outstnading in the field Henry County

Open-air dining @ $150 per plate: a Sunday dinner prepared by Louisville chef Kathy Cary
Photo: David Mudd

Sunday dinner on the 16th of September at Smith-Berry Vineyards in Henry County, Kentucky was a local affair staged by some continental drifters.

The butternut squash soup, the roasted and pulled chicken with garlic and arugula, the slow-cooked lamb with dark almond sauce and cucumber cilantro yogurt plus roasted potatoes were all locally-grown. And the after-dinner goat cheese ice cream was local, even if the crisp it accompanied depended on apples from Michigan because a spring frost this year killed most of Kentucky’s apple blossoms. The cook was local, too: Kathy Cary, chef and owner of Lilly’s Restaurant, 40 miles down Interstate 71 in Louisville. And the wines served were from grapes vintner Chuck Smith harvested from the vines surrounding the 60 diners.

But the continental drifters—three young women and one very happy man who collectively call themselves Outstanding in the Field—were out of California.

They’ve been hitting the road at the start of each growing season the past three or four years and hooking up with farmers and chefs wherever they roam to present elaborate meals on long linen-draped tables in pastures and barn lots—”Close to the source,” they like to say. Indeed, the Cheviot sheep Smith runs through his vineyards to keep the weeds and grass down were shooting nervous glances at us the whole time, worried the Eat What’s Nearby ethic might make the rest of them the next course.

outstanding in the field meal

The meal was staged by Outstanding in the Field,
an “eat locally” group based in Santa Cruz, CA

Photo: David Mudd

It was a magical late-summer day in drought-seared Kentucky, the sun high and hot when we started, but cooling to golden glow as evening came on. The food and wine were great, and plentiful. And all these elements made for easy conversation starters at a table where a good number of us were strangers when the meal began but gabbed like the best of friends until dark.

When it was over the very nature of the meal caused a few of us to wonder, though: did we really need outsiders charging $150 a head to treat us to the joys of local fare, well-prepared by a well-known local cook, and shared outdoors with friendly locals?

Isn’t that what we used to just call a picnic?

It seemed entirely ungenerous to voice the thought there in the boozy, sated afterglow. But by Monday, the Outstanding folks were well down the highway–with a pretty sizable grubstake for one evening’s light hosting duty.

So I’ll answer the question.

No one needs to spend $150 to attend a picnic in Kentucky, even a high-toned one. It says something about the priceless draw of good food and good company, though, that so many were eager to do it. And that delicious evening would never have happened without the Outstanding people. So give them their due. They showed us the often unappreciated bounty all around us; a good lesson even if it was expensive.

But when we do another–on our own–the dues won’t be quite so high.

David Mudd is a freelance writer who manages the grill during the decidedly more downscale dinner/concerts at Smith-Berry Vineyards and Winery outside New Castle, Kentucky, every other Saturday each summer. Y’all come.

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