Start the fasting now. Feast Portland is coming. Portland’s annual culinary bacchanal—surely one of the country’s most original food festivals—arrives September 13–16. For four nights and three days, Feast transforms Portland into a city of crazed eaters (more than 11,000 in 2017), fêted by 100 or so chefs from here and beyond at dozens of events that unfold in public spaces and oddball corners. It’s a big blur of food, flavors, cuisines, blood-sugar spikes, and flaming meat. And ultimately, it’s for a good cause: Feast has raised more than $300,000 for hunger relief since 2012.
Arguably, the highlight of the fest is its fast-selling Dinner Series, which invites talented chefs from all corners of the world—exciting young guns to established icons—to collaborate with local chefs in their kitchens. I’ll never forget 2012’s menu meld from Southern food preacher Sean Brock and modernist whiz Matt Lightner (formerly of Portland’s Castagna). Last year’s “For One Night Only” lived up to its name, with Mexican food god Enrique Olvera, Portland’s defining Spanish chef Jose Chesa (Ataula), Pok Pok’s Andy Ricker, New York’s Daniela Soto-Innes (a James Beard 2016 Rising Star), and a surprise guest: Thai street food historian David Thompson. Tickets aren’t cheap, and it takes a Darwinian mentality to move fast enough to claim a seat. Every dinner and event ticket goes on sale Friday, June 8, at 9 a.m. PDT, but you can pre-scout the 2018 lineup on Thursday, June 7.
What intel can we drop early? Well, Feast is hosting 11 dinners this year. We’ve got our eye on an evening devoted to a trio of power lady chefs: San Francisco’s Dominique Crenn (Atelier Crenn), New York’s Emma Bengtsson (Aquavit), and Portland’s Kristen Murray (Maurice) will hold court on September 15 at lady-run the Nightwood Society. Consider this: Only four female chefs in America hold two Michelin stars, and Crenn and Bengtsson are among them.
The dinner came about when Feast cofounder Mike Thelin lobbed a question to Kristen Murray: “So, Murray—who would be your top person to cook with?” The answer seemed obvious: Dominique Crenn. “She’s incredibly talented,” says Murray, whose refined French-Scandinavian pastry luncheonette Maurice is a high point of Portland eating. Indeed, Crenn, known for elegant, creative, and poetic food, is also a magnetic, life-of-the-party presence. If you’ve eaten her food in San Francisco at her Michelin flagship Atelier Crenn, you know this: when Crenn is in the house, anything can happen.
Thelin continued to build the night around Murray’s biography. (I mention this because it struck me the degree to which this shows respect for local talent. It would be easy to showcase star chefs and just stick a local name in the mix.) Her pastry acumen dates back to a stint at Manhattan’s Scandinavian-modern Aquavit, under chef Marcus Samuelsson, who went on to fame and fortune. Today, that kitchen soars under Bengtsson, a Swedish chef tapping Swedish ingredients for her own brand of sophisticated cooking. But before winning a pair of Michelins, Bengtsson, like Murray, was Aquavit’s pastry chef. The connection was too good to pass up.
Who knows what the menu will be, but I’m excited. As Portland’s globe-trotting power eater Gary Okazaki mentioned as we scanned the lineup: “Multi-Michelin-star-quality dishes are unlike any food served in any PDX restaurant … except for Castagna. There can be wow moments when eating food on that level.” Only 80 seats are available, $200 each. We’ll fight you for them online.
Feast Portland tickets available Friday, June 8, at feastportland.com.