Diners have become accustomed to on-farm eating since Outstanding in the Field popularized the concept, but Kevin Johnson of The Grocery says cooking outdoors still poses serious challenges for chefs.
“You’re not only outside of your kitchen, you’re outside of any kitchen,” says Johnson, who last week guest starred as chef of an Outstanding in the Field event at Thornhill Farm, the culinary roadshow’s first area appearance since 2010.
According to Johnson, The Grocery’s crew was confident about its Thornhill set-up until organizers made a last-minute decision to stage the reception and dinner on different parts of the farm, requiring two mobile kitchens.
“It was like, ‘oh, hey, where’s the Maldon salt?,’ Johnson says of the complexities of keeping two ad hoc, alfresco kitchens correctly stocked. “We have to plate the lamb, and I’m insisting on Maldon salt, because those are the things chefs care about.”
Although farm dinners have become commonplace in recent years, Johnson says he doesn’t think the concept’s ubiquity strips it of meaning: Like pioneering farm-to-table chefs, Outstanding in the Field has been forced to hone its techniques rather than rely on the novelty of its offerings.
“I think they’ve grown since last time,” Johnson says. “The attention to detail was impressive.”
Johnson was initially worried about ticket sales, with only 100 seats sold. But an organizer helpfully reminded him, “dude, it’s Thursday at 2 o’clock, almost an hour from Charleston.”
Even with a modest crowd by Outstanding in the Field standards, the event provided an opportunity for Johnson and wife Susan to close their restaurant and invite their staffers to Thornhill Farm. Four servers and eight kitchen staffers worked the dinner.
“You never know if they appreciate it, but I think they did,” Johnson says. “It was awesome.”
For more pictures from the event, visit The Reynolds Group’s Facebook page.