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William Dissen and the Outstanding Table

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Photo courtesy of Outstanding in the Field  

It’s a mild autumn afternoon. You are seated at an enormous table—Alice in Wonderland, tea-time-with-the-Mad Hatter enormous—in the middle of a field. The foothills of the Smokey Mountains blaze blue and orange in the distance. You smell something delicious, and an irresistible leg of lamb is set before you. Just as you are about to take a bite, a wave of excitement runs through the crowd. A herd of sheep is changing pastures and the field is flooding with lambs. They trot past, bleating jubilantly. Watching them, you glance down at your meal, and something new passes through you: a sense of unity, of appreciation.

This is the kind of moment Outstanding in the Field was created for.

“To actually put that relationship together… I think it opened their eyes a bit. It helps people understand how food actually gets from the farm to the table,” explains William Dissen, executive chef of The Market Place restaurant in Asheville, as he describes an especially memorable experience with the organization.

Founded in 1998 by chef Jim Deneven, Outstanding in the Field has developed an almost mystical allure. Travelling the country in a 1953 red and white Fixible, the dedicated crew has hosted dinners at spectacular and scenic locations including farms, beaches and even museums. Events average 130-150 attendees, and diners often eat right among the crops they are consuming. The aim of the experience is to give guests an understanding of the symbiotic relationship between chef, farmer and land. And, of course, to serve some phenomenal food.

“I joke with them they are ‘culinary carnies,’” says Dissen who will participate in his fourth Outstanding event this October at Warren Wilson College Farm. “They are getting to meet really great chefs that are passionate about eating locally and meeting farmers who are taking pride in what they are doing… be it an urban garden in New York City or a farm in Asheville, NC.”

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William Dissen