When diners and all-day breakfast and soda fountains are one side of the coin that is American cuisine (see my previous post on diners), then farm-to-table is the other side of this coin. This farm-to-table (or also called farm-to-fork) movement that connects diners with locally grown (usually organic) produce and more modern and unusual dishes has become more and more popular. This movement is now connecting the consumer and the farmer even more closely in a movement I would call table-to-farm movement: the chefs, the tables, and the guests are all coming to the grower, so some produce does not ever leave the farm before it is consumed. Last weekend’s Dirty Feet Dining event (love the name) at Twin Peaks Orchards in Newcastle, CA was such a table-to-farm event.
When the summer nights become warm in Northern California, an al fresco meal could not be more perfect. I have never understood why so many dining options are in air-conditioned rooms even when the temperatures are perfect. Outdoor dining options are not that common, and outdoor dining options with good food and even better ambiance are pretty impossible to find. Dining in the midst of an orchard and under green boughs full of ripe peaches while watching the stars come up on a clear summer sky is the epitome of a perfect dining location. I am pretty sure I mentioned how beautiful the surroundings were about every ten minutes or so in a dinner that lasted close to four hours – also unusual for American dining options.
Dinner started off with cocktails and appetizers. Appetizers were prepared outside as were all other dishes it seemed. All cocktails were made with a locally distilled gin, and between my husband and me, we tasted all the cocktails on the menu. Even though I am usually not a gin drinker, I had a tough time choosing a favorite. The gin was Darjeeling Gin made by California Distilled Spirits in Auburn, CA. I ended up sitting next to the distiller, Ed Arnold, during dinner and learned much about distilling, gin, and whiskey during the conversation.
After cocktails, we walked through the orchards to the highest peak of the farm where chefs cooked over open fire on the outskirts of the orchard, and dining tables, bar, and even a DJ were right in the middle of the orchard and amongst all the trees bowing under the weight of ripe peaches and nectarines. Seating at two long tables and all dishes served family-style on large platers and passed on to share allowed for meeting new people and interesting dinner conversations. The menu was unusual and intricate and did not hint at all that the cooking was done outside as well. I could have maybe handled preparing the salad course outside but definitely not the carp with prawns and pickled apricots, the goat with chickpea puree, or the dessert similar to flan and berries on a cookie.
Even though each course came with its specific wine (from Lone Buffalo Vineyards, a local winery on the nearby Placer County Wine Trail), dinner was paused for an alcoholic intermission consisting of tapache, a fermented fruit wine. As dinner service continued, the sunset colored the sky pink and purple above the trees and the lights in the branches and candles placed under the trees started to glow. I doubt I have ever spent that much time during dinner looking up or comment on the setting. Dinner in the orchard has definitely ruined eating in AC-controlled restaurants even more for me. And contrary to the name, the soil and grass in the orchard were just moist enough to keep my feet clean despite the event’s name.