The 2009 edition of the Outstanding in the Field series at Jolie Vue Farms took place this past Sunday on a hill overlooking rural Washington County. This dinner was one of 54 stops of the nationwide OITF tour, whose goal is to make farm-to-table dining a reality. But OITF's own events take the concept one step further -- this is farm-to-table-on-farm dining. More than 200 guests trekked out to Jolie Vue Farms near Brenham to take a tour of a working farm, learn about the importance of sourcing locally grown produce and meats, and experience a five-course dinner of local ingredients prepared by Houston's top chefs.
The event was a team effort between OITF founder Jim Denevan, Jolie Vue Farms owners Glen and Honi Ann Boudreaux and family, and an all-star lineup of Houston's top chefs -- Monica Pope of T'afia, Jonathan Jones of Beaver's, Richard Knight and James Silk of Feast, and Bryan Caswell of Reef. And they were supported by a cadre of volunteers and co-workers. Even the guests got into the act with the so-called "tradition of the plates," in which guests bring their favorite plates from home to use at the dinner, resulting in a colorful, eclectic table setting. A portion of the proceeds from the dinner benefited Houston's Recipe for Success foundation.
After making the two-hour drive from Houston, we arrived at Jolie Vue and checked in. All arrangements had already been made -- reservations for the OITF dinners are made available months in advance and usually sell out within hours of opening. We crowded into any shade we could find on this hot and humid day, sipped cool drinks and munched on appetizers including pulled-pork sliders, fried okra, mini pork corn dogs, and breaded whole pig's tails (the latter courtesy of those whole-hog magicians at Feast). A tour of the farm then commenced, led by family son Frank Boudreaux and featuring some very happy cows (apparently not just in California), and some even happier pigs (in slop). We commenced up the hill and took our seats at the long, curving table.
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Under tents several yards away, Houston's top chefs were creating a fine dining experience using a makeshift cowboy kitchen (the closest commercial kitchen was many miles away). The chefs and their teams not only produced world-class dishes, but they produced 200 plus of those dishes in a limited time for every one of the OITF guests (with consideration for special dietary requirements).
Depending on how adventurous guests were, they were either excited or dismayed by the dinner starting with roasted pig noses from the chefs at Feast. Those who accepted the dish ate the pig snouts heartily, while the more squeamish looked on in both horror and amazement. Next up was a chilled cushaw squash soup from the t'afia team. The Beaver's team then presented a Yucatan-style goat tamale cooked in banana leaves. The Reef team grilled whole red snapper.
The final main course featured a famous local dish (crispy roasted pork belly), from a famous local restaurant (Feast), using a famous local ingredient (Jolie Vue Farms pork). With this dish, the Feast team realized their nose-to-tail culinary philosophy of eating all parts of the animal-- pig's tail and nose for appetizers, and the pork belly in the middle for the main course.
The dessert course was prepared by t'afia, and included a toasted, herbed cornmeal poundcake, goat cheese mousse and blueberry compote. Each course was paired with a Texas wine originating from the Flat Creek Estate vineyard and winery near Austin. At the end of the dinner we soaked in both the remainder of the wine as well as the beautiful orange sunset in the distance.