Los Angeles

The Magic Behind an Outstanding in the Field Dinner in California

West African chef Tolu "Eros" Erogbogbo shines at this pop-up restaurant at Coachella. Plus, how to attend a similar experience this year.

Photo by Hadas, courtesy of Outstanding in the Field
Photo by Hadas, courtesy of Outstanding in the Field
Photo by Hadas, courtesy of Outstanding in the Field

Full-fledged feasts, picnic table affairs, and galas involving multi-course meals are innate cultural reactions to celebratory moments. Outstanding in the Field homes in on those shared scenes of joy with organized farm-to-table events where guests are seated with local artisans and farmers for a community-based, full-service experience.

Founded in 1999, land artist and Californian Jim Denevan was inspired by his farmer brother’s craft and the diverse California terrain, so he decided to showcase local ingredients from the natural grounds of the scenic farming regions where the meals would be served. Escaping urban landscapes, Denevan’s foremost philosophy is returning diners to the fruit-bearing roots of the produce they are devouring by setting a memorable meal directly at the source.

After over two decades of operation, Denevan’s dream Outstanding in the Field dinner has expanded into an international tour. The annual programming brings folks of different generations, cultures, and languages to a gigantic table to eat authentic dishes and enjoy the magical communal quality of it all.

“Traditionally held in inspiring natural locales, every detail is considered to create an experience in harmony with its environment,” an Outstanding in the Field representative told Thrillist, adding, “Each individual dinner is a story of its place and the unique group of people who gathered there for one moment to share the most universal human conversation: a meal.”

In Indio, California, Coachella, the multicultural music and arts festival, has a similar philosophy to Outstanding In The Field. Both offer attendees insightful glimpses of culture, and both saw some exciting firsts this year. Bad Bunny was the first Spanish-language artist to headline, and Blackpink became the first Korean-language artists to headline. In addition, Outstanding in the Field’s eight-year collaboration with Coachella saw the first West African chef to prepare an evening dinner for guests who purchased VIP-level wristbands.

Photo by Hadas, Courtesy of Out Standing in the Field
Photo by Hadas, Courtesy of Out Standing in the Field
Photo by Hadas, Courtesy of Out Standing in the Field

In March, Chef Tolu “Eros” Erogbogbo opened two restaurants in Los Angeles. He named both IL√Č. One is a bistro in Culver City, and another is a private experiential dinner, which caught Outstanding in the Field’s attention.

“We’ve wanted to share our passion for the flavors of the African continent with an even wider audience following our magical tour stops last year in Stellenbosch, Accra and Fez,” an Outstanding in the Field representative told Thrillist, adding, “So when we heard the buzz around IL√Č, chef Tolu’s tasting table in Hollywood and then had the chance to see how he engages his guests, we jumped at the opportunity to introduce him to our Coachella family.”

Eros said he was “most excited to celebrate [his] Nigerian roots in a beautiful outdoor setting with new and existing friends who [came] together to enjoy a menu that honors [his] background while supporting local farmers in the desert.”

The values of an Oustanding in the Field experience rests on the natural beauty of the land we live on. Instead of orchestrating an over-the-top spectacle of a dinner, the community event focuses on the simple act of human connection through the ubiquitous language of food and talk.

“The table is positioned relative to its geographical surroundings, reflecting the curve of the coast or interacting with a mountain ridge. The open-air culinary experiences are often choreographed by Denevan to feature fleeting natural wonders like golden hour toasts, clouds that swirl around the table, and sunsets that disappear over the horizon as if on cue,” said an Outstanding in the Field representative.

Photo by Hadas, Courtesy of Outstanding in the Field
Photo by Hadas, Courtesy of Outstanding in the Field
Photo by Hadas, Courtesy of Outstanding in the Field

At the Coachella festival grounds on Saturday, April 15, 2003, West African drumming guided guests to secluded seats surrounded by lush hedges and string lights. The storied 200-person table sat on the VIP Rose grounds, set with hundreds of wine glasses and plates for guests to claim before receiving Nigerian fare helmed by Eros. In the grass field, I sat across from an older couple from England as we tried four courses of family-style West African food together, including Eros’s popular pepper soup recipe and hearty jollof rice. Afterward, I stayed in touch with Kathy, the 70-year-old woman who talked to me about how she met her husband, who was sitting alongside her. It’s safe to say the dinner was a hit, accomplishing what its organizer set out to do, with most everyone complimenting Eros as he walked around and fielded guests’s questions.

It’s not just about the guests, though. Outstanding in the Field gives everyone a seat at the table, including those who created the meals. The dining menus included farmer blurbs, and each server described each dish’s story, highlighting ingredients and farm origins. Eros even came by to grind spices on the patron’s proteins, and the farmers who produced the vegetables on our plates walked by to ask how our garnishes and salads tasted.

“Outstanding in the Field was founded to exalt those who raise and grow our food in a way that respects the land and earth, ‚Äč‚Äčclosely paralleling Denevan’s practice as a land artist,” the community organization states. “The goal is to connect diners to the origins of their food while celebrating the hardworking hands that feed us: chefs, farmers, fisherpeople, cheesemakers, vintners, brewers and many more.”

You can see all of this in action for yourself. Scheduled engagements are reservable online. And while past experiences have included tables set in grape farms outside of Cape Town, a French chateau in central Loire Valley, and even the pink sand beaches of Bermuda, Outstanding in the Field 2023 includes Africa, the Pacific Northwest, California, Canada, Italy, France, and more.

Photo by Hadas, courtesy of Outstanding in the Field
Photo by Hadas, courtesy of Outstanding in the Field
Photo by Hadas, courtesy of Outstanding in the Field

Want more Thrillist? Follow us on Instagram, TikTok, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and YouTube.

 

Malik Peay is a contributor for Thrillist.

Los Angeles

How to Spend a Weekend in Topanga Canyon

Nature and the arts collide in this beloved canyon community.

Hanan Isachar/Corbis Documentary/Getty Images
Hanan Isachar/Corbis Documentary/Getty Images
Hanan Isachar/Corbis Documentary/Getty Images

Situated in the Santa Monica Mountains and known for its vibrant creative community, Topanga is one of Los Angeles’s most prized destinations for art and outdoor enthusiasts alike. And while LA boasts its own sprawling landscape of fun to tap into, you’d be remiss to miss a chance to explore this tucked-away collection of state parks, and cafes, and restaurants-especially when it all rests just 20 minutes away from the city. From a quaint caf√© with dazzling canyon views to a world-renowned, open-air theatre, here are the best ways to pass some time in Topanga now.

Photo courtesy of Inn of the Seventh Ray
Photo courtesy of Inn of the Seventh Ray
Photo courtesy of Inn of the Seventh Ray

Friday

Book dinner at Inn of the Seventh Ray
Owner Lucille Yaney opened this iconic restaurant in 1975 after spotting the property on a drive through the canyon with her late husband Ralph, and it’s safe to say she had a good eye. The land perfectly fits into Yaney’s vision of a romantic, alfresco dining space with tables tucked into cozy nooks and gazebos, all beneath canapes and fairy lights. Today, Yaney co-owns the venue with executive chef consultant Brad Miller. Together, they continue to fulfil the restaurant’s original mission to serve pure, natural foods reflective of the season’s best. That approach appears in dishes like 8-Hour Black Vinegar Braised Short Rib with creamy rosemary polenta, duck bacon Brussels sprouts, and caramelized onion and fig jam; Roasted Mushroom Toast with oyster mushrooms and sherry tarragon cream; and Beets & Whipped Black Pepper Creme Fraiche. Consider the carbs here. Pastas and sauces are made in-house and from scratch, as is the bread (available regular or gluten-free), an order of which you won’t want to miss. Check out the wine list, too, which offers a robust organic and biodynamic selection that has helped the restaurant garner some impressive accolades in recent years.

Check into Topanga Canyon Inn
In addition to plenty of excellent Airbnbs available to rent in the Canyon, there’s Topanga Canyon Inn, a charming bed and breakfast comprised of two Mediterranean-style buildings-Casa Blanca and Casa Rosa-both built by the owners. Guests can enjoy bespoke design details in each room, along with gorgeous mountain views from their own private balcony. Come morning, join other travellers for breakfast, served daily at Casa Rosa.

Saturday

Get coffee at Café on 27
Ready your camera for a coffee date at this AM eatery and caf√©, where ample (and busy) outdoor seating offers some of the Canyon’s best views. A full breakfast and lunch menu is available (complete with hearty orders like eggs Benedicts, soups, and club sandwiches), but for lighter morning fare, spring for a pastry and any of their specialty drinks, such as the turmeric latte or Moroccan mocha.

Bradley Allen Murrell/Shutterstock
Bradley Allen Murrell/Shutterstock
Bradley Allen Murrell/Shutterstock

Hike Topanga State Park
Spanning 11,000 acres and 36 miles of trails, Topanga State Park is the largest state park within the Santa Monica Mountains and one of the world’s largest parks within city limits. Visitors can access the grounds via more than 60 entrances. Once on the trails, enjoy sweeping vistas while exploring the region’s range of plants, habitats, and wildlife, including several resident bird species.

Grab lunch at Topanga Living Café
Guided by their Topanga upbringing and need for a community gathering spot with great eats, sibling team Agustina Ferguson and Bayu Suryawan opened this daytime eatery in 2016. Ever since, locals and visitors have found refuge in the caf√©’s warm, airy space and nourishing, hyper-fresh fare-all California-inspired with global influences. Check it out in plates like the Island Style, a breakfast salad with Balinese corn fritters, a poached egg, and house-made chilli jam, or the tacos (Baja Fish or Baja Shrimp, Carne Asada, or Kabocha Squash), made-to-order and served on handmade tortillas. If you’re seeking something shareable, try the Farmers Market Crudite, a seemingly humble order whose bright beet hummus reminds us that eating your vegetables is, indeed, very cool. And take a drink to-go. The team here takes great pride in their coffee (organic espresso, courtesy of their iconic pink La Marzocco machine) and a lineup of made-to-order smoothies, juices, and teas. Shop your way through town
Visitors can stroll through the town centre’s most popular shops for various fun finds, including Moona Star, Pebbles, and Topanga Homegrown. Be sure to stock up on specialty, local snacks at Canyon Gourmet and satiate your sweet tooth while you’re at it. The organic soft-serve there is a must. Pro tip: Top it with any of their artisanal syrups for a winning combo, namely, the vanilla with cardamom.

Photo courtesy of Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum
Photo courtesy of Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum
Photo courtesy of Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum

Catch a show at The Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum
This beloved open-air theatre has hosted productions for decades and is recognized worldwide for its Shakespeare interpretations. In addition to its annual summer season, which includes works like Macbeth and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the venue hosts concerts, rehearsals, and classes throughout the year for budding actors and playwrights of all ages.

Snag a slice at Endless Colour
This family-run pizza joint specializes in from-scratch pies with clever topping combinations (think purple potatoes, fontina, and truffle oil in the Purple Molly Potato or spinach, leeks, and goat cheese in the Super Greens). Bring some friends, order a pie or two, and check out the drinks list, which includes offbeat options like orange wines and hard kombucha.

Photo courtesy of The Canyon Bakery
Photo courtesy of The Canyon Bakery
Photo courtesy of The Canyon Bakery

Sunday

Check out The Canyon Bakery’s “Sunday Funday”
Situated on the grounds of the aforementioned Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, this bakery specializes in naturally leavened breads, pastries, cakes, and cookies using locally sourced, whole grain flours. There’s a takeout window on Sundays, from 9:30 am until the bakery sells out. A strong following lines up for favourites, such as whole grain croissants and gluten-free pizza, so be sure to arrive early to get your fill.

Try tacos to-go at La Chingona
On your way out of town, grab some tacos at La Chingona, where a team puts forth fresh, organic, gluten- and dairy-free tacos. Orders range to include options like grass-fed beef (carne asada), shrimp (wild-caught), and soy chorizo and can be fashioned into plates beyond tacos, too (think tostadas, salads, and bowls). Open only on Tuesdays, Fridays, and Sundays; this taco stand sees good demand. Plan accordingly, pending your travels, especially to savour an order or two of the churros.

Get the latest from Thrillist Australia delivered straight to your inbox, subscribe here.

Nicole Schnitzler is a contributor for Thrillist.

Related

Our Best Stories, Delivered Daily
The best decision you'll make all day.