Chef Gabriel Woo left the comfy confines of his almost-impossible-to-get-a-reservation- at restaurant, Bar Cecil in Palm Springs, this week to serve an Outstanding in The Field dinner under the date palms at the Flying Disc Ranch in Thermal, California.
Just as the temperatures are beginning to drop and the snowbird season commences in the Coachella Valley, the evening began with a tour of the ranch by farmer Robert Lower, a hippie surfer dude who founded the date farm in 1979. Since then, he has added pomegranate, fig and a variety of citrus trees to the property, which he cleared, plumbed and planted in the desert valley in the 1970s.
The soil at Flying Disc Ranch never gets cultivated, he explained as we walked through the canopies of date palms. The soft green garden floor provides mulch that protects it from harsh sunlight and drying conditions, and is also a habitat for beneficial insects.
Located about halfway between Palm Springs and the forever intriguing Salton Sea, Thermal is a thriving and growing farmer community that has been the home to date farms going back to the early 20th century. The famous Wong Family Farms mangoes find their home in the neighboring town of Mecca. Lower is planting mango trees as well on his ranch that is on the verge of being 100% wind-pollinated.
As the Solminer Wines and Fort Point Beers slowly began to flow, so did the appetizers, like Devils on Horseback with avocado, figs, berries and salmon roe, as well as ricotta gnocchi and pillowy squashiny arancini.
“Getting out of the restaurant and preparing an entirely different menu in the middle of a farm is exciting,” Woo told L.A. Weekly, as he lorded over a barbeque for 80 people at his second Outstanding in the Field stint.
“Walking though this farm really gets the creative juices flowing,” he said. “I made use of it all — grapefruits, pomegranates, three different kinds of dates, lemons, key limes for dessert. I put date syrup in the whipped cream for the pie and used seedling dates that only Robert’s farm has. I use his dates at Bar Cecil for our date sage butter and think it’s time to use more.”
The sunset dinner at 138 feet below sea level commenced with a charcuterie of soppressata, fennel salami Calabrese salami, Cypress Grove Midnight Moon goat’s milk gouda and Tamai Family farms pickled cauliflower. A salad of Girl and Doug Farm mixed greens with Flying Disc grapefruit, pomegranate, buttery Barhi dates, avocado, pecans and a white balsamic vinaigrette followed.
Up next, one of the best cacio e pepes I’ve ever had, made with orecchiette pasta, dates, fried capers and topped with Townie Bagels breadcrumbs. Dinner was flame-broiled Pitman Family Farms chicken with Lower’s lemons and rosemary accompanied by sprouted broccoli and Weiser Family Farms smashed potatoes.
Outstanding in the Field was founded by landscape artist Jim Denevan in 1999 and has become a traveling restaurant without walls around the world, popping up on white sand beaches, cliff sides, historic landmarks, in citrus groves, vineyards, ranches and farms. The winter 2023 tour dates have just been announced and go on sale Tuesday, Nov. 1.
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