From the farm to the field in Edwards | VailDaily.com

From the farm to the field in Edwards

Caramie Schnell
cchnell@vaildaily.com
Vail CO Colorado

HL Farmers Dinner 1 DT 7-26-10

EDWARDS – Cue the mules. Just before dessert, a handful of unruly pack animals gallopped into the field where 130 people were dining at one long white tablecloth dinner table. It wasn’t all that surprising though since we were, in fact, in their pasture. It was around that same time, as dinner guests snapped picture after picture of the animals, that Restaurant Avondale and Larkspur owner Thomas Salamunovich, and two buddies, took their raw buttermilk panna cotta with strawberry rhubard compote, and sat in the field’s tall grass, turning the event from Outstanding in the Field to Outsitting in the Field. In all, it was a fitting finish to a nearly four-hour event at the Donovan family’s Copper Bar Ranch in Squaw Creek Monday night.

With a grin, Jose Calvo greeted guests as they arrived at Copper Bar Ranch. Calvo, who usually directs Avondale’s kitchen, directed each car to a parking space and reminded guests to bring their plates. Yep, guests were asked to provide their own dinner plate. That’s an Outstanding in the Field tradition that dates back to the first dinner that founder and chef Jim Denevan held in California in the late ’90s. Though it wasn’t tender spring lamb or just-picked arugula, as some of farmers or ranchers brought for dinner, the plates were a colorful addition to the table.

Attendees were greeted with luscious strawberry fields cocktails, made with organic vodka and strawberry rhubarb (picked from the farm’s lush garden) simple syrup and passed appetizers, like radish crostini with black sea salt and bison carpaccio with truffle salt. After the cocktail-and-appetizer hour, Outstanding in the Field director Leah Scafe climbed on a tree stump and told attendees the Outstanding story, weaving a tale about a chef who was inspired by his farmers’ products and created his menus around whatever they could sell him. From there Denevan hosted the first farm dinner with his brother, an organic pear and apple farmer. Denevan kept expanding within California and six years ago he bought a vintage 1953 Flexible bus on sellabus.com, named it Outstanding and took the tour national.

“It was evangelistic to start,” Scafe said. “They’d go into a town a week ahead of time and convince people to come and eat in a field.”

Roosters crowed in the background as a red-dress clad Kerry Donovan climbed atop the same stump to make the first of the night’s many toasts.

“I’d like to toast the dirt,” she said, raising her glass to the crowd of people gathered before her before launching into the 400-acre ranch’s storied history.

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“The spirit of the west is alive here,” Kerry said. “The Donovan family took it over 30 years ago. I’m 31 so we’re very connected.”

Afterwards Kerry guided guests through her fenced-in vegetable garden, encouraging guests to try her “kick-ass” arugula or the red mustard, which “looks like wine and tastes like spinach,” she said.

Next people meandered over to meet the long-haired and long-horned highland cows.

“The one that doesn’t have a name is next year’s dinner,” said Diana, Kerry’s mom, with a small smile.

It took some wrangling but I found myself sitting across from Chris and Tom LaVenture, the owners of the four-acre LaVenture Farm in Gypsum where they grow vegetables and raise chickens. Ninety five percent of what they grow goes to the chefs at Avondale and Larkspur who turn it into food that pays homage to the care and love that went into the individual ingredients – a meal like the one we were about to tuck into.

Thanks to the LaVentures, our table got all the inside veggie tales.

“This is speckled trout back lettuce,” said Chris, as he held up a piece of green lettuce with brown flecks, part of the salad chock full of greens, razor blade-thin slices of baby vegetables and buffalo feta cheese from Jumpin’ Good Goat Dairy in Buena Vista.

The next dish, grilled trout atop crispy fingerling potatoes – basically a giant homemade potato chip – with wild watercress (which Kerry foraged on the farm), radish, farm egg and bacon vinaigrette. The potatoes, radishes and eggs all came from LaVenture Farm.

“Yep, I dug these potatoes the other day,” Tom said as he he took a bite.

Farmers and ranchers who contributed to the dinner were sprinkled up and down the long table, in the midst of the foodies who tried to refrain from quizzing them incessantly. During the dinner the guests of honor took turns walking around and talking about their life’s work.

“Did you enjoy your Colorado lamb?” Dick Mayne asked a group of people seated in the middle of the table. Mayne is a jovial Gypsum native who carries on the “sheep man” tradition his great-grandfather started.

The diners smiled at Dick and his wife Luanne and bellowed a similar chorus: “Yes!” and “Thank you for the wonderful food.”

The evening’s unexpected entertainment wasn’t bad, either.

“I asked Kerry if she told someone to release the mules,” said Allana Smith, who oversees Larkspur and Avondale’s kitchen operations. “That could not have been more opportune. The rain held out and the horses danced for us. It was pretty special.”

High Life Editor Caramie Schnell can be reached at 970-748-2984 or cschnell@vaildaily.com.