The Next Order: Trends Ahead

Al Fresco Extreme

Jan 1, 2005
Outside Magazine
Jim Denevan

Jim Denevan and assistant events coordinator Natalie Mock

Channing Daughters Winery

The evening's selections, from Channing Daughters Winery

"WE WANT TO RATE our dinners like whitewater," says Santa Cruz, California–based Jim Denevan, perhaps the nation's leading extreme-dining impresario. "Class I, Class II, Class III." No, this isn't about snacking on spiders at the Explorers Club. Picture wild boar pit-roasted on a mountaintop or freshly caught salmon savored in a remote sea cave by candlelight. Or, in a dinner planned this spring for Washington's Olympic Peninsula, a multicourse, ultra-gourmet, white-tablecloth "intertidal dinner" staged on tidal flats in the brief window before Puget Sound floods the party. Lifelong surfer Denevan, 43, is the executive chef of Santa Cruz's Gabriella Café. He is also the culinary brains and six-foot-four brawn behind Outstanding in the Field, a series of outdoor dinners now in its sixth year. Pairing fine wine and cuisine with rustic environs is not in itself novel: Rafting outfits, for example, routinely pamper clients with prime rib. But Denevan—with help from celebrity chefs like Dan Barber, of New York's Blue Hill restaurant (see "Grow Your Own,"), and Paul Kahan, of Chicago's Blackbird—is proving that al fresco dining can be high adventure in its own right. To that end, a hundred guests recently forked over $130 each to follow Denevan on an intentionally confusing hike in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Once they were good and lost, Denevan led them to a well-laid table at the top-secret wild-mushroom site of local forager David Chambers. There, beneath the oaks and Monterey pines, Denevan served porcinis and chanterelles with local wild venison, wild sorrel greens brought out by the first rain, and mussels gathered by hand then poached in water first used to boil wild thistles. "So many restaurant menus try to tell a story these days," he says. "They try to conjure the whole sensuous experience of a farm or where the beef was raised or where the fish was caught. We bring that story to life, so you can live it while you eat it."

More at Outside

Elsewhere on the Web

Not Now

Get tips. Get stories. Get fit.

Looking for the best in fitness? We got you covered.

Thank you!