By Megan Cole
Over the past decade Portland, Oregon has gained all sorts of titles and acclaim. For those of us who love food, craft beer, wine and cocktails, PDX has become an essential stop to indulge in everything culinary. Loads of food, beer and wine festivals happen in that city, but it is safe to say that none of them really stack up to Feast Portland. That’s a bold statement, but when some of the best chefs in North America come together for one epic four-day festival, which took place September 17-20, 2015, featuring massive tasting events, focused chef dinners, panel discussions and hands-on classes, you know you’re in for an outstanding weekend of food and beverages.
While Feast obviously showcases beautiful food paired with delicious spirits, wine and beer, the organizers also wove together a series of events that painted a portrait of Portland. Whether they were surrounded by the downtown skyscrapers, or the Willamette River and the many Stumptown bridges, guests were immersed in an experience that screams Portland.
Having spent time in Portland before, what I love about the culinary scene in that city is the food people are making runs the gamut from simple food done well to beautiful culinary masterpieces. The Sandwich Invitational, which was the debut main event for Feast 2015, brought together the two spectrum of Portland’s food world. A sandwich can be a simple thing with only a few ingredients that comes together and sings, or it can be a series of high-quality ingredients woven together to make an elevated version of a simple food.
Feast’s Sandwich Invitational featured creations by some of North America’s best, including Top Chef runner-up Gregory Gourdet, Duff Goldman, star of Ace of Cakes and executive chef at Charm City Cakes, and Aaron Franklin, owner of Austin, Texas’ popular Franklin Barbecue. The ingredients of the sandwiches were as varied as the chefs there, whether it was beautiful cured meats from Olympia Provisions’ chef Elias Cairo, or banh mi pickles from chef Vitaly Paley. With 14 sandwiches on the itinerary and two winners to be selected, including a people’s choice, I carefully tasted and discussed each bite. As I made my way through each sandwich, two kept coming back as my favourites (and who were also the evening’s winners): chef Vitaly Paley’s fry bread taco with soy braised pork belly, spicy mayo, banh mi pickles, Fresno peppers and cilantro; and chef Gregory Gourdet’s Chinese crepe with pork pastrami, pickled turnip, and hoisin barbecue.
Delicious flavours and outstanding views continued into Friday’s Night Market. I had high expectations for this event as someone who loves a night market. There’s nothing I love more than eating food off a stick or bite-sized bits I can pick up with my fingers. Even though I couldn’t get enough of the scenery around me at Portland’s Zidell Yards, I found myself longing for the street food I found at the night markets I had visited in the past. While many of the chefs showcased at the night market exhibited a lot of creativity, like the Macau Rice Crispies by Fat Rice’s Abraham Conlon and Adrienne Lo, there were only a few dishes that had me craving more. I’m not sure whether it was the Canadian nationalism or the outstanding flavour, but Vancouver’s chef Angus An‘s Kor Moo Yang (grilled pork jowl with tamarind dip) was my favourite from the night market.
Feast’s new event, aptly named Smoked, saw more pork jowl, in addition to smoked oysters, grilled mushrooms, pigs ear, grilled chicken and more. King of offal, Chris Cosentino, served up grilled pork jowl with a smoked oyster remoulade. This event was the highlight of weekend. There was something about the action of watching the chefs and their team working with fire and smoke right there in front of the guests that made the experience come to life. Instead of just eating with our mouths, we were enjoying one of the truest multi-sensory dining experiences. Throughout Feast, the other guests I met weren’t shy about chatting and sharing the best bites they’d had, and at Smoked it was hard to pick just a few great dishes.
Even though there were chefs who came into Portland from outside of Oregon, the focus seemed to be largely on the talent and products of the Evergreen State. The lineups for the main events were dominated by local chefs, but nowhere was Oregon pride more obvious than at the Oregon Bounty Grand Tastings. Buttermilk ice cream with candied ginger, lime and botargo, made by Chad Draizin of Fifty Licks, was the first thing I ate at this event and it continued to be a favourite throughout the whole weekend. But the grand tastings also featured local distilleries, breweries, wineries, beautiful cured meats, baked goods, chocolate and cheese.
As someone who not only loves to eat and drink, but also loves to cook and mix cocktails, Feast Portland had all of my creative juices flowing. Whether it was being inspired to try new ingredients or prepare familiar ones in new ways, there was so much food for thought. The place where I really found Feast separated itself from other food festivals was with their hands-on classes. I seized the opportunity to sign up for a class that blended cooking and cocktail-making with my love for local, seasonal produce. Sean Hoard and Daniel Shoemaker of Portland’s The Commissary taught a condensed version of a class they have taught in the past, titled Farm to Cocktail Shaker: Creating Your Own Cocktail Ingredients with The Commissary. Hoard and Shoemaker took their students through the basics of a simple syrup all the way to making your own bitters. This class was amazing because it had me re-thinking ingredients in my pantry, fridge, freezer and garden, and how I could use it to create beautiful cocktails at home.
While brunch may often be about eggs, bacon, coffee and a mimosa, at Feast’s Brunch Village it was about bao, tamales and the most beautiful chocolate almond croissant I’ve ever eaten. Brunch has long been one of my favourite meals. It always reminds me of sharing a meal with good friends followed by leisurely walks and carefree afternoons. While there was a lot of great food to be had at the Brunch Village, there were also a lot of lines, but that didn’t stop me from indulging and getting stuffed.
I may have come back from Feast Portland unable to fit into any of my clothes, but I also came back reassured about one of the things I love most about food: it truly is the universal language. As I looked out at all the people at the various Feast events, I saw folks from all walks of life, some strangers, some close friends, coming together around food and talking, sharing stories and getting to know each other.