When sitting at a stadium, it’s hard to beat the view from the 50-yard line or above home plate. Unless, that is, you’re sitting in the middle of the field itself—and enjoying a world-class dinner at the same time.
Book a dinner at the October Field To Table series in San Jose and you’ll be seated for a four-course meal in the middle of the soccer pitch at PayPal Park, home of MLS’s San Jose Earthquakes. Dinners run on select nights from Oct. 15–30 and tickets start at $119 per person. Make an extra $50 donation—which benefits a nonprofit that supports underprivileged aspiring chefs—and you can try to kick a goal, too.
Each evening is helmed by a different San Francisco Bay Area chef, who will prepare dinner, then mingle with patrons on the field. The lineup includes an array of culinary stars who have been recognized by Michelin, James Beard, or both‚ and represent a diversity of cuisines. Choose from chefs such as Alexander Hong from the Michelin-starred Sorrel in San Francisco; Crystal Wahpepah, who creates Native American cuisine at Wahpepah’s Kitchen in Oakland; and Reem Assil, recognized for her Arab-style comfort foods at Reem’s California in San Francisco.
A number of the chefs also have reality TV on their resumes and thrive on the challenge of creating a world-class meal in a pop-up stadium kitchen. “I competed on Top Chef, and this is very similar—you learn how to pivot very quickly,” says chef Robert Hernandez, who was most recently part of the team at Michelin-starred Octavia in San Francisco. “Except this time, I don’t have restrictions on what I can cook, or the hours that I have to cook.”
Another Top Chef alum, Monique Feybesse, agrees. “The energy needs to be at 300 percent for an event like this,” says Feybesse, who owns the Vallejo patisserie Tarts de Feybesse with her husband Paul. While the unique setting means they need to be “super organized and even more prepared,” she says, their menu will stick to their roots: “French classics that are contemporary in our own way, using high-quality ingredients and techniques.”
The event was inspired by a different kind of challenge: the COVID-19 pandemic. Event producers Cassie and Sam Minkoff first launched Field to Table in Seattle in early 2021, as they were brainstorming ways to get restaurant staffers working after the lockdown. They recruited local chefs to cook dinners at Lumen Field—home of the Seattle Seahawks and Seattle Sounders—and between bites diners could try kicking field goals.
During the first event, “we were primarily thinking of the logistics of the stadium—a unique experience at a time when vaccines didn’t exist,” Sam says. The series was such a hit that it was extended, then returned in both late 2021 and early 2022. “People enjoyed this insane lineup of chefs and the unique opportunity to dine on the field,” Sam says. “This was something more than just a pandemic thing—this was something they liked to do.”
The Minkoffs decided to take the event to California, picking San Jose’s PayPal Park for both its lovely setting and the access to great Bay Area chefs, many of whom are known for giving back to their communities.
One such chef is Oakland‘s Nite Yun, who was born in a Cambodian refugee camp and whose Nyum Bai restaurant has become a vital part of the local Cambodian community. It also made Bon Appetit’s “Hot 10” list in 2018. Yun calls the Field to Table event a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and her menu will be inspired by the food she grew up eating. “At big Cambodian gatherings, such as weddings or birthdays, the biggest-sized pot of curry is simmering throughout the day and gets more super-delicious the longer it simmers.”
The ambience on the field only adds to the experience. Instead of stadium lights, special lighting, video, and decorations transform the field. “Everybody talks about the vibes—it’s a really fun atmosphere,” says Cassie.
The crowd at these events, she says, tends to be a mix of serious foodies, sports fans, and people who identify as a little bit of both. “Some people will show up decked out to the nines, some will just show up in their best fan gear,” Cassie says. “We love that part—people should feel free to come in whatever.”
“Everybody is surprised by the level of service they receive,” she adds. “Some people think you could serve a hot dog on the field to sports fans, and they’d think it’s the time of their life. But for foodies, the bar is high. These are chefs they can’t get reservations for, but they can have an awesome meal in an awesome spot, and the chef is also going table to table.
“It kind of blows people’s minds.”