Monday, July 6, 2015

Interview with Aaron Woo, Owner and Executive Chef of Natural Selection and Vita Café

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The following interview was made possible by the NW Tastemaker, a culinary travel publication forthcoming from Northwest Travel Magazine. To read more interviews with the best chefs in the Pacific Northwest, visit Northwest Travel Magazine and TableTalkNorthwest.com.

Aaron Woo, Owner and Executive Chef of Natural Selection and Vita Café

Chef Aaron Woo upped the standard of vegetarian dining in Portland when, in 2011, he opened Natural Selection, the ultimate fine-dining restaurant exclusively serving vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free meals. The menu changes weekly and never features more than eight dishes at a time, and diners can choose from two four-course fixed-priced meals or order a la carte. Dinner can begin with Roasted Beet Tartar with blood orange, frisee, avocado, and chili oil and end with Chocolate Quinoa served with sesame, ginger, orange, banana, and coconut sorbet.

Interestingly, Chef Woo eats meat. He became fascinated with vegetarian food after battling Graves' disease, during which he maintained a strict diet and became disillusioned with lack of creativity that he found in vegetarian cooking. At Natural Selection, Chef Woo weaves modern cooking techniques; French, Italian, and Spanish flavors; and a passion for finding new uses for vegetables and grains. His past cooking experience includes working at Absinthe Brasserie, La Folie, Stars, and PlumpJack Café.

1. How do you describe Northwest cuisine?

As cliché as it sounds, Pacific Northwest cuisine involves the serious use of local and seasonal products. It goes beyond the so-called historical idea of the "slow" food movement, and it is also more complex than the multi-faceted idea of Pacific Northwest chefs indulging in "local" and "seasonal". We have so much more than just locally raised and/or farmed animals and veggies. We have grains, nuts, coastal foods, mountainous foods, desert foods, etc.

Beyond that, we have an incredible amount of culinary craftspeople that utilize our local raw ingredients to produce processed foods that our Pacific Northwest chefs utilize in various stages of their cooking processes, from accompaniments, to seasoning, to building final food components and dishes. Examples are condiments; pickled-cured-fermented-preserved items; salts and seasonings; beer-wine-spirits; etc. Although this happens in many pocketed areas and regions across the country, here in Pacific Northwest, it's a common, everyday perspective and utilization. It can seem extreme when you compare it to the rest of the country as a whole.

2. Who are six of your favorite purveyors that you regularly work with?

Viridian Farms
Dancing Roots Farms
Hale Ka A Greens
Stargazer Farms
Pro Vista Specialty Foods
Stumptown Coffee
Peak Forest Fruit

3. When you go out for a nice meal, what are two or three of your favorite spots?

Biwa
Hokusei
Lindo Michoan Food Cart
Old Salt Market 

4. Who are two other Northwest chefs that you admire?

Jason French. Aside from the fact that he has an amazing palate, Jason's time, efforts, and commitment to the culinary world are of a true dedicated chef. He has the personality of a PR/marketing pro, along with the passion of a true culinarian.
Trent Peirce. Trent's perspective on modern flavor combinations and techniques are on par with the best in the country. His ideas and focused menu give you a fantastic insight into what's possible with food when creativity and technique are blended well.

5. In your opinion, is there an area of Northwest cooking that doesn't receive enough attention?

I can't say that I am on top of the culinary media enough to voice an accurate depiction of what doesn't receive enough media attention. But, IMO, the media (in Portland anyways) gives far too much attention, criticism and accolades to restaurants and chefs before they prove themselves—good, bad, or otherwise. For me, it borders on over-sensationalizing and gossiping more than reporting on those restaurants, chefs and trends. Reporting on restaurant before it hits its stride and figures out its place can prematurely set up both patron and operator up for disappointment—among other things.


6. Looking toward the future, what are you most excited to do in the kitchen?

What I see happening is the Pacific Northwest "growing up" in regards to being connected more like the "big" cities. The connections, availability, and distribution networks are becoming much more consistent with the quality and uniqueness that makes this area special. It allows more chefs and restaurants to raise the "bar" of what's possible and expected on a regular and daily basis—not just a few special places, not only for those who can afford to spend a certain amount. This transformation contributes to an overall desirable quality of life, making the area less stratified and much more "typical" or "everyday"—something I/we love. It's a great place to be.


Natural Selection
3033 NE Alberta St
Portland, OR 97211
www.naturalselectionpdx.com

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Interview with Gabriel Rucker, Chef/Owner of Le Pigeon and Little Bird

The following interview was made possible by the NW Tastemaker, a culinary travel publication forthcoming from Northwest Travel Magazine. To read more interviews with the best chefs in the Pacific Northwest, visit Northwest Travel Magazine and TableTalkNorthwest.com.

Photo by David Reamer
Gabriel Rucker, Chef/Owner of Le Pigeon and Little Bird

In 2006 at the age of 25, Chef Gabriel Rucker opened Le Pigeon, and with it, he brought a message that Portlanders quickly took to heart: Complicated French cooking techniques and weird cuts of meat, from tongue to tail, can be enjoyed by everyone. Chef Rucker's Foie Gras Profiteroles, served with caramel sauce and sea salt, and his Bacon-Apricot Cornbread, served with maple ice cream, pushed diners out of their comfort zones (and straight into the danger zone?), but the flavors were somehow familiar. Perhaps Chef Rucker's obsession with fast food, particularly his love In-N-Out Burger, had something to do with it? Whatever it was, Chef Rucker found a way to bring new cuts of meat to a wider audience. Along with his homemade ice creams, Chef Rucker has scooped up multiple James Beard Awards, including being named the best young chef in the United States and the best chef in the Northwest, and today, he represents re-imagined French cuisine, even if he's never been to France.

1. How do you describe Northwest cuisine?
This may be kind of cliché, but it's ​heavily focused on what is local and found in the forest,​ and put on the plate with humility. The flavor comes first, and extraneous flash is secondary.

2. Who are six of your favorite purveyors that you regularly work with?

Katz from California ​for vinegar and olive oil. Their vinegar stands out​ at a higher level than anything I have tasted.
Nicky USA ​for meat. They're all about customer service.
Cascade Organics for specialty grown items, steelhead fish and fish roe. They're great, and​
will grow special things for me, like petite vegetables and herbs.
Lars Norgren from ​Peak Forest Fruit for things found in the forest​.

Provista for imported specialty goods.

Steve's Cheese (as mentioned in the​ Le Pigeon cookbook), because I get to taste everything​ before I buy it.

3. When you go out for a nice meal, what are two or three of your favorite spots?

Ava Gene's and Sayler's Old Country Kitchen are two favorites.

4. Who are two other Northwest chefs that you admire?

Greg and​ Gabi at Ox. They ​took something as old school as a steakhouse and made it theirs.

Vitaly Paley has ​been at the top of his game in the Northwest for as long as I can remember. I learned ten​ years worth of knowledge in two years of working for him at Paley's Place.

5. In your opinion, is there an area of Northwest cooking that doesn't receive enough attention?

The type of food that Justin Woodward is making at Castagna.​

6. Looking toward the future, what are you most excited to do in the kitchen?
The thing that excites me most is trying to get all of​ the bounty of the Northwest ocean to Portland to put on my menu.

738 E Burnside St.
Portland, OR 97214
www.lepigeon.com

New Article: The World’s 50 Most Meaningful Cheeses, Ranked on Thrillist


Photo by Trista Martin

Originally posted on Thrillist.com

Just try and ask a cheesemonger to list the top 50 most meaningful cheeses. It's like asking someone to pick their favorite child. Some people will fight to the death like Mel Gibson in Braveheart for Velveeta, while others will scoff, hold their nose, and mispronounce Roquefort Papillon like they know better. To bring the world's cheese freaks together, we’re naming the 50 most meaningful cheeses out there, from the wares of specific creameries to more general blocks. And just so we start off on the right foot: we definitely hate cheese puns as much as you do.

Continue Reading----->

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

New Article: Portland’s 13 Best New Burgers, Thrillist

Photo by Cliff Barclay

Originally published on Thrillist.com



Just like 10% of Portland’s population, all of the burgers on this list appeared in the city in the last two to four months. Some are so exclusive that restaurants only serve 10 a day, while others cost so little that you can eat three without pawning your umbrella. And, more excitingly, one of the most famous and elusive burgers is now available during regular hours. Here are the city’s best new burgers.


Continue reading---->

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Interview with William Preisch and Joel Stocks, Executive Chefs of Holdfast Dining

The following interview was made possible by the NW Tastemaker, a culinary travel publication forthcoming from Northwest Travel Magazine. To read more interviews with the best chefs in the Pacific Northwest, visit Northwest Travel Magazine and TableTalkNorthwest.com.

William Preisch and Joel Stocks, Executive Chefs of Holdfast Dining


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Chef William Preisch burst onto the Portland culinary scene in 2013, with his bimonthly pop-up, Holdfast Dining. The concept was simple yet revolutionary: Serve aggressively innovative, fine-dining dishes inspired by foraged ingredients in a laid-back atmosphere. Laid-back as in, the dining room only had 10 seats, and Chef Preisch will not only your executive chef, but your waiter.

Chef Preisch teamed up with long-time friend Chef Joel Stocks in 2014, and together, they transformed Holdfast from a pop-up into a brick-and-mortar, with a new location inside of the Fausse Piste urban winery. Together, chefs Preisch and Stocks have experience cooking in some of the world's top restaurants, including Alinea, Dill, The French Laundry, The Herbfarm, Manresa, Mirazur, Relae, Ubuntu, and The Willow's Inn.

1. How do you describe Northwest cuisine?
There is a stereotype of “Northwest Cuisine” that has been present for a long time that is fairly out of date. What we are referring to is putting wild berries on a piece of line-caught chinook, and sautéing some foraged mushrooms. Those are all ingredients that have been labeled as defining Northwest cuisine for a long time, but instead we think “Northwest Cuisine” is more of an ideology, along the lines of California cuisine. Basically you take very seriously where you are sourcing everything from; you have connections at the farmer's markets; and you know who is raising your cattle and poultry. From there, you treat all of your great products caringly, and try not to get in the way of them. You don't over-manipulate, or throw a bunch of strong flavors at them. Instead you just cook them simply, almost “homey”, and let the ingredients speak for themselves. That's really the core aspect of Northwest cuisine.

2. Who are six of your favorite purveyors that you regularly work with? Why do they stand out?

Starting with farmers, three that we love working with are Groundwork Organics, Viridian Farms, and Square Peg Farms. Groundworks has always been great for their huge variety of produce throughout the year. They also often have things ready just a week or two before everyone else so you get a slight edge on new seasonal produce. Leslie and Manuel from Viridian Farms hands down have some of the most interesting vegetables to choose from. They are basically the reason why every single booth at the farmers market has padron peppers when they are in season now. Some of the Spanish influenced things that they grow you just can't find anywhere else. Chris and Amy from Square Peg are some of the nicest farmers at the market. Running into them at the market is always fun and their produce is always great to work with.

For our specialty products like high quality fish, mushrooms, and truffles we use Foods In Season a lot. Based out of Camas Washington, they started out just as a mushroom company but now have all sorts of high quality things to choose from.

We use honey a ton. It's actually featured on two of the only dishes we repeat on our menu frequently; the cornbread madeleine, and our frozen yogurt and honey. Nobody takes honey as seriously as Ryan and Damian from Bee Local, and the fact that they are good friends makes it a pretty easy decision for us to use their honey as much as we can. Along those same lines, Ben from Jacobsen Sea Salt is the only guy you can get locally harvested sea salt from, so we support him as often as possible. He started out of Kitchencru which is where we started doing Holdfast, so it feels great being able to keep it all in the family.

3. When you go out for a nice meal, what are two or three of your favorite spots?
First and foremost, Tanuki is our favorite spot in town. You have to go there knowing that you are going to a bar, to eat really good food, but also to drink a lot and have a good time. If we weren't usually serving dinners on the nights they are open, we would be there a whole lot more frequently. Another spot that we love but have a hard time getting to because of our hours is Langbaan. Earl is probably the most humble chef in town, and we also both live super close. A few months ago they did a dinner on Monday, so we were able to get in, which was great.

4. Who are two other Northwest chefs that you admire?
We go a long way back with Eduardo Jordan from Bar Sajor in Seattle, but he's also someone we have the highest respect for in general. He's worked at powerhouse restaurants all throughout the country and could go wherever he wants. To have someone like that land in the Northwest is great for everyone that lives here. He is a great example of someone who embraces the Northwest cuisine ideology we explained before.

Sunny Jin from Jory out at the Alison Inn is another guy who has the credentials to be at any restaurant in the country, or the world for that matter. You don't hear a lot about Jory since it's not right here in Portland, but if you are ever out in wine country, it is definitely worth a stop. Being located out in the valley, among the farmers, he's been able to build a network, so he's working with amazing stuff, some of it better than what we can even get in the city.

5. In your opinion, is there an area of Northwest cooking that doesn't receive enough attention?

We do a lot of coastal foraging, and that is something not a lot of people know about. Afar Magazine did a pretty big piece following us around as we went out to the coast and harvested, but aside from that, you don't really hear it talked about a ton. Along those same lines, but in a more negative light, you don't really hear about all of the awesome seafood along our coastlines that we don't actually ever get to use. It's nearly impossible to source gooseneck barnacles in town, but when we are out on trips for ourselves, we are able to feast on them. Eating at a restaurant in Spain, there were gooseneck barnacles on the menu from the Oregon coast. I was shocked! I was like, “why do they get to have them half a world away when I can't get them living two hours away?!” There are other things like wolf eel, and varieties of fish that aren't cod, halibut, or salmon, that are difficult to source because the fisherman just don't have a big enough market here to make it worth their while. They choose to go with the fish that are in the most demand, and that absolutely makes sense. But we aren't interested in the normal, we want the weird stuff.

6. Looking toward the future, what about Northwest cuisine most excites you?


Our answer to the previous question kind of bleeds into this one. We would love to have the opportunity to utilize more of the unusual products you can find along our coastlines. It's really as simple as making that connection with a fisherman and saying “we want your by-catch”. That would be really exciting, to have a fish delivery come in the door and not even be able to identify what it is at first. But that's because we are kind of weird ourselves. On a more normal level, what we are most excited to do is just get in to our new kitchen and start cooking. We made a big move this winter to a new space and can't wait to start hosting dinners again.


Holdfast
www.holdfastdining.com
 

Thursday, June 18, 2015

New Article: Portland's 9 Best Steak Joints


Photo by Rick Schafer

While Portland may be lacking in traditional steakhouses, it’s more than overflowing with great steaks. I may never forgive my parents for raising me vegetarian, but I will always remember the glistening eyes of steakivores as they tried to communicate the wonders of steak to my uncomprehending ears. And because this is Portland, that mildly hypnotized look that made me abandon my childhood values can be had in many different forms. Here's where to get the best steaks in Portland...

Read the full article------>

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

New Article: 11 Portland Road Trips That Are Actually Worth Taking, on Thrillist

Enough road-tripping fun for the entire 2015 summer, these 11 Portland road trips show off the best drives and destinations within 4 hours of the city. My second article for Thrillist.com is up!

Photo by Mattie John Bamman




Let's face it, being surrounded by road trips is one of the things that makes Portland Portland, but everyone's always talking about the same road trips: take a drive to Cannon Beach, Willamette Valley, Timberline Lodge... We're going assume that you know all about those (you have noticed the giant, snow-capped mountain to the east, right?) and are looking for fresh patches of pavement. Here are 11 sweet road trips from Portland -- all within four hours.


Read the entire article----->