Every good festival is a food festival now.
In fact, the most civilized way to experience Coachella in 2017 involves sit-down dinners prepared by some of L.A.'s most buzzworthy chefs, as well as culinary powerhouses from around the country.
The four-course Outstanding in the Field dinners, located this year in the festival's shaded Hacienda Del Toro, will take place at 5:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. every evening of both Coachella weekends (April 14-16 and April 21-23). If you didn't get a Coachella general-admission pass in January, when tickets sold out in a few hours, purchasing an Outstanding in the Field package is your way into the festival without dealing with the resale market. If you already have a pass, you can book the dinner of your choice as an add-on experience ($225, alcohol included).
Outstanding in the Field elevates the idea of festival food beyond corn dogs or even fancy burgers, now ubiquitous on the festival circuit.
"OITF is such an amazing event," says Dakota Weiss of L.A.'s Estrella, who's cooking on April 23. "I feel bad for anyone who won't have the chance to attend at least one of the dinners. The magnitude of the entire event is truly insane and so incredibly beautiful."
Imagine being outdoors at a gigantic communal table with elegant plateware, cocktails, wine pairings and food that actually merits the term "farm-to-table.” The dinners will showcase organic farming and responsibly-raised meat.
"For greens, it's a requirement to get it locally from one of the farms out there," says Perry Cheung of L.A.'s Phorage, who's cooking for OITF on April 21.
In fact, many ingredients are being sourced from County Line South Farm, located just a few blocks from the festival site.
"It's about celebrating where the food is coming from," says Nakul Mahendro of Badmaash, who's cooking for OITF on April 16 and who has a tattoo of a broccoli flower on his wrist to remind himself about the wonders of produce. "When we go through cases and cases of strawberries, we're picking out the most perfect ones to slice in half and put in a glass of champagne as a garnish. We're the type of people that will look at a potato and think, 'This is everything you need in life.'"
OITF is about hyper-local food for a global audience.
"People fly in from all over," Cheung says. "I'm happy to serve people from the other side of the country and the other side of the world."
Hold on to your flower crown—here’s a breakdown of this year's Outstanding in the Field dinners at Coachella.
Friday, April 14 features Neal Fraser of Redbird and Fritzi Coop in Los Angeles, empire-building Chicago chef Paul Kahan (Blackbird, Avec, Publican, Nico Osteria, Dove's Luncheonette and many more) and Donnie Masterson of The Restaurant in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.
Saturday, April 15 is a showcase for Miami-to-L.A. chef Alex Chang (who is working with Gabe Orta and Elad Zvi of Bar Lab to open their new restaurant, The Exchange, at the Freehand hotel in downtown L.A.), Boston/New York stars Ken Oringer and Jamie Bissonnette (Toro, Coppa, Little Donkey) and Miami's Jamie DeRosa (Izzy's Fish and Oyster).
Sunday, April 16 is an evening with downtown L.A. power players Alvin Cailan of Eggslut, Nakul and Arjun Mahendro of modern Indian restaurant Badmaash and Italian-food wizard Bruce Kalman of Grand Central Market's Knead & Co. as well as Pasadena's Union. It should be a raucous night that is, in part, a celebration of Cailan and the Mahendros' boisterous Super Amazing Restaurant Show podcast.
"As brash and bold as Badmaash is, we're thinking about people being outside," Nakul Mahendro says. "It's really hot and dry; people are in party mode. Arjun and I are planning to do something light and very graceful, something you wouldn't expect from an Indian chef. It would be miserable sitting at Coachella eating lamb vindaloo."
The Mahendros are considering dishes like an Indian riff on a caprese salad and skewered street-style tandoori chicken cooked on open coals, though they haven’t yet set a menu.
Friday, April 21 is a feast from three L.A. chefs who favor big flavors: Phorage's Perry Cheung, Thai-food expert Jet Tila (from the Food Network's Cutthroat Kitchen) and E.P. & L.P.'s Louis Tikaram.
"We pitched them a Southeast Asian dinner," says Cheung, who plans to make a Vietnamese appetizer, maybe some kind of roll. You can also expect dishes like Thai barbecue chicken with sticky rice and salad from Tila and whole bone-in short ribs from Tikaram.
Saturday, April 22 is a high-flying and eclectic night with L.A.'s Vartan Abgaryan (71Above), Charles Olalia (Ricebar) and Eddie Ruiz (Chicas Tacos).
Sunday, April 23 features leading ladies Nyesha Arrington (formerly of Leona), Antonia Lofaso (Scopa Italian Roots and Black Market Liquor Bar) and Dakota Weiss (Estrella and Sweetfin Poké). Dishes aren’t yet set, but "you can bet on our menu being incredibly diverse," says Weiss, who plans to use lots of ingredients from California farms.
Another thing to note: Coachella will announce all its food-and-beverage vendors on April 3. You can expect to see Cheung selling Phorage's bánh mì's and "Saigon nachos" with a choice of beef curry, chicken larb or pulled pork. Weiss's Sweetfin Poke will pop up in the VIP section, too. Based on what's happened at previous Coachellas and sister festivals from concert promoter Goldenvoice, we expect a big Badmaash presence as well. Here's hoping they come correct with their new butter chicken burgers. And if you can't make it to Coachella, Cheung's TikiFish poke restaurant and Weiss's Sweetfin Poke have already been announced as vendors for Goldenvoice's first Arroyo Seco music festival in L.A. from June 24 to 25.