Last week we had the privilege of attending an Outstanding in the Field dinner. It was kind of a big deal. OK, no really; it was a big deal. We actually missed our children’s back to school night in order to attend because it was held on a Monday from 3-8 p.m., about an hour from our home… you know, when I should have been working the day job during the busiest time of the year for me.
However, months earlier I had purchased tickets almost as soon as I found out about the event. My favorite local farm was hosting my favorite local chef for a spectacular farm-to-table meal held right in the gorgeous field of the farm where the very food we were eating was grown. There was no way I was going to miss it. So Matt & I convinced our friends to join us for this memorable event.
The entire ride out we were a bit panicked, knowing that the farm was outside of cell range and that not only could we not Instagram the event as it happened… but our babysitters and work couldn’t find us on a Monday afternoon if they needed to. Alas, we took a deep breath and said goodbye to modern technology and arrived at the farm ready to embrace the laid back mentality.
Immediately we were greeted by the healthy, vibrant OITF team who ushered us up a hill to a huge field overlooking Heritage Hollow Farms. As we meeted and greeted we noticed we were in a little hollow of the high hills of the Shenandoah (home of the Blue Ridge Mountains), clearly a mark of the farm’s namesake.
Knowing this meal was likely a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, we all agreed that we would stay gluten-free but that the local, organic, pastured, amazing creations that the chef came up with weren’t meant to be altered for our preferences. Although I picked around the sprouted grains served with a lamb curry, I wasn’t worried about the few I ate. I think this piece of Paleo is missing for a lot of people. The idea that Paleo is a healing diet is quintessential – but that’s where people sometimes go astray. It’s ultimately supposed to heal the body so that one can indulge in dairy or grains without having a violent reaction, the way one does immediately following the elimination period.
After over 4 years, about half of which as been autoimmune focused, I am thrilled that I can indulge in the foods I’d like to enjoy, when I’d like to enjoy them. For me personally, that’s not a donut sandwich on Sundays (after all, I am Celiac), but it is an opportunity to occasionally eat gluten-free treats at holidays or enjoy a spectacular meal made with incredibly fresh ingredients by an amazing chef. Does that mean that I didn’t feel my best the next day? Yes, of course! But that was the educated decision I made and don’t regret being able to enjoy the meal. Of course, if you’re on a Whole30, 21 Day Sugar Detox or AIP elimination period, this isn’t the mentality – those are targeted short-term approaches intended to get you on a path to a sustainable lifestyle. This is how we approach that lifestyle.
My favorite dish of the meal was an amuse-bouche scallop that had been dehydrated and deep fried, like a pork rind, paired with a seasonal, local winter squash puree. It was absolute perfection and took physical restraint to not eat the entire tray. I was also a huge fan of the cocktail served during the appetizer hour, which was made with a local gin (James River Distillery), bubbly water and a splash of a chef-prepared simple syrup made with local berries. Although I very seldom drink alcohol since going on the autoimmune protocol and training for StrongMan, I am a sucker for good gin and this cocktail was worth indulging. Local award-winning wine from Linden Vineyards was also served and provided as a unique pairing with each dinner dish.
After appetizers we were given a tour with our friends and farmer’s, Mike & Molly of Heritage Hollow. It was interesting seeing people experience being up close to farm animals for the first time in their lives. Knowing the farmers, the way they treat the animals and how those animals behave, I was happily pulling apples out of nearby feeding bins and offering it directly out of my hand to the docile, smart pigs raised by Mike & Molly. Meanwhile, nearby attendees audibly scoffed and proclaimed how dangerous it was to hand them the apples – instead chucking it at their heads, clearly afraid (perhaps from bad experience at other less thoughtful farms). I just smiled and told the story about how years ago when we were doing a farm tour Wesley had an apple in his hand as we walked through the pig field; as a naive 2 year old he was holding the apple at his waist (perfect pig level) and a pig gently took the apple from his hand and ate it. Infuriated, Wesley shouted at the pig his displeasure and after mumbling a bunch of angry bursts ended clearly with “I eat you later, pig!” Needless to say, if my 2 year old can walk among these pigs and have an apple plucked gently from his hand, certainly we grown-ups can calm down a bit about it?
Once the farm tour concluded, we all waited (im)patiently for dinner to begin. The sun was beginning to set and made for a stunning setting to the simple backdrop OITF had set. One of their unique approaches is in asking their attendees to bring their own plates. Since their first meal in 1999 OITF has had the “tradition of the plates.” Their long table is then set with the unique myriad of plates guests provide, making each and every meal and place setting completely unique to the specific meal. I brought my grandmother’s Desert Rose Franciscanware and I brought one of my favorite prop plates from Real Life Paleo for Matt (see above). The table set for over 100 people was just stunning in the long field, with fresh local and seasonal flowers (provided by Jen Perrot of FlourishRoot.com), and all of our unique plates.
Having already enjoyed Chef Tarver’s food before at our favorite area restaurant, Patowmack Farm, I was thrilled to be able to enjoy it once again. This time with Chef Nate of the acclaimed Inn at Little Washington (where farmer Mike actually met them both when he himself was a chef years ago prior to setting out to improve food by impacting the quality before it even got to a chef’s hands). Fortunately for me I wasn’t disappointed with the creations the 3 men had collaborated on.
The first course was a vibrant salad made of greens, roasted beets and shavings of brawn (head cheese). It was incredibly nutrient-dense and completely paleo, I could have just been happy with plates and plates of that salad. It was also served with a nighshade-free lamb curry with sprouted grains, lime, and mint – which Matt was a huge fan of. Great news for us: with family-style serving I was able to let him have more lamb curry while I took his portion of salad! Our 2nd course was honey roasted Heritage Hollow pork (infamous for inspiring us to write an entire pork cookbook based on their fantastic whole hogs). Served with pickled sunchokes, greens, rice (steamed buns for everyone else), and topped with a sunbutter sauce and local peanuts, it was my 2nd favorite dish of the evening. However, I did save room for the 3rd course, a beef brisket with ramp pickle, salt-crusted fingerling potatoes, bone marrow sauce and fermented Patowmack Farm cabbage. I loved how the menu offered such incredible tasting food that was also nourishing!
For dessert we were given a paw paw custard, topped with bacon, caramel, and crushed peanuts. I had no idea this is a local fruit and cannot believe I’d never tried it before. By this point I’d had several (way too many) glasses of wine and the sun had completely set. As we thanked the farm, chefs and OITF team for hosting such an unforgettable event, we picked up our washed dishes and discovered a wonderful gift bag filled with local goodies from the Heritage Hollow Farm Store vendors: Virginia Chutney Company, Valley Green Naturals, Central Coffee Roasters, and La Vache Microcreamery with a copy of the newest Edible DC.
Walking back down the hill our entire mindset had changed. None of us were clamoring for our phones to test cell signal, in fact we joked about how people may have fared without us for a few hours. We reflected on the event and all were grateful we’d made the time and had the opportunity to be part of something so special.
As Outstanding In The Field tours not only the US, but also outside the US, I highly suggest you check out their website and attend a dinner in your area. I know it’s expensive and perhaps inconvenient, but it’s a gift to yourself you won’t regret. Not to mention, in doing so you will support quite a few local vendors and farmers, and an incredible cause!
For more behind the scenes, search #heritagehollowfarms on Instagram and Twitter.
A special thank you to Molly Peterson, who not only is an awesome farmer but fantastic photographer, for allowing us to use several of her photos (i.e. all the good ones) in this post. Her photos of happy piggies also grace the pages of Beyond Bacon.