by Angus An | Portland’s emergence as a food city was on my radar a few years ago so I drove down for the weekend with the sole purpose of checking out the city’s restaurants. I quickly realized that a couple of days wasn’t nearly enough to experience all that Portland had to offer, so when I was approached to be a part of Chef’s Week PDX, I jumped at the opportunity.
Organized by Portland chef Gregory Gourdet of Departure, Chef’s Week PDX was created to bring West Coast chefs together to cook and explore all that this beautiful part of the world has to offer.
Day 1 | After arriving in Portland, I dropped my mise-en-place in a fridge to find that the good people at Chef’s Week PDX had already stocked it with Oregon goodies like Stumptown Coffee, Jacobsen sea salt, wines from Kings Ridge, King Estate, and Underwood, plus a beer from Ninkasi Brewing.
After settling in, I hopped into a cab and headed to the first Chef’s Week dinner location, hotspot Ava Gene’s, to meet chef Joshua McFadden. Joshua and I were tasked with creating a course for Thursday’s dinner. We decided to make Koh Soi, a simple Northern-style chicken curry noodle dish from Thailand with minced cured meats for umami, anchovies, and fresh linguini instead of egg wonton noodles.
Joshua then convinced me to sit at the kitchen by the wood-fired grill while he cooked for me. Dinner started with a charcuterie platter and olives, Ava Gene’s “3 board” (3 unique salads served on one board), squid ink linguini with Dungeness crab, ricotta cavatelli with lamb neck ragu, ravioli tricolore with nut crumbs and brown butter, grilled lamb chops, and finally, peanut gelato.
Day 2 | Day two started with a butchery demo. Chef Matt Christianson of Urban Farmer brought in two cows (1800lbs total weight) for us to break down: one was a 100% pure-blood Wagyu from Pacific Rogue and the other was from Laney Family Farm. In the process, I managed to get the tenderloin I needed for a tartare dish, which I had planned for Sunday.
After a quick tour of Urban Farmer and their dry aging program, I found my way through a snowstorm to Ava Gene’s for that night’s Hearth and Turf Dinner, a collaborative effort between six chefs: Joshua McFadden (Ava Gene’s), Jason French (Ned Ludd), Matt Christianson (Urban Farmer), Chris Starkus (Urban Farmer), Gregory Gourdet (Departure) and myself. Chef McFadden’s and my dish, the Koh Soi chicken, combined Ava Gene’s Italian-inspired menu (with pasta) and my Thai influence (seen in the use of curry and spice). The end result was fantastic and a good showcase of both of our philosophies.
After dinner we celebrated at Roman Candle Café, where we found out that due to a snowstorm our trip to the Oregon Coast the next day was cancelled.
Day 3 | My fellow Vancouver chef-compatriot, Joël Watanabe of Bao Bei, had arrived the night before. We met up with the other chefs for Plan B: a group lunch at Produce Row. After lunch, Joël needed to prep for his dinner (entitled Present Culture at Paley’s Place) with chef Patrick McKee (Paley’s Place, Portland), Rachel Yang (Revel, Joule, Seattle), Jose Chesa (Ataula, Portland), Jeff McCarthy (TenTop, Portland).
Later that day, chef Jason French kindly offered to pick me up to have dinner at his restaurant, Ned Ludd, an American Craft Kitchen with nothing but a wood-fired oven for cooking. I naturally took him up on the offer.
The food was true, honest craft food, which I really enjoyed. The décor was also amazing; every piece was chosen by the chef himself while browsing antique fairs. After a cozy and comforting meal, we moved on to another dinner at St. Jack. It was here that I met chef Aaron Barnett, a Canadian who had spent time in the kitchen at Vancouver’s Lumiére. Like many other chefs here, he fell in love with the energy and culture of Portland and decided to set up shop.
Day 4 | Today we toured Nicky USA, a specialty butcher/purveyor and experienced firsthand the passion the local suppliers share with the chefs. One of the products that owner Geoff Latham is most proud of is rabbit, which Joël and I both wish we could use more often in Vancouver (sourced locally).
After the tour, we headed to Woodblock Chocolates and met with Charley Wheelock, the owner and chocolate maker. He explained the process of bean fermenting, purchasing, on-site roasting, shelling (in home-made machinery—with racing stripes!), grinding and then tasting of cocoa from different regions. He is working on a 100% bar, and he let us taste the trial batch, as well as some of his chocolate beer. That night chef Vitaly Paley invited us for a fabulous dinner at his other restaurant, Imperial, at the Hotel Lucia. I lost count of how many fantastic dishes we had.
Day 5 | The final day of Chef’s Week PDX was a 20-course dinner cooked by all of the participating chefs. It was certainly interesting to see all the different styles and flavours come together into one dinner…
Chips and Dip
Pinxto of Octopus, Smoked Potato Foam, Blackened Garlic
Ajo Blanco, Potxa Beans, Salsify, Razor Clam Jus, Sturgeon Caviar, Yuzu Mousse
Bigeye Tuna Crudo, Oregon Black Truffle, Young Coconut, Ginger, Frog Eyes Wasabi,
Arancini, Squid Ink, Nduja
Northern Thai Style Beef Tartare, Egg Yolk Puree, Pork Crackling
Shan Tofu, Charred Carrots, Preserved Bean &Almond Sauce, Dashi, Mustard Leaf
Sea Scallop, Celery Root-Saffron Panna Cotta, Citrus Salad, Phytoplankton
Dungeness Crab & Leek Tempura, Oyster Sauce, Steelhead Roe
Dungenous Chili Crab, Black Garlic, Meyer Lemon
Roasted Cod, Hazelnut-Coriander Emulsion, Cucumber, Shitake, Bergamot, Dill
Erik Van Kley
Clams, Sweet Clam Gnocci, Clam Butter, Smoked Mackerel, Egg Yolk, Pea Greens
Sturgeon, Prosciutto, Carrot, Almond, Cedar
Rabbit, Lobster, Squid Ink, Green Apple
Greg & Gabi Denton
Fried Oxtail Terrine, Spicy Shrimp Head Aioli, Pickled Shiitake, Cara Cara Orange, Cipollini
Braised Kurabuta Pork Belly, Parnip-Potato Puree, Crispy Pig Ear Salad
Brian McCracken and Dana Tough
Slow Cooked Beef Culotte, Sunchoke, Celery, Grapefruit, Black Truffle
Oregon Water Buffalo Ribeye, Cedar Smoked Ricotta, Toasted Spice & Citrus Demi
Milk Chocolate Baguette Bark, Caramelized Honey Mousse, Warm Egg Yolk, Cranberries
Woodblock Chocolate Cremeux, Yuzu Gelee, Chocolate Soil
After the event everyone was summoned to the member’s-only Multnomah Whiskey Library to wrap up the night. During the after-party, food writer Krista Simmons asked me to sum up the event in one word. My reply: “Pride”. Chef’s Week PDX is a collection of West Coast chefs showing pride in their region and their respective cities, especially Portland. It really was a fantastic week, and I can’t wait for next year!