Word of Mouth

Portland Chefs Reveal their Secret Projects and Predictions for 2020

Salt and pepper on your table: in. Shitty bar food: out.

By Karen Brooks January 2, 2020 Published in the January 2020 issue of Portland Monthly

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Kurt Huffman, Melissa McMillan, Micah Camden, Sun Young Park and Peter Cho, and Eric Nelson

Prediction. In 2020, Portland’s food scene will surprise, entertain, and disappoint us. Diners and chefs will celebrate it and disparage it. And just when we think Portland has peaked, crazy food ideas will emerge out of nowhere to challenge our taste buds. How do I know this? It happens every year. Recently, I cold-called Portland chefs and restaurateurs to extract their secret projects, crystal ball predictions, and true feelings about 2019’s viral food trend: the Popeyes chicken sandwich.


Funny, foul-mouthed spirit behind the Pastrami Zombie food cart and Sammich—the Chicago-worshipping sandwich shop on East Burnside where she chops wood on the daily for her outdoor smoker

Obsession for 2020 “I’m on a path to being known for barbecue, not just sandwiches. I’m fired up. I’m going to give this town some brisket, oh my god. My pulled pork is getting real good, [it’s] perfection, man. I’m going to teach classes and put shit out on YouTube; people are going to have fun. Girls aren’t known for barbecue, damn it. I’m going to change that. It’s happening.” Crystal Ball Prediction for Portland’s Food Scene “I wish it was authentic Chinese food; I just don’t think it’s going to be.”  The Popeyes Chicken Sandwich—You In or Out? “In. I grew up eating Popeye’s. My dad loved it. I’ve eaten that shit forever.” Food Trend that Must Die “Fried chicken. There can’t be hundreds of amazing fried chicken makers.”


Math-nerd founder of ChefStable, which deploys a “you cook, we mind the books and boring details” approach to chef partnerships at restaurants like Ox and St. Jack, and most recently, Icelandic-born hotel Kex   

Obsession for 2020 Opening Bar King in the space last home to Trifecta with Shaun King, fresh from head chef duties at David Chang’s Momofuku in Las Vegas, and the chef’s bartender wife, Jamie King. “It’s a passion project. American meat cuts but lots of Japanese influences. Hoping to open in late spring.” Crystal Ball Prediction “We could become America’s best drinking-food city. There’s such a focus here on tight menus, modified service, and good booze. Kachinka is a great example of awesome drinking food. So is Eem. And Whiskey Soda Lounge.” First Decree “Service with a frown is no more.” The Popeyes Chicken Sandwich “Haven’t had time to taste it. I’m agnostic.” Trend that Must Die “I’m tired of tables without salt and pepper. I want the option to season my food.”  


This self-made fast food mini-baron, marketing genius, and attention-deficit restaurateur innately understands what people want to eat: fancy Blue Star Donuts, Super Deluxe drive-thru burgers, Little Chickpea’s (née Little Bean) nondairy ice cream, and, most recently, Baes Chicken

Obsession for 2020 “A new chickpea butter concept. Not just for grocery stores—we’re also talking to hospitals, schools, and prisons because they can’t use peanut butter. Hoping [to launch by] spring. I’m also looking at a space for a downtown sandwich shop. Ever been to New York’s Eataly? I always make a beeline for that place that sells just one prime rib sandwich (Rosticceria e Panini). It’s like that, but with three other sandwiches. I’ll name it Kevin & Frankie’s, after my dogs.” First Decree as Ruler of Portland’s Food Scene “I want good Chinese food in this town. It’s driving me insane. I’d send emissaries to San Francisco and New York to bring back good Chinese food takeout ... and a good Jewish deli.” The Popeyes Chicken Sandwich “I’m out. It’s a fucking joke.”


Co-owner of Eem, PoMo’s 2019 Restaurant of the Year, a 20-year food scene veteran, and one of the city’s most creative bartenders, proudly sober to boot   

Obsession for 2020 Exploring a tea program at Eem. “I recently went to ‘Tea Drunk,’ a pop-up with Smith Tea and [Portland chef] Karl Holl. Everyone was gathered around ... they kept filling glasses, saying, ‘get tea drunk!’” It evoked conversation, like a loud dinner party. That’s hard to do without drinking. People think tea is a calming thing; it can be raucous. I want to bring that energy to Eem.” First Decree as Ruler of Portland’s Food Scene “Time to move away from bar foods being the same. No more tater tots or cheese dips. No point in going to a great cocktail bar and eating shit food. Let’s have some more challenging food. We started to do that, then petered off. Let’s get cheffy again, extra cheffy.” The Popeyes Chicken Sandwich “Haven’t had it. Not out, just don’t care.” Trend that Must Die “Restaurants complaining about Yelp. Online reviews aren’t a fad. They’re like gluten-free diets—totally legit and not going away. Might as well make friends with them. Also: I’m over BBQ.”


The charming couple behind Northeast’s Han Oak, a prime destination for playful Korean food and fun

Obsession for 2020 “We saw what chef Aaron Adams was doing at Fermenter and wanted him to help us set up similar things. A lot of people are making miso, but not Korean fermented soybean paste. We’re looking forward to experimenting with that, making doenjang and gochujang.” If You Had a Time Machine, What Would Be Your Urgent Advice for Your Young Chef Self? “Travel more,” says Peter. “A trip to Japan shook the foundation of what I thought cooking was about. When I went there, I thought, ‘I’m a fraud.’ I was sitting at a tempura counter run by an old man. His neck was crooked because he spent all day in front of a fryer. I thought: What kind of a cook am I? It made me think about what being a chef means.” First Decree as Ruler of Portland’s Food Scene “Stop knocking restaurants for cultural appropriation and celebrate minorities who are doing it well,” says Sun. The Popeyes Chicken Sandwich “We love Popeye’s but haven’t had it yet.” Trend that Must Die “Trends. If you see something has been done and gotten press, avoid it or one-up it. Don’t be the third in line hopping on the bandwagon.”

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