Michelle Battista really loves sharing food experiences with people. She’s just not all that into restaurants anymore.
“At a restaurant, you come in every day and do service, and while there is creativity in the kitchen, everything else is oiled and run. It’s a bit like Groundhog’s Day,” explains the design-savvy event pro, who last co-created Ned Ludd’s gathering space Elder Hall. “But what if we don’t have to follow those rules?”
Enter: The Nightwood, Battista's new food and design venture with Ataula and 180 co-owner Cristina Baéz. The pair has created a hybrid private event spot, community class hub, design resource, and “creative wonderland” in the space last home to Baéz and Jose Chesa’s recently shuttered Chesa restaurant on NE Broadway—entirely run by a talented all-woman cadre of food makers, designers, farmers, and more.
So far, that all-star lineup includes Baéz (who will continue to host her Puerto Rican Patria pop-ups in the space), Portland Meat Collective maven Camas Davis, who will act as the operation’s go-to for culinary education, and Sarah Schneider (formerly of Renata) as butcher, culinary director, and “kitchen queen.” Plus, floral and visual designer Rosemary Stafford, Vibrant Valley Farm’s Kara Gilbert, Let Um Eat co-founder Leah Scafe, and many more.
Battista, who also owns creative consultancy Stockpot Collective, envisions Nightwood as a dreamy blank slate where people and companies can toss out their wildest of ideas and her crack team of like-minded collaborators will make it happen from scratch--sharing everything from design to kitchen duties. The 3,000-square-foot chamber will transform with each event to include custom menus and decor, big art installations, or whatever is needed to set the scene.
“We saw the need for a place that approaches food and design with imagination and irreverence. It is our goal to present the intersection of food and design, to activate every sense, and immerse our clients in each experience,” Battista says, noting that, yes, Alice in Wonderland is a major touchstone for the new project.
In addition to private events, the space will host everything from photo shoots to book launches and a roster of new public cooking, curing, fermenting, and butchery classes from Davis. There's plans to bring in a "rotating cast of chefs, artists and makers from across the country" for public installations and dinners too. Plus, it aims to be an incubator for woman-owned businesses and a skill-sharing hub. Plans are even in the works to partner with a local nonprofit to develop a culinary program to share cooking and business skills with women in need of new skills to enter the work force.
Yeah, it’s a lot. In a good way. Women-focused collectives are popping up all over Portland right now, from social club and co-working space the Perlene and woman’s art/work collective Broad Space to curating outfits Killjoy Collective and Wolff Gallery.
According to Battista, Nightwood’s female focus evolved naturally. “I started with the idea of wanting to be creative, make food, and share special experiences…and it led me down the path of an all-women team,” she says. “I realized that I will be surrounded by women, we will be supported by women, and put women in the kitchen and give them tools to shine. It’s powerful.”
“If I had all my dreams come true, in any given week at the Nightwood we would do three private events, a series of workshops and culinary education classes, and maybe something like a public, late-night swing dance costume party…I love a costume party,” she muses. “And someone would come teach us how to butcher a rabbit. It’s gonna be a wild ride.”
The Nightwood is booking events now at its website. Look for a calendar of classes and events soon.