From farm to table to the stars, Oakley event combines fine cuisine and telescopes

Hearth and Hill’s annual Astronomy Dinner aims to bring ‘something fresh’ to ‘eating in a field.’

(Leave Room for Dessert Eateries) Diners gather for Hill's Kitchen 2021 Astronomy Dinner. The 2022 version is set for Friday, August 5, at Avalanche Ranch in Oakley.

Last year, Jordan Harvey hatched an idea for an outdoor Astronomy Dinner “for selfish reasons,” he said. “I was curious about telescopes.”

So Harvey, the executive chef at Park City’s Hill’s Kitchen, contacted astronomer Paul Ricketts, the director of the South Physics Observatory at The University of Utah.

“I reached out randomly and said, ‘I have an idea for a dinner. Is this something you guys would even do?’,” Harvey said. “And he was totally on board for it.”

Last year’s Astronomy Dinner was so successful, Harvey is doing it again this year, Friday, August 5, on the grounds of Avalanche Ranch in Oakley. The property has a yurt on the site, which will turn into a kitchen for the night, where Harvey will cook ingredients sourced from Ranui Gardens, one of Utah’s first organic farms, in nearby Dog Hollow.

“There’s a big tree, and it casts a nice shadow, so we won’t be baking out in a field, waiting for the sun to go down,” Harvey said. “Then we’ll have this great meal, and pivot into this interactive experience, a laser-guided tour about our place in the Milky Way galaxy, in the universe. Then we’ll have a couple of large telescopes.”

(Leave Room for Dessert Eateries) Diners sit down to eat at Hill's Kitchen 2021 Astronomy Dinner. The 2022 version is set for Friday, August 5, at Avalanche Ranch in Oakley.

At last year’s dinner, Harvey said, “we saw Jupiter and five of its moons, and we had a very clear view of Saturn and its rings, and the Oort cloud.”

In the yurt, Harvey will cook using just Bunsen burners, Dutch ovens and a fire pit. The meal will be served family-style, with a menu that includes fry bread, cheese straws, summer greens and stone fruit, farmers cheese, fennel and herb-stuffed trout, stuffed peppers, and roasted summer vegetables with za’atar spice and labneh.

Harvey will also be making some earthy entrees, including bison ribs roasted over the fire pit to evoke a summer cookout experience, but with an upscale twist. The desserts, Harvey said, are definitely celestially inspired, including one based on astronaut ice cream.

“We do a liquid nitrogen ice cream that has this cool and dramatic effect, like you would imagine if a spaceship would open a door that like, you know, that cold smoke coming out of it,” Harvey said. “Our pastry chef, Jesse Ray, comes up with a whole ice cream buffet with toppings like Saturn ring dust and cosmic debris, black hole donuts and all sorts of different fun space-themed things, to go and round it out before we go and have the sky tour.”

When guests arrive, they can sip on space-themed cocktails — Harvey said he was still concocting those — and try such appetizers as cauliflower cornet with preserved lemon, pastrami burnt-end tart and ratatouille dolmas, while listening to indie rock duo Zallie.

Harvey noted that these days, outdoor farm dinners can feel stale and done to death.

“It just feels like a task to do, rather than something fresh and new and fun,” he said. “So we were looking for something else that feels a bit more rounded out as an experience, rather than just eating in a field.”

After last year’s dinner, he said, he was contacted by several people who were disappointed to have missed it.

“Because space is fascinating,” Harvey said. “There are so many unknowns about it. It definitely holds your attention, and causes you to wonder what’s out there.”

Hearth and Hill’s Astronomy Dinner is 6:30 to 10 p.m. on Friday, August 5, at Avalanche Ranch, 4147 N. 1000 East, Oakley, Utah. Tickets are $200 per adult and $100 for kids under 12, plus a 20% gratuity. Reservations are available by calling Hill’s Kitchen, 434-200-8840; the dinner is capped at 100 people, so it is recommended to make a reservation as early as possible.