Most farm dinners are organized by the farm, but Denevan brings a whole new level of art and ideas to new and unusual locales. These locales encompass all 50 states and 16 countries to date. Many of the locations are not farms, but beaches, piers in Malibu, and cliffs.
For one day, Denevan creates restaurants at the source of the ingredients with a single long table that can seat over 100 people, keeping the farmers and chefs as close as possible. He designs the tables to fit the location, sometimes in arcs or circles. Hundreds of the world’s top chefs including James Beard Award winners and Top Chef champions have been included.
As a land artist, he makes zen work in the sand on the beach, raking out radiating geometric shapes to an astonishing size. Nature always bats last, so impermanence is a given, and documenting the art adds another layer to that.
There is a new documentary on him called “Man in the Field: The Life and Art of Jim Denevan,” currently streaming online.
At the Loxahatchee stop, the sweet chicken and herb farm run by Liza and Marty Holman was the setting.
Denevan, cowboy cool in a straw hat, sunglasses and boots, welcomed us all to the dinner, roving through the crowd and chatting with everyone.
“Our primary focus is growing salad greens, but we have expanded with tropical fruits and pasture-raised chicken eggs,” the Holmans say. “All of our crops are grown in soil, and we strive for the best tasting crops by maintaining a healthy living soil. Our farm does not use synthetic herbicides, pesticides, or fertilizers, and we only use OMRI listed products whenever necessary.”
The Holmans did not set out to be farmers. Instead, they inherited the land after a scare with E.coli from a smoothie with spinach that put their son in the hospital, sent them into clean farmer mode.
After some welcoming libations from Tarpon Cellars and Prosperity Brewers, and some passed small bites of pickled green tomato sliders, we took a tour of the farm’s greenhouse, chicken pens and field crops where the long table was set.
Chicken safety actually poses their biggest challenge as bobcats, raccoons, and hawks love chicken too, though these hens are bred for their eggs not their wings. Another crop they grow produces biodiesel for their equipment.
“I hope we represent old Florida,” Marty Holman said. “I remember when there used to be cattle across from the Boynton Beach mall, but old Florida is going away. We want to capture a little bit of that here. This dinner is super emotional for us and for that we thank ‘Outstanding in the Field’.”
After the tour, we were told to pick up a plate–some people had brought their own. We chose our seat at the long white clothed table, positioned just inches from the herb garden. An adorable herd of small black cows meandered over to the fence nearby, curious about what was going on.
Guest chef was Niven Patel, who owns a restaurant in Miami, named one of Food & Wine’s Best New Chefs in 2020.
Wine and apricot spritzers were served, as the first course of Holman Harvest mixed greens with heart of palm, avocado and green goddess dressing came out in a large bowl family style – delicious, fresh, and crunchy. It should be; it was grown 2 feet away.
Next up was Florida Keys grilled snapper with collard greens, garlic, and fennel. The whole fish had been strung up and smoked before grilling, quite a sight – with layers of flavor in each bite.
Smoked lamb came next, with harvest root vegetables, pickled mango and basmati rice. Fall off the bone tender, it had been simmering for a day.
My sweet tooth went into overdrive with dessert as a platter with sliced olive oil cake came out, smothered in Knaus Berry Farm strawberries with pistachio crème fraiche. I jumped the group to dig in, much to the annoyance of my IG foodie snapping tablemate.
Photo Gallery (Click on the photos to enlarge them)
As dusk descended, we watched the sky behind the palms and oaks turn pink and orange. Candles were brought out so we could hold on to the moment.
“The tables that we will set during the upcoming Winter dates are fully immersive and offer a sense of escape, whether ensconced in an olive field, on a pier surrounded on all sides by water or amongst the floating gardens of Xochimilco, which date back to the Aztecs,” said Denevan about the next few dinners on the tour.
Florida destinations include Lake Meadow Naturals in Ocoee with guest chefs Alexia and Rhys Gawlak of Swine and Sons and Albert DeSue and Mike Camacho of the innovative Mockingbird, as well as Big Pine Key, where chefs Shane and Amy La Beet of Pepper Pot Island Cafe will craft a menu featuring the flavors of Trinidad at Grimal Grove, a historic tropical fruit grove and fruit garden dating back to the 1950s.
Everywhere they go, they always bring together a crew of folks from farming backgrounds, restaurant and hospitality, mechanics, all sorts of things to make a diverse group. People hear the farmers’ stories, then they go back home and support their local farmers.
And then, as the people filed out basking in the sunset glow of the field, they were all filled with happiness. Truly outstanding.