This year’s annual IACP conference brought us out West and it was just the excuse we needed to check out the food in Portland, OR. The number of breweries, wineries, roasters and distillers in Portland is mind-blowing. From street carts to fine dining and bakeries to cocktail-driven bars, the Portland food and drink culture is thriving.
If there’s one thing that defines Portland, it’s the emphasis on do-it-yourself and local that informs everything from house-cured meats to locally distilled spirits. This ethos can be traced back to the founding fathers of the city’s gastronomic culture: Greg Higgins of Higgins Restaurant, Phillipe Boulot of The Heathman, Cory Schreiber of Wildwood (who was chef there from 1997 to 2007), and Vitaly Paley of Paley’s Place. Read Portland Chef Paley’s bio, check out one of his signature recipes, and view our video interview with him in the Chef Feature.
We had more charcuterie in Portland than anywhere else in the country (besides Napa and Sonoma) and almost every chef in the city seems to have an in-house program. Chefs Jason French and Ben Meyer of Ned Ludd, Michael Hanaghan of Ten 01, Gregory Denton of Metrovino, and Vitaly Paley of Paley’s Place all showcased their curing skills with huge arrays of meat and fish including smoked salmon, rillettes, terrines, tuna blood sausage, porchetta, prosciutto, bacon, and even pig’s heart pastrami.
Comfort food is the name of the game in Portland. For comforting, soulful cuisine with an upscale twist check out Paley’s Place alum Gabriel Rucker at Le Pigeon. He incorporates less common offal (like chicken heart and pig’s foot) with decadent ingredients like foie gras for refined, hearty dishes like Pig’s Foot with Frisee, Sixty Minute Egg, and Shaved Foie Gras. And Foie Gras Profiteroles with Caramel Sauce and Sea Salt, in which everything from the dough to the sugar contained foie gras, was a revelation—and a guilty pleasure if there ever was one.
And while diners in Portland are mostly clamoring for the simpler pleasures, some chefs are experimenting with molecular and high-end cuisine. Chef Matt Lightner of Castagna has an impressive resume, including a serious stint at Mugaritz (he considers Andoni to be one of his mentors). Lightner’s influences are apparent in wildly creative compositions that incorporate unusual ingredients in simple combinations that belie the intriguing techniques he employs. We particularly admired his clean, vibrant plating; to see what we’re talking about check out On the Plate vol. 24.
Charming bakeries abound in Portland. We visited Cheryl Wakerhauser at Pix Patisserie for impeccably executed classic French confections and Elizabeth Beekley at Two Tarts for cookies and lemonade. Voodoo Donuts has a cult following, and for good reason; we could start every day with one of their Maple Bacon Donuts.
Portland is definitely a drinking town and as such the coffee, cocktail, wine, beer, and spirits culture is going strong. Kelley Swenson of Ten 01, Suzanne Allard of Ned Ludd, and Kevin Ludwig of Beaker and Flask are leading the mixology way with a focus on classics made with a local spin. And we could not get enough Oregon Pinot Noir (we’re hoping to return in July for the International Pinot Noir Celebration).
And of course our main focus of the week was the IACP conference, which kept us busy from morning until the wee hours of the next morning. This year, under the guidance of people like Doug Duda, Host City Chair Mike Thelin, IACP president Scott Givot, the IACP conference was more polished and sophisticated—and with more going on—then ever. Read our IACP Wrap-Up for a full account of the sessions we went to.
Some of the most fun we had at the IACP was at the exciting ancillary and after-hours events, from a midnight supper hosted by Chef Naomi Pomeroy to a bustling closing night party at Mother’s hosted by Chef Lisa Schroeder. One highlight was judging the festive Eat Mobile Street Food Competition, which brought out dozens of local street food vendors offering everything from Belgian waffle sandwiches to miso cod. Although the festival was for one day only, street food is a major part of everyday life in Portland with the entire culinary world at your fingertips for around $5 a plate.
If there’s one thing we learned on our trip to Portland, it was that we barely scratched the surface of the city’s vibrant culinary scene. So we’ve decided to make it a 2011 Rising Stars city! That means we’ll be back for an even more in-depth study of what Portland has to offer next spring. We were also able to make a quick stop in nearby Seattle to revisit some old friends (William Belickis at Mistral Kitchen, Brian McCracken and Dana Tough of Spur, and Nelson Daquip at Canlis) and meet some of the new talent (Jason Franey at Canlis, Chef de Cuisine Michael Blake, Pastry Chef Neil Robertson, and Mixologist Andrew Bohrer of Mistral Kitchen, Jason Stratton of Spinasse, and Tiffany Layco of Library Bistro) in the city.
We’re not done scouting for New York and Washington, DC Rising Stars so be sure to get in your nominations for chefs, pastry chefs, sommeliers, and mixologists. Houston, Chicago, and Portland are on the horizon for 2011, so get your nominations in for those cities too!
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