Jim Denevan is a guy who likes to make things from scratch. The scratchiest of scratch. In doing so, he creates grand scale offerings honouring the temporality of life. With each stroke etched in the sand, with every spoonful of home grown delight imbibed, not only is he producing epic art and experience, he also leaves his mark in the form of human connection and new friendships forged wherever he may wander. And while his creations so soon disappear; deconstructed by hand or claimed by the tide, in evokes the wisdom of Doctor Seuss- “Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.”
In order to pull off such grandiosity you need to attract and make a permanent guest of honour the grand dame of original beauty herself- Earth. It’s an effort Jim appears to take with great pleasure.
In the midst of our hour long skype session on a Friday night at 6 pm Sweden time and Jim taking his coffee at the Cat and Cloud Coffee Company in his home base of Santa Cruz at 9. He says “It’s weird to be recognised for two things culturally. Especially ones that have been so elevated with the help of new technologies.”
Those two things are large sand installations all over the farthest reaching corners of the globe (We know globes have no corners but ours remains exceptional.) The other ‘thing’ is OITF, or “Outstanding in the Field”: one- off dinners set in spectacular settings centerpieced with a single incredibly long and winding table. GQ once called Jim ‘pre-trend’. I don’t know if he labels himself that but it’s evident he’s experienced the ache of being ahead of the curve. “When I first started drawing in the sand, I thought to myself ‘this is so much fun. Who wouldn’t want to do this?’” At the time though, there wasn’t a single person who was fully devoted to creating large sand art. Now, with the ease and availability of drones, there are people digging big all over, but it took a while to get here. “Like my art, the idea for communal eating, back in 2008, was met with resistance. Peoples’ reaction was ‘I don’t know about that’. Getting them to participate was hard. From an entrepreneurial sense, if I knew how long it would have taken for me to do what I wanted to do, i don’t know if I would have tried.”
The fact that he did stick with it has made an impact. Today, communal table eating is on trend. At the beginnings though of OITF, the idea of strangers dining together made most uncomfortable. But we all know: that’s where the magic happens. And apropos, it’s this communing quality that leaves the strongest note on guest’s palettes- the enjoyment of the people they sat next to and across from while collectively enjoying the pairing of exquisite dining in the fields and next to the waters where the flesh and flora is foraged.
Beaming reviews of OITF take up detailed space on review sites, but what really catapulted this culinary traveling circus is Instagram. Differing from Jim’s idea that perhaps press would be the propeller for this endeavour, the many guests who posted their experiences comprise some of ig’s star fodder- sensuous sunsets, vistas and food. OITF now has a significant following and an enviable itinerary that takes Jim and his team to some of the most picturesque places in the world. North America, South America, Japan. Vineyards, islands, and music festivals among them. When the tour bus arrives, the perfect spot for the event is sussed out and then the table raising begins. They bring in their own everything (often even water) in order to create a quintessential experience for guests. Along with the variable weather conditions, each event is tailored to give praise to the land, its bounty and those who cultivate it. The chefs are handpicked to offer their local expertise and gravitas. The farmers and producers themselves often share their stories and an excellent time is had by all.
Like art drawn in the sand and to soon be reclaimed by the sea, these elaborate and convivial dinners are delicious little morsels in time. Emphasis is on experience. Like music festivals, OITF has garnered its own hard core fans who attend as many of the highly sought after dinners as possible. Mick Jagger recently gave a shout out to OITF, noting that festival food had come a long way since hot dog nosh.
What inspires someone to go to such great lengths to create something that will so soon pass? Listening to Jim, it’s apparent, family matters. His mother became a widower early in his life and for the most part, single handedly raised her nine children. A formidable mathematician, she nurtured a brood who developed a spectrum of interests- from hand gliding, organic farming, to the commerce of mattresses and all the way to body surfing. Jim is the only artist slash tourbus chef though and she emphatically encouraged him to do the work that provides for ones family first and foremost. Jim kindly remarks this was a bit hypocritical, because while her mathmetising was anchored in logic and common sense- she was in fact bananas for it and a hard core Fibonacci fan. When you look at Jim’s designs (which used to require a cliff or a helicopter but now are deftly photographed by drone) you can glimpse the Fibonacci influence. It’s all the more dazzling when you factor in these epic in size designs are mainly drawn freehand, solely based on the previously made shape. Some works can be so big they could encircle entire cities. It’s big ass art. Art for flyers and otherworldly visitors.
When you contemplate a CV such as Jim Denevan’s you might wonder- what do you do after Mick Jagger gives you a shout out for your pop up event and you’ve weathered the Sahara and Siberia in the name of art? What indeed. “When I was a kid I knew what I wanted to do with my life. I wanted to write original songs and sing them. When i was young, I was an avid whistler, constantly exploring my craft and driving my family crazy. Now I am always composing songs and singing while I work.” Jim sent me a sample of some of his songs and whistling. His voice is at once rich and youthful. At one point in our conversation he mentioned that his son was walking past the coffees hop and that he was a gifted musician. From Jim’s speaking voice alone I would have guesstimated him to be in his twenties, so I was taken aback to learn that it was his son who is that age. That’s one perk of whistling- a youthful timbre.
No matter what future unfolds for a guy like Jim, one thing is more likely than not- he will be experiencing something interesting that will make people wonder in a wonderful sort of way. The venue may be at the next worldwide whistling championship or it might be in the middle of an ancient and storied forest, but what is guaranteed is that it will instil the curious to become even curiouser.
Thanks for sharing Jim.
Have a desire to eat well in a gorgeous setting amongst new friends? Do you own your own plate? Escape the frost, give the gift of experience and beauty to yourself or to someone you want to share it with. Book a spot or two at one the many upcoming Outstanding in the Field’s events. Chile, Argentina, Hawaii, California and New Orleans are just a few of them. Events sell out, so if you’re keen, grab a seat before the music stops.
Outstanding In The Field website: http://www.outstandinginthefield.com/
OITF instgram: https://www.instagram.com/out_inthefield/
OIT pinterest: https://www.pinterest.se/oitf/outstanding-food/
Jim’s own website featuring his sand illustrations: http://www.jimdenevan.com/
Read more about Jim in GQ: http://www.gq.com/story/jim-denevan-wandering-chef-celebrity-restaurants