by Michelle Sproule | Executive chef Gregory Gourdet of Portland’s famed Departure restaurant started Chefs Week PDX three years ago. Gourdet had attended and participated in some great events around the country and had such a good time meeting with (and cooking with) the gathered group of talented chefs that he decided to start up a similar tradition in Portland.
I don’t know Gourdet well, but I’ve watched him up close in kitchens, at parties, with customers and peers; he’s focused and he gets really excited about good people doing rad things. Whether that’s cooking food, making beer, mixing music or running a marathon, if he sees someone giving it their all, he’s stoked. He works hard and fast, his eyes constantly scanning his surroundings; you can tell he’s taking in every detail.
Gourdet’s character courses through the veins of Chefs Week. At the core of the five day event is the spirit of collaboration and all the good stuff that goes with it: challenge, innovation, community and creativity (the official motto is “Community Not Competition”). And, like Gourdet, Chefs week PDX doesn’t adhere to any standard collaboration model. Don’t expect a strictly controlled affair where one chef politely invites another into their kitchen to cook one meal. Most of the dinners involve more than five chefs in one kitchen at one time — sometimes ten, and in one extreme case there will be 34 chefs on deck, all of them working within themes, out of comfort zones and under pressure. And doing so with laughs. Imagine 34 talented artists with individual styles and processes contributing to one canvas. Somehow, the Chefs Week crew manages a masterpiece.
I was there for the duration last year (along with Vancouver chefs Angus An, Brian Skinner and Joël Watanabe who were invited to participate) and it was amazing. Stand outs included the West Coast Modern Dinner at Spanish tapas restaurant Ataula (sadly, 2016 is already sold out); a dinner at French-inspired St. Jack wherein six chefs (including Angus An and Joël Watanabe from Vancouver) got together to plate a seven course meal that saw each of their regionally-focused cuisines done with the Portland product; a wood-fired and delicious meal at the always amazing Ned Ludd; and the finale, a 26 course Best Of The West dinner at the host restaurant, Departure.
The 2016 line up of events includes dinners, brunches, lunches and hot bowls of ramen together with special pours, collaborative sauces, after parties, and general good times on the streets and in the kitchens of Portland.
Be warned, seats are disappearing fast!
A weekend in Portland may have become even more of a financial commitment than it was a year ago on account of our dollar being shit. Can’t help you there. Do what we do and don’t factor in the exchange rate until you are home and get your bills and then you can weigh the impact against the experience. With Portland, we find we always come out ahead in the end. The Nines Hotel (where Departure is located and conveniently close to many of the venues on the Chefs Week roster) is beautiful and has rooms starting at $169USD. Not bad at all, considering!
Here are my picks for Chefs Week PDX, 2016 (note: all prices in USD — bummer, I know)
KIM JONG GRILLIN | PDX Chef Han Ly Hwang brings San Francisco chef Richie Nakano and Maui chef Jeff Scheer into his Kim Jong Grillin’ food cart to riff on Hawaiian plate lunches. They’ll be slinging dishes at SE 46th and Division. DETAILS
BBQ RAMEN | Richie Nakano from the famed Hapa Ramen in San Francisco teams up with local BBQ champ BJ Smith to create two special noodle soups with all the fixins ($14). Sounds like the perfect lunch for February in Portland! | DETAILS
STUMPTOWN BRUNCH | Hit beautiful Ava Gene’s for a brunch prepared by Sarah Hymanson and Sara Kramer (Madcapra, LA), Troy MacLarty (Bollywood Theatre), Joshua McFadden (Ava Gene’s), Jason Stratton (Mamnoon, Seattle). The theme for this meal is “dishes and ingredients of our past”. Bonus: rare Stumptown Coffee beverages will be paired with each course. ($65) | DETAILS
DOUBLE MOUNTAIN BEER DINNER | The Country Cat chef/owners Adam and Jackie Sappington team up with Double Mountain Brewery for an evening of honest eating and inspired drinking. ($65) | DETAILS
PRESENT CULTURE | 7 courses from 7 regionally-focused chefs at Portland’s Bollywood Theater. Gregory Gourdet (Departure), Eric Johnson (Stateside, Seattle), Troy MacLarty (Bollywood Theatre), Richie Nakano (Hapa Ramen), Kusuma Rao, Rassamee Ruaysuntia (Langbaan) and Lon Symensma (ChoLon, Denver). Tickets are $125. Read that line up again and drool. | DETAILS
HEARTH | Vancouver chefs Angus An (Maenam) and Joël Watanabe (Bao Bei) return to PDX, this time to hook up with Portland toques Benjamin Bettinger (Laurelhurst), Matthew Sigler (Renata), Justin Wills (Beck), and Jason Stratton to cook updated comfort food in the city’s newest wood-fired oven. $150 per person | DETAILS
DEPARTURE | The Chefs Week finale is a legitimate mind-blower of a meal. This 30 course tasting menu is a “journey through the best of the West” that sees 34 of the top kitchen minds on the West Coast plate a dish inspired by Heritage and Legacy. “Whether it’s a region defining ingredient or a cooking method of lore, taste our chefs’ vision in a menu like no other.” Seats are $250 | DETAILS
Special note: opening, after and closing parties go long and hard. Keep track via Instagram.