Dining on a Farm... in Queens?

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A gourmet tour bus is bringing the farm-to-table experience to your backyard
Outstanding in the Field bus

Courtesy of OitF/Jeremy Fenske

Outstanding in the Field bus

A few blocks from an otherwise nondescript bus stop is Queens Farm. The gravel entrance leads down a long road, a small wine shop on the left and a field sprawling to the right. Past a red tractor, a small fence separates a group of chickens from a few white, fluffy sheep. This is, apparently, where you end up if you take the F train to the Q46, down the Union Turnpike, and get off on 252nd Street. 

Once you pass the animals blissfully roaming free and that much too perfect red tractor, you spot a long white table set with a mishmash of plates for, roughly, 100 people. (Note: I am bad at estimating.) Only that table’s not always there. It’s really never there, unless it’s an Outstanding in the Field dinner, which this was. 

Outstanding in the Field (OitF) is a gourmet dinner tour bus has been growing steadily since the summer of 1998. Driving across the U.S. to host dinners on city farms from coast to coast, Outstanding in the Field recruits notable, if not outright famous, chefs from the nearest city or town and drags them out to the farm. The resulting dinner showcases many ingredients found right there on the farm. (Photo courtesy of OitF/Jeremy Fenske)

The most visually stunning (almost surprisingly so) piece of an OitF dinner, though, is the table. It stretches out in the middle of the farm, with white cloth, mixed up plates, and light wooden chairs, affording an incredibly romantic, communal atmosphere. In Queens, the table sat between rows of wine grapes to one side and rows of herbs growing on the other.

Marcus Samuelsson was at the helm last Monday night at Queens Farm, where he made a gorgeous end-of-summer tomato and watermelon salad with a basil-mint vinaigrette, arguably his signature light gravlax (perhaps the only I’ve had without that strong fishy taste), and a yard bird with smoky bacon with baked beans and a corn succotash on the side. To say that the meal was ingredient driven is a huge understatement — it was farm driven and it was no more evident in the tomato salad than it was in the dark, soupy blueberry cobbler he made to finish us off. The crunchy cobbler topping was mixed into the berries, making it feel like a homemade guilty pleasure, which worked well with the familiar, relaxed vibe of the evening. 

To start on the brilliance of the wine pairings would make me drag on too long, but suffice it to say that the crisp Riesling that was chosen to pair with Samuelsson’s gravlax was still a topic of discussion well into dessert.

Now, for the first time ever OitF has a tour schedule that not only stretches into March 2012, but includes international tour dates in Europe and the southern hemisphere. Stopping in Cork, Ireland, Rioja, Spain, and Radda in Chianti, Italy, OitF will bring its winning formula (long table, gorgeous setting, famous chefs) across the pond. Chef Anders Selmer of Kodbyens Fiskebar in Copenhagen (and formerly of Noma) will cook on Hans Lund’s Farm in Denmark, while Susan McKenna Grant of La Petraia will join forces with everyone’s favorite Dante-quoting butcher, Dario Cecchini, for their dinner in Chianti. (Photo courtesy of OitF/Jeremy Fenske)

Then, in January, the OitF team will head south, first to Mexico and pressing on to Chile, Argentina, Brazil, and then even further afield to Kenya, Hong Kong, and New Zealand. The chefs and farms are as yet unconfirmed for those dates, but those tickets will go on sale September 23rd on OitF’s website. Tickets are currently available for all dates in Europe.