On a warm day we are seated at a long table in the middle of a quaint vineyard, relishing the sublime flavours of several farm-to-table dishes as part of the Outstanding in the Field experience at Kleinood Farm and Winery in Stellenbosch, started more than two decades ago by land artist Jim Denevan. He is known for etching large-scale artistic works into changing landscapes around the world — each piece made with impermanence in mind, before being washed or blown away by the forces of nature.
A deep connection to nature and the land inspired Denevan to establish a series of roving dining experiences in 1999, bringing together people from different backgrounds for a communal experience of breaking bread, with thoughtful attention to spaces where culinary experts share stories of how they grow and prepare food.
From its inception, Outstanding in the Field has taken people to culinary experiences across several continents, often inviting diners to bring their own plates to each intimate setting. In the last year alone, foodies dined in Mt Tamalpais in California overlooking the Pacific, experienced California’s famed Wine Country regions with a stop at Napa Valley, and journeyed to Lopez Island, Washington, where the terrain includes lush forestry and sparkling blue seas.
Recently, Denevan and his team brought Outstanding in the Field to the continent for the first time — starting in the Stellenbosch winelands, before going to Accra, Ghana and Fez, Morocco.
We found out more about roving dining and Jim Denevan’s plans for the future.
You are known for creating art that is specific to concepts of working with and on the land. What inspired this idea of a roving dining experience?
Outstanding in the Field is a tribute to the land and the source of our food, but also the hands that harvest it and work the earth. The idea is to tell the farmer’s story in an extraordinary site, where the food on the plate was harvested. Like many of my land works, which I make from time to time at the sites of the Outstanding in the Field dinners, the table and the communion are ephemeral, existing, and experienced for just that day or moment.
You have guests who come from different parts of the world to these dining experiences. Who is your audience and what interesting trends do they illuminate?
Our guests tend to coalesce around the cultural pillars of food, art, and travel that you mentioned, but also around ideas of sustainability. What is unique about Outstanding in the Field and what I think contributes to our following is the unpredictable sense of community fostered when guests from widely diverse backgrounds, our host farmers and vintners and culinary talent including emerging regional and globally renowned chefs, come together. We’ve seen the same trend towards immersive experiences evidenced across other cultural sectors and a particular affinity for hard-to-reach, destination locations that can require an unexpected trek through rough terrain or an oyster bed at low tide.
You recently hosted an Outstanding in the Fields experience at the Kleinood Farm and Winery in Stellenbosch. What drew you to this location specifically as part of your first venture into the African continent?
Our extended family of partners recommends many of the farms we visit and that was the case with Kleinood, which is an extraordinary example of a vibrant, zero-waste ecosystem that was nurtured by the De Villiers family from barren land. In addition to the stunning beauty of the property we were able to share rare, small-batch wines produced without any viticultural or oenological effort spared.
The tour has recently visited Accra and Fez. Why did you choose those cities and how do these curations incorporate the local food culture of the mentioned destinations?
Africa is arguably one of the world’s most exciting hubs for creativity right now and the team and I were drawn to that energy. We were keenly aware of the extraordinary force behind the Fulani Test Kitchen and the Dine on a Mat dinner series by Chef Fatmata Binta, whose passion to revive the ancient grain, fonio and work to empower and support women in rural communities across Ghana and West Africa earned her the distinction of being the first African to be awarded the prestigious 2022 Basque Culinary World Prize. In Morocco, we celebrated another family-run farm, the Noor Fes Olive Estate which produces award-winning olive oil that is considered among the world’s best.
Outstanding in the Field has been growing for 23 years, in a context where the world has changed drastically. What have been some of the most exciting evolutions that you have experienced with this dining experience?
The willingness of people to immerse themselves in new cultures and traditions has been exciting for the team and has challenged us to think further and further outside the box. Specifically, regarding the environment our rustic, leave-no-trace approach has been embraced by our guests.
What are some exciting things on the horizon, in relation to Outstanding in the Field, that our readers can follow and experience too?
We have just announced our Winter 2023 Tour dates, which include a first-time stop in the Bahamas and a series of stops in Mexico–another destination that is bustling with artistic output. Some of the top names in the food world in Mexico will be cooking in the field kitchen and the renowned wines of the region will be highlighted along with artisanal products from natural materials found in the Yucatan.
Find out more about the upcoming tours on outstandinginthefield.com