That buzz saw of chomping teeth emanating from Portland last week? It was the joyful noise of more than 11,000 eaters who gathered from coast to coast for non-stop devouring at Feast Portland, which wrapped up Sunday, September 17. For four nights and three days, with 100 chefs from here and beyond, the 40-event festival transformed the city into a wild garden of eating, drinking, and food shenanigans, as a roasted, weed-raised pig named David Bowie, smoked root beer floats, and flaming blocks of homemade Spam bigger than your arm turned our corner of America into the culinary equivalent of Burning Man (aided, tragically, by smoke from the nearby Gorge fire).
Feast tests your patience (those lines!) and your blood sugar levels. Call us a vegan epicenter, but really, you’ve never seen more meat in your life. But bottom line? This is one of the country’s most original food festivals; a true reflection of the city and its intimate beauty, offbeat locations, collaborative spirit, hand-crafted enthusiasm, no-idea-forbidden ethos, non-star-chef mentality, and charitable bent. (The fest has raised more than $300,000 for hunger relief since 2012.) Dallas chef John Tesar, a Feast regular, put it this way: “I only love two festivals, Portland and Charleston. It’s about local cooking. You might meet—or taste—the next somebody. I don’t need to go to a festival when fucking TV cameras are following a chef.”
What We Ate, in a Nutshell
1,181 loaves of Franz Bread
320 pounds of Snake River Farms brisket
18 sandwiches consumed by each judge at the Sandwich Invitational
250 ears of corn, shucked by chef Joshua McFadden at Vegetables, A Love Story
6 pounds of foie gras in Boston chef Barbara Lynch’s prune gnocchi sauce at Dinner Series: The French Connection
450 pounds of bone marrow smoked by chef Aaron Barnett at Smoked
Thai oysters grilled over coconut by Pok Pok’s Andy Ricker (Smoked) Ricker shows why he’s the Thai flavor master, each voluptuous bivalve awash in a shock of complex spicy-sour Southeast Asian vinaigrette.
Potato cake and pork by Los Angeles’ Bar Amá (Night Market) An LA star channels the DNA of Portland with a pork hash croquette fried light, crisp and tight, over green goddess-y jalapeno mayo.
Doughnuts by Seattle’s General Porpoise (Because Breakfast fun-size event) Former Portland pastry chef Clare Gordon (and daughter of the “Ken” in Kenny & Zuke’s) shows why she’s a rising star in Renee Erickson’s food kingdom up north. Her fat, feather-light doughnuts—tart lemon curd to chocolate marshmallow—are worth the drive to Seattle.
Thai Larb by Langbaan's Earl Ninsom (Grand Tasting) Portland's influential Thai restaurateur-cum-chef Earl Ninsom took our top marks at the sprawling artisan marketplace. Ninsom's betel leaf bundle of seared coppa, papaya salad, and fried shallots was spicy, sour, bitter, and heavenly; essentially, Langbaan in a bite.
Best Apocalypse Chow Moment
The scene at Smoked: Dante’s Inferno-level flames. “Tomahawk” pork chops that could battle the White Walkers. Marinating animal hearts awaiting their close-up in oven-fresh pitas. About a thousand miles of sausage hand-cranked before our eyes (thanks, Olympia Provisions’ Elias Cairo!). Once again, Smoked delivered both eye-popping meat spectacle and flavor surprises; it reigns as Feast’s best large-format event. But this year also boasted more variety: Andy Ricker’s Thai oysters to Biwa’s seaweed-dunked, chicken-fat-glazed, charcoal-roasted corn. Still, meat ruled the night, including an ambitious double-bill from Departure’s Gregory Gourdet: Korean-glazed turkey wings and duck-fat ice cream. Most of all: kudos to the sweat-drenched chefs slaving over hot coals while Gorge fire winds choked the night air; the setting sun glowing an end-of-the-world red. Bone appetite.
Dispatch from the Sandwich Invitational Judges' Table
“Oh my god, this is disgusting. I love it,” mumbled Kim Jong Grillin’s Han Ly Hwang as he bit into Dallas chef John Tesar’s old-school patty melt—a brazen stack of squooshy white bread, sludgy American cheese and power-seasoned, 100-day aged beef. That moaning reaction was typical for us judges at the annual Sandwich Invitational, a night that boasted Vestal’s mapo tofu sloppy Joe’s and Kyo Koo’s crab and bay shrimp chowder “bread bowl as sandwich” situation—which required us to unhinge our jaws just to cram an edge in. The offerings were so rich, we downed gin cocktails in between bites to clear our palates. Organizers added a giant sandwich bracket board this year, updating the judging in real time, leading to cheers and groans from the buzzed crowd two feet away from our faces.
Pastrami Zombie’s Melissa McMillan’s thick-cut brisket stack didn’t miss a trick, piling crazy-crisp, thin-sliced slaw and yellow mustard* on a teeny fresh baked bun. But, in the end, Lardo’s slow burning take on Nashville Hot Chicken—perfectly crisp and adorned with Duke’s mayo—captured the Judge’s Choice title. It squeaked by Zombie by a lone vote— almost leading to a riot in the judge’s circle. Thank the meat gods Zombie was awarded People’s Choice award, seconds after Rick Gencarelli hoisted his Lardo trophy. —KC
*The best unused condiment handed out that night? Teeny packets of Bitterman Salt Co’s new Cannabis Flake Salt—for proper tabletop macro-dosing.
Langbaan and Matt’s BBQ at Smoked Barbecued brisket from a Portland food cart fave meets jungle curry broth (poured from a teapot, no less) from Portland’s critically acclaimed Thai restaurant alongside peaches and garlic rice. It wasn’t perfect … but it roared with excitement, drawing epic lines that wound around the Fields park. The brisket was too soft but we’ll chock that up to the challenges of festival cooking. Texas Monthly’s barbecue critic Daniel Vaughn (who doesn’t want that job?) whispered: “Matt’s serves some of the best barbecue I’ve had outside of Texas … you’re lucky to have it.” Let’s hope this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
Edible Honorable Mentions
Harissa Cashew Butter from Eliot’s Adult Nut Butters at the Grand Tasting All nut butters going forward need to up their game—this is a creamy, smoky, locally made stunner.
Burger Slider by Slow Bar at Pizza and Burgers Fun-Size Event A compact beaut, heaped with Tails & Trotters pork, smoked gouda and messy slaw; sometimes we just want comfort and deep flavor. Delivered.
Visiting Chefs Who Need to Open a Portland Outpost
Is there anything more Portland than ribs coated in sticky, candied, char siu pork spices … or fish-sauced Rice Krispie bars? Three years running, Chicago’s Fat Rice leaves no doubt: its playful Portuguese-Chinese cooking belongs here. We’d love a doughnut shop that doubles as a fried chicken joint, from the mind of Philly’s iconoclastic, Israeli-born chef Michael Solomonov. At this year’s Night Market, his doughnut holes left no doubt as to why his Federal Donuts is a destination: delicate, lightly shrouded in apple sugar and pomegranate dust—they’re inventive, lip-smacking, not too sweet. “I’m bringing the Rosh Hashanah thing,” he said handing one over. Never saw that at temple.
The Dude That Makes Feast "Feast”
It takes a village to mount a major festival. But one citizen—co-founder Mike Thelin—embodies a spirit that speaks to the heart of Portland. It can’t be organized or branded, only felt: Fun.
Dispatch from "For One Night Only" (Dinner Series): Two World Food Giants, a Lot of Pok Pok Pounding, One Very Emotional Chef, and 12 Amazing Dishes
Every year, for its fast-selling Dinner Series, Feast Portland invites interesting chefs from all corners of the world to collaborate with local chefs in their kitchens. The year’s line-up included a serious get: Enrique Olvera, arguably the most talented and influential Mexican chef of our time.
The posting intrigued: A dinner called “For One Night Only,” with Olvera, Portland’s beloved Spanish chef Jose Chesa (Ataula); Pok Pok’s Andy Ricker, Thailand’s unofficial food ambassador; and Daniela Soto-Innes, chef at Olvera’s New York hot spot Cosme and a James Beard 2016 Rising Star. This group alone would have been amazing, and anticipation was high as 70 diners took their seats on opening night inside the former Chesa space on Northeast Broadway. Then Thai street food guru David Thompson showed up. (The Aussie native’s Bangkok restaurant Nahm is ranked No. 28 on Pellegrino’s World’s Best 50 list.) Was there more talent per square inch anywhere in the world at that moment?
It could have been a diva gathering, or a night when great chefs are more interested in hanging out than delivering. Instead, For One Night Only was a rare night indeed. What got me was the generosity, modesty, and, yes, unforgettable cooking that unfolded with passion and purpose over 12 dishes.
Emotion was in the house. As host, Chesa welcomed the crowd, his voice choked. “Firstly, I closed my dream, but I do not give up,” he told diners sitting in his recently shuttered modern Spanish restaurant, named for his father. With that he sent out a dish that only an optimist could imagine: chocolate-covered foie gras lollipops underscored with the evening’s theme, chiles. The night veered from one surprise to another: Ricker’s smoky-good, yikes-that’s-spicy pok pok-pounded Thai fruit salad to Thompson’s wildly complex Southern Thai beef curry, which numbed my entire tongue (and I still couldn’t stop eating it); a diner seats away blurted out: “I think I’m seeing things.”
But the talker of the night belonged to Olvera and Soto-Innes: ribbons of fluke, over a ragingly delicious mix of sesame, pasilla chiles and sourness. On top: chicatana ants. The table talk among strangers went like this: “Ants?” “They’re really nutty.” “I’m working around the ants.” “Do you think they brought the ants in their suitcase?” “This is the new surf and turf!” Olvera closed the night with a fizzy pineapple-chile drink, thick with soft yogurt ice cream. I was so full my stomach felt like a fanny pack. I sucked up every last drop. I was not missing a minute of this. —KB