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City sets the table

Food, drink fest showcases Oregon bounty


(Image is Clickable Link) by: PHOTOS COURTESY OF FEAST PORTLAND - Food is in the spotlight during the Feast Portland event.Portland can lay claim as the birthplace and childhood home of James Beard, the late, great American chef — born here back in '03, as in 1903.

But, mostly, our city has become known for many other things epicurean and gastronomic, especially in recent years.

Yes, gastronomic. It’s a word a food professional used in talking about Portland and Feast Portland, a four-day event held in the city (Thursday, Sept. 19 through Sunday, Sept. 22), including in its living room, Pioneer Courthouse Square.

Mike Thelin, owner of Bolted Services, which runs culinary events, says Portland ranks as one of the premier cities in the country for food and food sources, wine and wineries, chef and culinary competitions, and beer and breweries, and has a pioneering spirit during a heyday of food and beverages.

Hence, he and business partner Carrie Welch started Feast Portland last year, highlighting everything that makes eating and drinking here the ultimate experience.

“We wanted to do something that sort of had ‘all of the above,’ celebrating the entirety of the gastronomic scene of Oregon,” Thelin says.

Welch, a New Yorker who moved here three years ago and runs food PR firm Little Green Pickle, says there is very little to not like about Portland’s scene. She calls it the “never-never land of food and drink.”

“There’s a unique aligning of the stars that happened in Portland, that doesn’t happen anywhere,” she says. “There are farmers markets in virtually every neighborhood, with farms being only 20 to 30 minutes away. It’s quicker to get here, fresher. Being close to the 45th parallel, it allows the wine country to be as good as it is. There are apples, pears and hazelnuts, and it’s accessible to people in the city. ... We feel like Portland and Oregon is pretty exceptional for the bounty of ingredients you can get here, and the talent of our chefs.

“And, I’m going New Yorker on you and saying that Portland is affordable for good food.”

About 40 chefs will attend Feast Portland, which has gained popularity, and many events already have sold out. The big event for John Q. Public is the Oregon Bounty Grand Tasting, a smorgasbord of activity noon to 5 p.m. Friday and Saturday at Pioneer Courthouse Square ($60 per person, all-inclusive). A free event featuring Whole Foods will be held from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at Director Park. See feastportland.com for complete information.

Chefs are the rock stars of today’s food scene, but they come to Portland to find out what the buzz has been about in recent years, Welch says. In her own testimonial, Welch said she was moving from New York City, and she remembers a comment made by a person at a Brooklyn bar.

“Don’t be nervous,” the man said. “You’re going to a better place.”

(Image is Clickable Link) by: PHOTOS COURTESY OF FEAST PORTLAND - Delicious and diverse food are the draw at Feast Portland, a second-year food fair that features dinners and other events around the city. Go to feastportland.com for info.There are 43 events in the four days of Feast Portland, all done a la carte — a highlight being the Sandwich Invitational, which, like most of the big events, sold out. The popular dinner series, featuring notable chefs from around the country and some of our own (Gabriel Rucker, Jenn Louis, Naomi Pomeroy), also is sold out.

Despite this being only its second year, the event has become hugely popular, and about 10,000 people are expected to attend.

“We get about 30 percent (of people) from out of town,” Thelin says. “A lot of folks from the industry want to come to Portland to see what we’re all about. ... Oregon, and Portland, is the capital of the culinary heartland. People in the industry like coming here because of what Portland represents.”

Thelin grew up in Scappoose, but he’s a fourth-generation Oregonian whose family lived in Portland.

It’s hard to quantify the start of a food scene, or define it, he says, but Portland’s identity can certainly be grounded in such trend-setters as Cathy Whims at Genoa (and now Nostrana), Vitaly Paley, Caprial Pence and Greg Higgins at their own restaurants and Cory Schreiber at Wildwood. All of them, Thelin says, “gastronomically speaking, planted the seed for what’s happening today,” including helping emerging stars such as Rucker of Le Pigeon and Adam Sappington of Country Cat.

Good chefs, nearby bounty, an independent pioneer spirit, a national food scene that has exploded ... food in Portland continues to get better and better.

“It’s all come together into a powerful cocktail,” Thelin says.