Top Gear: Portland Chef Edition

From high tech to super Luddite, these gadgets help Portland's best chefs geek out.

By Ramona DeNies October 19, 2015 Published in the November 2015 issue of Portland Monthly

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Image: PDX Ice


Sure, it looks like your standard restaurant cooker—front-facing and head-high. But with a few clicks, a Combi oven’s humidity controls precisely simmer your braise or dehydrate delicate squash blossoms. At Castagna, chef Justin Woodward uses the all-digital oven to flash-heat dishes or oh-so-gently reduce a three-day duck stock. “It’s on 24 hours a day,” he says. “Basically we never turn it off.”

Lo-fi: How do Castagna chefs clean grit from delicate abalone and wild mushrooms? Fred Meyer toothbrushes, says Woodward: the cheaper, the better.


When business VIPs like Grey Goose and Intel check in at the Nines hotel, they get chocolates: Valrhona chocolates, custom-formed in the shape of their company logo. Nines digital strategist Drew Tyson programs a 3-D printer to build plastic prototypes for in-house custom molds used by Urban Farmer pastry chef Hillary Kirkton. “The grand vision is a machine that actually prints food,” says Tyson. “Maybe this will just be a better way to make a burger patty, or maybe it will change fine dining.” 


How’s this for micromanaging? Chef Ryan Fox makes every single quenelle of almond ice cream to order for Nomad.PDX’s intricate “egg and nest” dish with a heat-wicking, 6,000 rpm, $6,000 blender. The ferocious machine essentially “micropurées” super-cold ingredients to create ice creams, mousses, and gels on demand from anything—basil or rib eye or walnuts still in the shell. “You control to a decimal the pressure of the blades, how far down they go,” says Fox. “You can make portions; no waste!” 


To make the glassy, two-inch cocktail cubes integral to a proper negroni or old-fashioned, the kind poured at high-end spots like Levant and the Multnomah Whiskey Library, PDX Ice’s Charles Hartz uses this industrial-grade, “reverse-osmosis” chest freezer that works, over a four-day period, to squeeze air bubbles and impurities out of a 300-pound ice slab. He also uses a CNC machine to cut logos onto cubes (see photo above).

Lo-fi: Hartz also works with chainsaws and Japanese chisels to carve custom ice sculptures, like a life-size saber-toothed tiger for one Wieden & Kennedy party.

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