Garden Varieties

Portland’s top chefs bring the farm even closer to home.

By Benjamin Tepler August 19, 2011 Published in the September 2011 issue of Portland Monthly

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CLIMBING THE LONG stairway to Noble Rot’s roof behind chef and co-owner Leather Storrs is a lot like following Willy Wonka into his chocolate factory. As the shock of Portland’s sprawling 360-degree panorama of hills, river, buildings, and mountains subsides, an urban jungle comes into focus. Bright red tomato plants explode in every direction, lemon cucumbers creep up the walls, and alpine strawberries nestle in the dirt underfoot.

Even before Noble Rot moved into the fourth-floor space of the Rocket Building on E Burnside Street in 2009, Storrs was drawing up plans to create Portland’s greatest rooftop garden. And, arguably, he has succeeded. Hauling up 50 kiddie pools full of dirt, Storrs transformed the building’s 3,000-square-foot roof space into a budding organic ecosystem. Now, every inch of the LEED-certified ecoroof is put to use in Noble Rot’s menu.

And even though a private stock of produce will never be enough to supply a restaurant year-round, Storrs isn’t alone in his horticultural ambitions. From rooftop gardens and community plots to their own yards, Portland chefs are staking out space above and between the concrete of the city for seasonal test kitchens, Zen refuges, or simple reminders of Oregon’s limitless summertime bounty. We take a look at three local chefs who are flexing their own green thumbs, and the recipes that their mini-harvests inspire.

James Beard Award finalist Cathy Whims has a veritable Mediterranean arboretum growing on her front lawn. The crown jewel, a lush Adriatic fig tree, buds twice a year (once in July and again around September), dropping the perfect late-summer appetizer—light, easy, and festive—onto her doorstep.

Fresh Fig Antipasto

(Serves 4)
  • 16 fresh mint leaves
  • Juice of ½ Lemon
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • ½ cup heavy cream (not ultra-pasteurized)
  • 8 thin slices prosciutto or Serrano ham (Whims recommends La Quercia Prosciutto Americana)
  • 12 ripe figs

(1) CRUSH half of the mint leaves in a bowl and add lemon juice and a pinch of salt. ?(2) STIR to dissolve salt, and let infuse for half an hour. (3) STRAIN mint leaves, saving juice. (4) WHIP cream halfway to stiff. (It should still be liquidy but thick.) (5) FOLD in strained lemon juice and adjust salt. (6) PLACE two slices each of prosciutto or ham flat on each salad plate. (6) MAKE ?two cuts halfway through the stem end of each fig to form a cross and press down on the sides to open them up like a flower. ?(7) PLACE three figs separately on each plate. (8) DRIZZLE mint cream on top and garnish with remaining mint leaves. (9) TOP with ground pepper and serve.

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