In 1954, when The New York Times dubbed Oregon native James Beard the “dean of American cookery,” television dinners were commonplace, the microwave was on its way to becoming a household essential and a traveling salesman named Roy Kroc was on the verge of launching a fast-food nation. Slow food (which until the 1950s was simply called, “food”) seemed destined for extinction. Beard, however, stayed true to his fresh-is-best, less-is-more philosophy. He traveled the country teaching classes, wrote more than two dozen cookbooks and inspired a generation of foodies.
More than half a century later, the Beard movement is stronger than ever in homes and in restaurants. It’s only fitting that Beard’s home state would be front and center in a culinary renaissance, where convenience food is a CSA and independent food carts are giving national drive-ins a run for their money.
This love of food, meanwhile, has paved the way for culinary experiences that go beyond sitting down to a nice meal. These take you behind the scenes to see where the food is grown, break bread with the bread-makers and savor the nuances of everything from chocolate to salt.
A learn-as-you-eat dinner show
EVOO in Cannon Beach
Tuesday through Sunday in the summer, Wednesday through Saturday the of the year
$79 to $109 per person including wine
Hands-on “backstage” cooking classes during the day
When the show begins at EVOO in Cannon Beach, your first instinct may be to desperately start scribbling notes so you can recreate the feast at home. Don’t bother. Even if you could keep up with fasttalking Bob Neroni, better to watch and learn than record every last ingredient. You can access the recipes online later. “Our goal is for you to learn techniques, see recipes come together, relax and be entertained,” says Neroni, who was executive chef at many prestigious restaurants around the country before launching EVOO (as in extra virgin olive oil) in 2004. The three-hour dinners typically include four courses, wine pairings and a healthy dash of comedic banter between Neroni and his wife and sidekick, chef Lenore Emery. At a recent show, while nibbling on homemade ravioli, baked salmon with savory waffles and Moroccan-spiced tenderloin, we learned the secret to poaching eggs (vinegar), what not to do when cooking mushrooms (stir) and what spice enhances virtually every dish (coriander). Even if your own culinary ambitions are modest, you won’t be disappointed with the food or the show. The meal itself deserves a standing ovation.
Kookoolan Farms in Yamhill
Most Saturdays February through November
$50 to $95, depending on the class
Handmade truffles, homemade soaps, chicken butchering
Between tending to their chickens, milking their cows, weeding their gardens and selling their many wares at farmers markets and specialty foods stores, Chrissie and Koorosh Zaerpoor have plenty to keep them busy. So when Chrissie began teaching cheese-making in 2008, it wasn’t for want of another project. The market demanded it. “People were interested in making their own cheese but were intimidated,” says Chrissie, who, with a resume that includes everything from process engineering at Intel to historic home restorations and mead-making, wasn’t daunted by the science of curdling and coagulation. “Soft cheeses are incredibly easy to make,” she says. Harder cheeses are, well harder to make. But that hasn’t stopped students from trying. Kookoolan Farms now hosts about forty classes a year with students ranging from aspirants who want to impress their friends to serious chefs in search of a signature mozzarella.
Farm to Fork Events
Southern Oregon, Hood River, Willamette Valley
Eight to twelve events in the summer and fall
$75 to $90 including wine
Rafting and dining on the Wild and Scenic Rogue June 20
Don’t be fooled by the name Farm to Fork. When Matthew Domingo and his team put on one of these culinary events, they bring the fork (and tables, linens, vintage china, silverware and outdoor kitchen) to farms around the state. “We’re a travel ing circus,” says Domingo, who worked alongside David Padberg at Park Kitchen in Portland prior to moving to Ashland a few years ago and launching Farm to Fork in 2010 with his wife, Erin Daugherty. “We wanted to pay homage to the farmers,” he says, adding that proceeds from the events go to the farmers and local food communities. “They’re the rock stars at our events. It’s not just about the celebrity chef.” That’s not to say the chefs aren’t also praiseworthy. Domingo is frequently joined by some of the top chefs in Oregon’s food scene, such as Jason French of Ned Ludd in Portland, and Ben Stenn and John Moch at Celilo in Hood River, among others.
On a typical evening, guests are greeted with a glass of wine from the featured winemaker and an appetizer from the chef du jour. The host farmer then takes everyone on a tour of the farm before leading the way to the evening’s outdoor dining room, which might be tucked in an orchard, between rows of vegetables or in a field surrounded with wild flowers. The evening progresses with music from a local artist, more tastings from the winemaker and even guest appearances from cheese makers, bakers and other food artisans who contributed to the wonderful feast in front of you.
Timberline Lodge Winemaker’s Dinner
Silcox Hut, one mile above Timberline Lodge
Monthly October through July
$175 per person for six courses with wine
Daily Farmers Market Lunch in the main lodge
One night a month beginning in the fall and running into early summer, the storied Silcox Hut opens its doors for six-course dinners paired with Oregon wine and hosted by the winemakers themselves. These intimate affairs (seating is limited to twenty-four) start with a Snowcat ride from the main lodge up 1,000 feet to the hut, which was built in the late 1930s to serve as the upper terminal of Timberline’s original Magic Mile chairlift. Just visiting the three-story stone and wood structure is an experience in itself. Add fine wine, viticulture lore and a meal prepared by the lodge’s highly acclaimed chef, Jason Stoller Smith, and you have all the ingredients for what could possibly be the most memorable meal of your life.
Portland City Grill, Portland
Available on request
Food and beverage minimum of $2,000
Breakfast, lunch and dinner in the main dining room
A table with a view of the kitchen is often reason to eat quickly and slip out before desert. At Portland City Grille’s new Chef’s Tabel, however, it’s part of the appeal. The fourteen-person table occupies a private dining room in the corner of the thirtieth floor restaurant and is framed by panoramic views of Portland and floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the kitchen. “It’s not your typical chef’s table,” says dining manager Alyssa Dodge, adding that most chefs’ tables are small and in the main dining room. In addition to delectable views, guests are tended to by a private waitstaff and a dedicated chef who creates a custom menu for the table and presents each course with a few words on the inspiration behind each dish.
Winemaker’s dinner at the Steamboat Inn
Milepost 38 on the Umpqua River
Weekly March through mid June
$85 to $100 per person
Nightly family-style gourmet dinners
More than twenty years ago, in the infancy of the Oregon wine scene, the owners of the Steamboat Inn dreamed up a way to showcase Oregon winemakers and woo guests to their Umpqua River retreat in the off-season. The idea: bring together Oregon winemakers and top chefs for an intimate pairing of food and wine. Only rather than select wine to accompany the menu, chefs create the dinner around the wine. The innkeepers were onto something. Today, their winemaker’s dinners begin to sell out within weeks after the schedule is made public (typically in December). In fact, the Steamboat Inn has a special place in Oregon wine history. “Now we’re getting to know second-generation winemakers,” says one of the inn’s owners, Patricia Lee. “They came here with their parents when they were kids, and now they’ve taken over.”
Oregon harvest classes
Culinary Center in Lincoln City
Arpil and October (October 17-21)
$500 for an intensive week long class
Three-hour cooking classes ($50) and one-hour demos ($20)
The fourth floor of City Hall in Lincoln City is probably the last place you’d expect to delve into the finer points of a peach galette or traditional American Indian fry bread. Yet, this state-of-the art teaching kitchen with ocean views is a hub for cooking demos and hands-on classes for residents and tourists alike. The class schedule is as eclectic as its guest chefs, but “we try to celebrate Oregon products in every class,” says executive chef Sharon Wiest.
In April and October, the center pays tribute to local products with intensive week-long classes ($500) celebrating Oregon’s harvest. Students not only learn how to prepare local cuisine, they also meet with commercial fisherman, organic farmers and mushroom experts responsible for catching, growing and gathering this bounty.
Heidi Tunnell Dinners
Four or five dinners in the summer and fall
$75 including wine
Tuesday bakery and lunch, monthly Thursday night casual dinners at Tunnell’s catering kitchen in downtown Creswell
While many chefs have recently jumped on the farm-to-table bandwagon, Heidi Tunnell grew up with it. “Stuff that comes straight out of the ground just tastes better,” says Tunnell, who spent weekends on her grandparent’s farm near Creswell, fifteen miles south of Eugene. After training at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y. and honing her skills in prestigious kitchens in California, New York and France, Tunnell returned to Oregon and her farm roots where she launched her catering company in 2005. While foodies flock to her Tuesday bakery and Thursday night casual dinners (both year-round and in her catering kitchen in downtown Creswell), the barn dinners are a special treat. The backdrop for these four-course feasts is a restored nineteenth century barn on her family’s property. Four or five times a year Tunnell and her crew showcase the bounty of a neighboring farm with menus ranging from whole roasted pig to wood-fired paella. The underlying theme for every meal is farm fresh—so fresh that Tunnell doesn’t finalize her menu until a few days before the event. Look for next year’s barn dinner schedule early next year.
10 a.m. and 2 p.m. daily April through Nov. (Friday-Sunday, December-March)
$59, food included
Chocoholics can check out the Chocolate Decadence tour 3 p.m. Fridays-Sundays
Portlanders are battling a healthy obsession with food—particularly the fresh and local variety, preferably served from a cart. There’s more to this culinary boom than meets the mouth. To that end, a walking and tasting tour of some of Portland’s most creative food purveyors is three hours and $59 well spent—even if just to get to the front of the line at Voodoo Doughnuts.
Morning tours differ from afternoon tours, weekend tours follow a slightly different script than weekday tours, and every outing is subject to the whims of the guides and the seasons. On a recent afternoon, Herb Spice (really), our comedian-turned-foodie guide peppered us with city trivia while we sipped European-style chocolate, sampled sweet and savory vinegars and tasted five different kinds of salt. We ate Bosnian pitas and Greek falafel from food carts, sat down to homemade potato chips and pork rolls at a “communist” sandwich shop and slurped fresh oysters at the city’s oldest family restaurant before ending the tour on a sugar high with Oreo-covered doughnuts. If you’re belly hurts already, rest assured that this roaming smorgasbord includes some walking—and plenty of historical tidbits, food and otherwise. Nevertheless, you can probably skip lunch before or cancel your dinner reservation after this midday mobile meal.
An authentic Spanish dinner, wine and entertainment
Victorian Cafe, Bend
Saturday, January 14
$80 per person including wine
Seasonal fine dining events with 1859’s Home Grown Chef
Perfect as a cultural aprés ski evening, a Spanish comida will be made by 1859′s Home Grown Chef, Lisa Glickman, who, for years, lived and cooked in Barcelona. In an intimate wooden cottage on Bend’s west side, expect a tapas menu with an Oregon twist of house-made potato chips with marinated olives and Marcona almonds, saffron-pickled cauliflower and tortillas de patata to name a few. The main course is a traditional Spanish paella, but made with local smoked ham, chorizo, chicken, shrimp, clams and mussels. Sip and learn about tempranillo from one of Oregon’s best winemakers. Spicy Flamenco music provides ritmo into the night. Seating is limited to thirty guests.
Be a guinea pig for future chefs at professional culinary schools around the state and enjoy delectable prix-fix meals at savory prices.
1. Le Cordon Bleu’s Technique Restaurant in Portland showcase’s the school’s emphasis on classic cuisine made with fresh local ingredients, and for a price that is extraordinaire. Five-course dinners for $15. techniquerestaurant.com
2. Oregon Culinary Institute in Portland serves three-course lunches for $9 and four-course dinners for $18 Monday through Friday. oregonculinaryinstitute.com
3. Cascade Culinary Institute in Bend recently introduced Elevation, its new student- and staff-run dining lab with an ambitious menu for lunch and dinner Tuesday through Friday. elevationbend.com
4. Coast Culinary Institute in Coos Bay hosts a chef’s table for lunch and dinner on Fridays. occi.net