Here’s What Happens When You Throw a Plant-Based Dinner for 275 People
Close your eyes and picture a 275-person long table covered in roses and spanning a grassy field. The sun is beaming, reflecting through the wine glasses grazing the table and highlighting the delicious family-style dishes painting the tablescape. A unique plant-based dining experience called Outstanding in the Field is truly unlike others, allowing attendees to bond with strangers over a plant-based meal in a serene natural environment.
Known as a “Restaurant without Walls,” Outstanding in the Field is known for its long dinner table that seats 275 people. Considered a “full-service, four-course family-style meal,” people of all kinds from different walks of life are brought together through one common thing: food.
Outstanding in the Field has popped up in locations all over the world including farms, beaches, vineyards, mountain tops, and city streets to name a few. This will be the seventh year they planted themselves in the Rose Garden at the world-famous Coachella Music Festival in Indigo, California. Though they hosted dinners every evening of the popular festival, one particular night they planned a fully plant-based menu, and I had the honor of attending.
With intentions to disrupt the traditional dining experience, Jim Denevan founded this way of dining in 1999 to connect strangers through a common meal, and celebrate local, hard-working farmhands. This dinner of your dreams has been highlighted by Condé Nast Traveler, Forbes, Food & Wine, and more. Each menu is crafted with ingredients sourced from local farmers, and on this particular evening at Coachella, they celebrated agriculture across Coachella Valley.
The plant-based chefs behind the dinner
Chef Ayindé Howell is one of two chefs who crafted the plant-based menu for the evening. A life-long vegan who uses the knowledge he has gained over the years to create the most divine vegan meals, the author of Lusty Vegan, a cookbook and relationship advice for vegans dating non-vegans, explains how to peacefully coexist with a partner who prefers a different palette. Another one of his many accomplishments is being a celebrity chef for India Arie and Alicia Silverstone, but his true claim to fame is being the creator of “Mac and Yease,” a vegan baked Mac and Cheese sold at Whole Foods Markets and Costcos.
Cooking this evening alongside Chef Ayindé Howell is Chef Makini Howell, a vegan chef best known for her flagship restaurant, Plum Bistro, a fine-dining experience. She also operates an array of vegan eating experiences such as a food truck, a casual dining experience, and even a dessert shop! Howell was raised vegan and grew up working in her parent’s vegan sandwich shop and has been recognized by the New York Times as a top chef changing food in America.
Outstanding in the Field's ambiance
Amidst the hustle and bustle of the music festival, Outstanding in the Field is a curated environment that transports you to a place of tranquility. It is tucked away in a serene Rose Garden in the VIP section on the field grounds. Each dish that is a part of the four-course meal is served “family style” allowing the opportunity to connect with so many new friends! It truly was amazing to experience so many different people from different cultures being brought together through a plant-based meal. To be completely transparent, I was a little shy to attend dinner alone, but turns out I had nothing to worry about! Commonly, you are seated amongst strangers who leave this dinner as dear friends.
The four-course plant-based meal
The meal consisted of four courses: Each course was carefully curated and paired with the best wine to compliment the taste. A salad was waiting for you at the table when you arrived. Once everyone was seated, the servers started bringing around the first course, which consisted of fire-roasted corn, cucumbers sourced from a local farm, and fennel topped with a lemon vinaigrette.
The second course – which was my personal favorite – consisted of a fully vegan “Mac and Yease.” It was so tasty and had a semi-sweet taste with notes of coconut hidden in each bite. I wish I could’ve wrapped this up, stuck it in my purse, and taken the leftovers home with me, but I knew there was more food to come, so I had to save space for the rest. As the sun went down, everyone snuggled up and downed another glass of their specialty rosé as they waited for the next dish to come.
The third course was the main dish consisting of two different types of sandwiches. Originally I was shocked to see the main course was a sandwich, but I was pleasantly surprised with the high quality of combinations after taking my first bite! One of the two sandwich options was Jamaican-spiced tofu with a yam spread topped with a cabbage slaw. This sandwich was rather spicy for me, but I really loved the second sandwich which was Hot Tempeh with dill pickles on ciabatta bread.
Before they dished out the final dessert, the farmers who grew the produce across Coachella Valley walked around and said hello to everyone seated at the table. Meeting the farmers took this experience to a whole new level. It was a great way to get everyone to really feel even more connected to the meal.
To end the night they set up a chocolate chip cookie and vegan vanilla ice cream bar where you could grab your cookie sandwich dessert to go and enjoy the rest of the artists performing at the festival.
Overall, Outstanding in the Field truly was a night to remember. They outdid themselves! If this is ever hosted in your area, you cannot miss this incredible experience to taste locally sourced dishes and connect on a deeper level with strangers. What Outstanding in the Field has curated is completely unforgettable!
How to Host a Vegan Dinner Party
To host your own summer plant-based dinner party, visit our complete guide to hosting a festive meal for your friends and family for a menu full of delicious vegan recipes and decor ideas.