The farm-to-table movement hasn't lost steam, and that might be owed in part to Outstanding in the Field (OITF), an organization that turns the concept on its head with a table-to-farm approach.
Touring the country by hosting dinners on different farms, OITF calls itself "a roving culinary adventure." Dinners typically feature ingredients sourced from the farms and surrounding areas. OITF's goal is to reconnect diners with the origin of their food while honoring the local farmers who cultivate it.
Next Wednesday, January 15, the culinary adventure will return to South Florida when it makes a stop at Paradise Farms in Homestead.
Host farmer Gabriele Marewski will offer her tropical organic fruits, vegetables, and spices, and guest chef Adrianne Calvo of Chef Adrianne's Vineyard Restaurant and Wine Bar will prepare them.
In fact, OITF's first stop in South Florida was at Paradise Farms in 2008, after Marewski approached the organization about working together.
"Gabriele contacted us prior to 2008 and had heard of us before and expressed an interested in wanting to host an event," says Leah Scafe, OITF's director. "We do a national tour every summer, and it's a little bit out of the way from, say, when we're up in Georgia."
OITF couldn't accommodate a South Florida detour at first; however, in the meantime, Marewski was already hosting her own version of dinners at the farm. Eight years ago, after reading an article about OITF in Food Arts magazine, she launched the popular Dinner in Paradise series with chef Michael Schwartz. He was also the guest chef at the first OITF dinner held at Paradise Farms.
"It was in October. It was a little bit buggy and muggy, so we didn't go back for a long time, until recently," Scafe says. "Then, in the past few years, we started doing these winter events."
Most recently, OITF has hosted winter dinners with farmer Hani Khouri of Hani's Mediterranean Organics in the Redland.
Now that OITF's winter tour is in full swing, the cool weather is just right, and so is the timing. A range of guests attend these dinners, from locals in the farm community to repeat customers, and some actually build a vacation around the event.
"The winter tour is kind of neat because we don't have a lot of events this time of year, and people will even use it as an excuse to take a trip," Scafe says.
Scafe says OITF is excited to return to Paradise Farms, and Marewski, who has stayed in touch with the organization and even attended its other South Florida dinners, is looking forward to having them back.
"I just love their energy. They add another dimension to the farm-to-table dinners," Marewski says. "Jim, who started the whole thing years ago, is an artist. They just have this wonderful creativity in everything they do."
The meal at Paradise Farms ($200) will take place at 2 p.m. and will include an opening reception, a tour of the farm, and a four-course meal served family-style.
"I think the family-style dining is a really special aspect of it," Scafe says. "With people they don't really know, they're sharing food and talking. It's always interesting to see where the conversations go. Lots of times people end up exchanging phone numbers or email addresses."
Although the OITF tour has grown immensely since the first dinner in 2009, the format of the dinners have stayed the same, Scafe says. And this includes a special tradition.
"People bring a plate from home," Scafe says. "It's kind of fun. It makes the table look beautiful. If you bring a plate with a story, it's fun when you're sitting down with strangers because it's a conversation piece."
Diners who want more outdoor eating can also attend upcoming Dinner in Paradise events, which Paradise Farms holds independently of OITF. Their season is now in full swing.
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Last month's dinner during Art Basel weekend featured top chefs from the Florida Keys: Jouvens Jean and Joe Wiktorek of Pierre's at Morada Bay, Philippe Reynaud of Ocean Reef, Richard Smith of Cheeca Lodge, and George Patti of Taster's Grille. Marewski appropriately called it "the most artistic dinner" the farm had hosted to date.
The next one will be held January 12 and feature Wolfgang Birk of Area 31, Dewey LoSasso of Aqualina Resort & Spa, and Nicolas Cabrera of Baires Grill. Then, a January 26 dinner will feature Cesar Zapata of the Federal, Clay Conley of Buccan/Imoto, and Kris Wessel.