurassic Park filming site in Hawaii, and ruffled border officials by bringing back just a little too much wine.

They have eaten OITF dinners in the rain, fog, and even smoke from fires intentionally set to ward off mosquitoes. Once, they even narrowly missed getting caught in a hurricane. “The dinners are held in the most amazing places, and you get to meet the coolest people and eat the wildest, best food made from ingredients harvested right there on the farm,” says Linda. “We’re getting the opportunity to increase sustainability and celebrate farming. It’s phenomenal.”

“It feeds our bodies and our souls,” Linda continues. “Right around the first part of March when the team releases the schedule for next year, we will be gathering together for an evening of food and wine with our laptops and calendars, planning our next adventure.”

To learn more about Outstanding in the Field, or to join the mailing list to receive updates about upcoming tours and ticket sales, visit www.outstandinginthefield.com.

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