Food Events

McMinnville's Okta to Bring Michelin-Star Chefs for a Mini Food Festival in June

Expect an intimate dinner with 5 world-class chefs, LA’s Aitor Zabala to London’s Leandro Carriera. Plus: Solstice in the Fields at Okta’s one-acre farm.

By Karen Brooks March 16, 2023

Lightner harvests flowers from Okta's own farm.

Image: Courtesy Okta

Acclaimed chef Matthew Lightner typically spends his days sweating the details of Oregon’s most ambitious restaurant, McMinnville’s Okta, opened last summer with a hotel, fermentation lab, and farm in tow. He lives to grow ideas about how and what we eat in the heart of Oregon’s wine country. Now, he’s wearing another hat: Oregon food ambassador.

On June 24 and 25, Okta will bring a slew of international and local talent to the heart of wine country. It promises to be a weekend of insightful eating and camaraderie, a taste of where food is heading right now, and a reminder that Oregon is one of the best places on the planet for raw ingredients and a welcoming spirit.

A bird's-eye view of Okta's farm

Image: Courtesy Okta

Limited tickets for the weekend’s two events go on sale at 9 a.m., Friday, March 31, on Okta’s Resy page. Ticket prices are $650 for dinner, including gratuity and wines, and $200 for Solstice in the Fields. 

Saturday will feature an intimate tasting menu at Okta featuring five chefs with two to three Michelin stars and singular food philosophies (Lightner has a pair of stars himself). On Sunday, a casual event called Solstice in the Fields will bring together forward-thinking chefs from Portland, the Columbia Gorge, and McMinnville to cook at Okta’s one-acre farm seven miles from the kitchen door, on Ribbon Ridge.

Lightner harvesting Okta's farm

Image: Courtesy Okta

Expect wood-fired pizza, barbecue, and beyond made in the farm’s outdoor oven as well as a serious smoker willed to Lightner by Texas barbecue legend Aaron Franklin. The lineup includes Portlanders Taylor Manning, of the wildly popular Café Olli, influential Thai chef-restaurateur Akkapong “Earl” Ninsom, and chef Lauro Romero, whose new restaurant, Clandestino, is smoking-hot right now. Also in the mix: Carlton’s modernist cook Will Preisch (Abbey Road Farm) and Hood River’s Jason Baranowski of Hiyu Farm, the experimental wine destination.

The dinner talent is pretty breathtaking. Remember the excitement of Feast Portland dinners, which brought together chefs from all corners of the world to create unforgettable experiences in our backyard? Okta is keeping the legacy alive, for one night anyway, with each chef showcasing an idea or direction, two courses per chef, plus their selected pairings from the restaurant’s deep cellar. “I invited chefs with unique philosophies,” says Lightner. “These are people that I’m deeply inspired by.”

Here’s Lightner on who's cooking at Okta and why.

Aitor Zabala

Image: Courtesy Okta

Aitor Zabala: The lauded Spanish chef blends the cerebral and the cheeky at LA’s two-Michelin-starred Sommi. “He worked at (Spain’s) El Bulli. He’s from a dying breed of avant-garde Spanish chefs from that family tree. Aitor is very dedicated to the craft, one of the top in the world.”

Aisha Ibrahim: The first woman to helm Seattle’s storied fine-dining destination Canlis infuses the menu with her Filipino heritage.

Aisha Ibrahim

“I’ve been watching ever since she took the reins at Canlis. It’s really beautiful to see her interpretations of Pacific Northwest cuisine. Oregon and Washington have so many similarities, but she’s stretching our region. What she’s doing there is the future of the region. For me, that made her perfect for this night.

Leandro Carriera: The renowned Portuguese chef makes seriously creative food at London’s The Sea, The Sea. “I worked with him at (famed Spanish restaurant) Mugaritz. He has this beautiful 12-seat counter, 100 percent seafood-focused. He’s one of the most inventive seafood chefs in the world right now, with a focus on sustainability.”

Christopher Kostow: Napa Valley’s chef of the Restaurant at Meadowood has won more medals than a four-star general. “He’s been one of the more influential American chefs on farm-to-table at the highest level. He’s very in tune to the seasons, very poetic in his presentation. He’s inspired me and a lot of other people.”

Of course, Lightner will cook, too. He’s one of the country’s great food thinkers with ideas and techniques to spare, winning two Michelin stars in 2012 for his cutting-edge restaurant Atera in New York. I call his best dishes Mad Matt Fury Road. He digs deep into ingredients to find their inner beauty, then turns them into something more.

A spread of ingredients at Okta

Image: Courtesy Okta

Saturday aims to be a casual, walk-around-the-farm event. “I want to bring awareness to Ribbon Ridge and beyond,” says Lightner. “It’s a magical bubble up here. We want to keep it fun.”

As he talks, he closes his eyes and describes his local live-fire dream team, what he called a snapshot of the region right now. “Café Olli’s minimalist approach and focus on details is impressive,” he says. “It’s an honor to have Taylor make pizza out here. I also want to get Eem’s Earl Ninsom playing in our smoker. With Lauro Romero (Clandestino), I want to show there’s this bad-ass seasonal-inspired Mexican food movement happening in Portland.” He’s also excited to introduce more diners to Kari Kihara, chef of McMinnville’s MAC Market. “She’s a blossoming talent in wine country,” says Lightner. “She has fresh ideas about ingredients rooted here and now. She reminds me a bit of Coquine’s Katy Millard.”  

It’s the seed of an idea, imagined with the hope that it turns into something much greater.  Maybe it just brings new awareness to all the beautiful products, chefs, and producers out here, posits Lightner. Or maybe it even leads to future relationships that inspire the next generation to move to our region. Wouldn’t that be cool?

Okta is located at 618 NE Third St, McMinnville, Oregon. 

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