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Eat Near: Outstanding in the Field comes to Punta Gorda

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An Outstanding in the Field dinner held in Vermont / JEREMY FENSKE

An Outstanding in the Field dinner held in Vermont / JEREMY FENSKE

Worden Farm already offers the most luscious vegetables you're likely to find at the downtown Sarasota farmers' market—now it's hosting one of the young year's most exciting locavore events. Outstanding in the Field, a California-born group that organizes open-air farm dining experiences around the country, comes to the Wordens' Punta Gorda farm this Sunday afternoon to highlight the cuisine of River City Grill Executive Chef Steve Iadevaia.

Although Outstanding in the Field hadn't arrived in Southwest Florida till last year, the concept has been around since 1998, when the group's founder, Jim Denevan, put together a series of farm-to-table dinners in Santa Cruz. A few years later, the group went national, and today Outstanding staff travel from state to state and farm to farm in a red and white Flxible bus. They're hitting Florida hard this month, with dinners scheduled in Apalachicola, Homestead and Ocoee before pulling into Punta Gorda.

It's the second year Worden has hosted Outstanding and the second year Iadevaia was invited to cook. River City is an institutional member of the Worden network, and has featured the farm's produce for about seven years. Iadevaia journeys to the farm once a week to find out what's in season, so developing a menu for this Sunday's event is no stretch. In addition to the Worden goods, last year's meal featured pork, eggs, shrimp and alligator ribs—all from Florida.

River City had developed plans for an Italian restaurant next door to its current location, plans that had to be scrapped, but that experience and an inaugural visit to Spain has affected Iadevaia's cooking. Last year's menu was heavy on Florida influences, with Southern, Latin American and Caribbean touches; this year's will bend more toward Mediterranean styles.

But whatever the final product, the raw material remains the featured attraction. Chris and Eva Worden, who launched their eponymous farm in 2003, are "very into what they do and they're passionate about it and it shows in their products," Iadevaia says. "As a chef you want to work with the best stuff you can, and that's what we get from them."

Even when Iadevaia's not prepping an Outstanding menu, Worden goods influence his cooking. Florida's unusual climate means plants flourish at times they traditionally don't. Iadevaia says that means he has the fun challenge of working with unusual and intriguing combinations—say, tomatoes and corn—that don't work in other parts of the country. The fact that the state's growing season overlaps with its busiest tourist season is another plus, Iadevaia says.

Last year's event was a hit, with 146 attendees, and Iadevaia expects this weekend's event will do just as well, with fewer of the logistical snags that can happen when you're humping a bunch of gear out into the fields. "Everyone's done it once and we know what to expect," Iadevaia says. He enjoys the challenge: "It's always nice to get out of the restaurant and do something."

Outstanding in the Field starts at 2 p.m. Sun., Jan. 19, at Worden Farm, 34900 Bermont Road, Punta Gorda. Tickets are $180. To reserve a space, visit outstandinginthefield.com. For more information about Worden, visit wordenfarm.com. For more information about River City and Iadevaia, visit rivercitygrillpg.com.

This is the 39th entry in Eat Near, a regular column dedicated to all the lovely food that folks on the Suncoast grow, raise, kill or craft. If you have an idea for someone/thing to feature, email me at eatnearsrq@gmail.com or hit me up on Twitter: @LeveyBaker.

Last modified: January 13, 2014
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