Friday, February 8th, 2013 at 11:21 pm
Portland: Foodie Happenstance
Though we had planned to vacation in Portland during the fall, it was simply a happy coincidence that our trip happened to coincide with some great food-related events.
An Evening with Mark Bittman
Feast Portland: A Celebration of Oregon Bounty, was a four day festival in September highlighting the chefs, producers and food artisans in the state. We weren’t able to take in all that many events (it would have busted our food budget for the entire trip), but we prioritized and made it to three.
The first was an Evening with Mark Bittman, where he would be delivering a talk titled “The Future of Food”. I’ve been following Bittman’s writing and cooking his recipes for a few years now, so it was neat to be able to hear him speak in person.
Waiting for Mark Bittman
The Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall was packed, everyone eager to hear the New York Times columnist take on the current state of food in America. Without question, Bittman was preaching to the choir (and really, if you’ve read Food Matters, there wasn’t anything groundbreaking to add), but I still appreciated his passion on the subject. The one stat that stuck with me was that only 1/4 meals eaten in the US contains a fruit or vegetable (shockingly, that stat would be 1/5, but the perfunctory piece of lettuce on a burger counts). He also talked about the importance of the upcoming soda tax vote in Richmond, California, as it had the possibility, if passed, of rippling outward (unfortunately, the measure wasn’t passed – you can congratulate the soft drink lobby for their victory there).
Oregon Grand Bounty Tasting
I was a little heartbroken that tickets for the Feast Night Market were sold out by the time I got around to the website, so the Oregon Grand Bounty Tasting was a bit of a consolation prize. The $60 tickets set a level of expectation, but we were in the dark as to how the event would unfold, given there wasn’t much information available. We should have known better – though this was the first Feast festival in Portland, it followed a successful template replicated in other cities like New York, so there was little chance of anything but an amazing event to anticipate.
The organizers had fenced off Pioneer Courthouse Square for a few days in preparation, so we were eager to see what was behind the blacked-out walls. Turns out, the event was true to its name – it really did showcase the bounty offered by the state.
How do you like ‘dem onions?
We initially didn’t think the Square would be big enough to hold the hundreds of people streaming in, but the organizers did an excellent job of using all built-in tiers to their advantage. Higher-end wine tastings were offered on the terrace, while the majority of food and libations samples were distributed in a massive tent on the ground level. Best of all, a cooking stage had been set up facing the outdoor amphitheatre.
Inside the tasting tent
We learned about some great locally-produced products, from cheeses and baked goods to seafood. Notably, we were introduced to Jacobsen Salt (the first locally-mined Oregon salt), Olympic Provisions (mind-blowing salami), and Salt & Straw ice cream. With the overwhelming number of producers present, it would have been helpful to have a comprehensive list of all of the vendors – instead, we had to rely on memory and pictures to remember which products we wanted to source out after the event.
Hot Lips soda
Even Stumptown Coffee was represented!
In between tastes, we made sure to check out Chris Consentino’s demonstration. We had stopped by his Boccalone outlet in the Ferry Market while in San Francisco, though he is probably more well-known for his restaurant Incanto, and appearances on a variety of Food Network shows. Charismatic and funny, he put together a very interesting dish featuring foie gras and pine branches.
Chef Consentino on stage with Bon Appetit Editor in Chief Adam Rapoport
Though I don’t think we were able to sample $60 worth of product, we were more than satisfied with the variety of food and drink, and the overall experience of the Bounty. Bravo to the organizers!
Feast Speaker Series
Our final Feast event was a Speaker Series entitled “The Global Local: Re-imaging Food Cultures” at the Gerdling Theatre. Many of the speakers had come from out of state, which provided us with the opportunity to hear from some of the current movers and shakers in the American culinary world.
The event as a whole was impressively well thought out and organized. A folk band in the lobby set the tone as we walked in, while at intermission, identical food stations spread throughout the two levels were ready and waiting to dish out samples to the hungry audience (it helps when Whole Foods is a sponsor, but they alone couldn’t account for the incredible efficiency of the set-up).
The lecture portion itself was also nicely done. The ten speakers were interspersed with brief video “field dispatches” that helped provide the audience with a visual context of the Oregon agricultural layout. Even the time keeper was thoughtfully chosen – a lone guitarist sitting just off the stage would start lightly strumming to gently remind speakers that their time was up.
In terms of content, because of our tourist status, we would have loved to hear more about Portland’s food scene specifically (one of the questions in the promotional material that got us hooked was, “How has Portland become the talk of the American food scene?”), but I’m sure locals thirsted for more national stories.
Highlights for me included Portland restaurant critic Karen Brooks. She distributed three small tastes (a piece of chocolate and a coffee bean among them), wrapped up in a small canvas bag for each audience member. She then crafted a wonderful communal experience as she described what each of the foodstuffs meant to her, and invited all of us to enjoy each item together. It was an effective way of driving home her core idea that “food is trust” – each of us was intimately connected to the artisan producer that crafted the product.
Chef Sean Brock’s discussion about the Charleston pantry seemed a little out of place, but it was interesting to hear his take on a popular rice-based Southern dish, hoppin’ john, that he serves at his restaurant. It was especially interesting because South Carolina has only recently started to grow rice again. Brock shared, “story tastes good.”
Francis Lam interviews Chef Brock
Chef Gabrielle Hamilton, of the famed NYC restaurant Prune, was charmingly blunt about locavorism. Eating local, she said, was unremarkable because it was simply how she grew up.
Lucky Peach Editor in Chief Chris Ying also brought down the house with his tongue-in-cheek takedown of Yelp reviews.
Chris Ying deduces the true identity of a Yelp poster
Reflection about how, what and why we eat what we do in the context of the landscape and culture is fascinating to me, so I thought it was a valuable learning experience. I hope Edmonton can replicate this (on a smaller scale, of course) someday!
Meeting The Wednesday Chef
I’ve been reading Luisa Weiss’s blog, The Wednesday Chef, for a few years now. While some of the recipes she captured caught my eye, it was the window into her life that kept me coming back. When it was announced that Luisa would be releasing a memoir, I knew I would pick it up – I wanted to learn more about her story, and of course, glean a few more of her recipes.
My Berlin Kitchen maybe didn’t flow as well as I wanted it to (many of the chapters seemed to be built around specific recipes, which works as individual blog entries, but not as well in a novel format), but Luisa’s elegant prose and ability to connect with the reader still made it an enjoyable read. So when I found out Luisa would happen to be in Portland conducting a reading and book signing at Powell’s the week we were in town, I knew I had to be there!
Reading from My Berlin Kitchen
She was as sweet and articulate in person as you would expect, and seemed very genuine. The Q & A with the audience surprisingly focused more on her life and thoughts about Berlin; I really thought there would be more blog-related questions. I asked her how she feels her blog has changed over the years – she responded that it has become more personal, with people relating to her experiences.
You never know what food-related events will crop up in Portland!