Inside Karen Brooks' The Mighty Gastropolis

We've got ten reasons why the new book from the reigning godmother of Portland's culinary world is a must-read for any local foodie.

By Allison Jones December 18, 2012

It was only a matter of time before someone put pen to paper and told the origin story of Portland's game-changing culinary scene, and there was really only one person who could do it right. Karen Brooks—food critic, wordsmith, photographer, and insatiable appetite—has been the leading voice in Portland's culinary bubble for over twenty years, and her new book The Mighty Gastropolis: Portland, A Journey Through the Center of America's New Food Revolution (co-authored by Brooks' longtime collaborator Gideon Bosker and James Beard award-winning author Teri Gelber) transforms those decades of delicious research into the story of us.

The colorful tome, out this week from Chronicle Books, is the resource on Portland's 21st-century takeover of the national culinary imagination. Here are ten reasons to add it to your bookshelf, kitchen counter, or bedside table, ASAP:

Karen Brooks reads from and discusses The Mighty Gastropolis Friday, January 4 at Powell's City of Books. For more information, visit our calendar.1. A mix of high-brow staples and the resurgence of casual comfort food, the book's narrative covers the Beastie Boys (meat-centric chefs and artisans like Le Pigeon's Gabe Rucker, Bunk's Tommy Habetz  Toro Bravo's John Gorham, and Xocolatl de David's David Briggs), Local Heroes (including farm-to-table favorites like Navarre's John Taboada, Castagna's Matt Lightner, Evoe's Kevin Gibson, and Tastebud's Mark Doxtader), the Asian Street Food Gang (think Pok Pok, Boke Bowl, and Nong's Khao Man Gai), the Supper Club Renegades (like Naomi Pomeroy, Courtney Sproule, and Yianni Doulis), Food Cart Rebels (including The Big Egg and The Sugar Cube), and the New Pioneers (highlighting the folks behind Sterling Coffee Roasters, Olympic Provisions, Salt & Straw, and ChefStable). 

2. Each chef profile features Brooks' take on the behind-the-scenes history of Portland's favorite restaurants, including personal emails, intimate interviews, and quirky and playful photos from Bosker and Brooks, in addition to a healthy serving of recipes for DIY takes on top PDX plates (yes, you can make Bunk's Pork Belly Cubano at home). 

3. The book beautifully illustrates the incredible culinary pedigree of our local risk-taking artisans. For Portland chefs, a classical French culinary training isn't a one-way ticket to white tablecloth establishments—it's a license to create, to find mentors in the world's best chefs and cuisines, and to toil in the kitchens of the world's best restaurants...before opening a sandwich shop or making chocolate.

4. The in-depth introduction is worth the book's $24.95 on its own. Filled with the same insight that made Karen Brooks' TED Talk a go-to explanation of our success as a foodie haven, the eight-page "Dispatches from the Culinary Renegade Zone" is a stand-alone love letter to the ingredients that make our scene a success. 

5. Karen Brooks has a way of getting high-profile chefs to spill their guts, setting aside those PR soundbites in favor of real communication, heart-felt admissions, and personal takes that you won't find in a New York Times article.

6. Ever stand in line for a forty-five minutes to get a scoop of Salt & Straw's Melon and Prosciutto ice cream? Not anymore. With this book, you're just an ice cream maker and a ripe cantaloupe away from your own personal quart. 

7. The book goes beyond the celebration of drinking food, offering several recipes for the cult-favorite cocktails that put our mixologists on the map. Try your hand at shaking up Whiskey Soda Lounge's Tamarind Whiskey Sour, Tasty n Sons' Bloody Mary, or The Mighty Gastropolis Cocktail (a Christopher Israel original combining local spirits, local fruit, and, of course, a pickle).

8. The chef profiles go beyond personal stories and praise—they pinpoint invaluable bits of advice you can use in your home kitchen. Matt Lightner explains how he experiments with new herbs, Naomi Pomeroy shares tips on setting the perfect table, and Tastebud's Mark Doxtader confesses his secret indulgence: fire-roasted Peeps. 

9. Self-confessed lovers of the book? None other than Ruth Reichl  Josh Ozersky, James Oseland, and Andrew Knowlton. Good company, indeed. 

10. The Mighty Gastropolis is the real Portlandia. Now that our town (or at lease an apt parody of our town) is tv famous, this book serves as the delectable source of the stories behind the jokes, from the hour-long brunch waits to our collective addiction to the Next Big Thing (before it's so over). The nation-wide Portlandia craze proves that there's something about PDX that appeals to folks outside the bubble, and this book spells out that special something—page after hunger-inducing page. 

Want to get your hands on a copy? The book is out now, and you can buy it here. To dive deeper into the Mighty Gastropolis, check out Brooks' reading and Q&A at Powell's City of Books on Burnside Friday, January 4th at 7:30 pm. More information available here

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