IACP Conference: 5 Portland Picks

by Sarah Henry on April 28, 2010 · 24 comments

in food events,food organizations

PDX, Portland, Stumptown, whatever you want to call the pretty, green Pacific Northwest city, it’s got a lot going for it on the food and farming front.

Following up on my first post on the International Association of Culinary Professionals Conference, I wanted to tell you about some of the best and brightest of the local brigade.

It was an action-packed few days, so there wasn’t much time to run around town exploring on my own. Thankfully, conference organizers (and veterans of conferences past) did a stellar job bringing Portland’s finest foodsters, farmers, and food policy folks to my attention.

Before I share this second course of IACP conference offerings with you, can I just say that the Portland Farmers’ Market on Saturday nearly knocked my socks off? Radishes the size of beets, an array of fragrant, foraged mushrooms (including morels, hedgehogs, and fiddleheads), and thick-stemmed, crimson-red rhubarb begging to be stewed.

Oh, and this market is filled to the gills with treats from artisan bakeries for mere pennies, which amazes a gal used to Bay Area farmers’ market exxy prices for pastries. Those pint-sized bites of creamy goodness from Two Tarts Bakery even tasted terrific after getting all squished in the old carry-on bag (should have brought home a box of these little lovelies).

No wonder PDX has gotten the nod from various mags as one of the best — if not THE best — farmers’ market in the country.

Five short bites featuring Portland food picks:

  • Piper Davis gave a small group of cookbook authors a behind-the-scenes look at her Grand Central Bakery, named one of the top ten bakeries by Bon Appetit. Over a breakfast of fabulously flaky pastries and sunny side eggs atop brioche and seasonal greens, she gave us her down-to-earth spiel about the need to treat workers well, source sustainably, and eat good food. All delivered in the wee hours of the morning, from a statuesque blonde in braids with a serious commitment to local food and a healthy sense of humor. Portland is packed with killer bakeries. What’s with that? Maybe it’s the water — or the weather, which makes it pretty conducive to curling up with something warm straight out of the oven.
  • Sustainable ag expert Deborah Kane of nonprofit Ecotrust detailed a new program called FoodHub, a kind of Craig’s List for the food and farm world, which helps farmers, ranchers, fishermen, and distributors connect with chefs, grocers, and other food buyers. FoodHub, recently rolled out in several Pacific Northwest states, could serve as a food distribution model for the country. Read more about FoodHub in The Oregonian.
  • Willamette Week‘s 3rd annual Eat Mobile Festival featured 30 of Portland’s most popular food carts, dishing up savory and sweet eats under the Morrison Bridge and showcasing the local alternative food scene in all its goofy glory. Drank a divine smoothie from Sip with kale, spinach, pineapple, coconut oil, and agave. Ate a warm and soothing Bosnian flatbread sandwich with a zippy grilled veggie condiment, courtesy of Ziba’s Pitas. Loved the portable wood-fired pizza oven and crusty pie with caramelized onions from Pyro Pizza. Nibbled Lu Lu’s Confections baked goodies, I believe she calls her chocolate sandwich concoction the Holy Wow. Seems apt. Can you believe I went for dinner shortly after foraging from these food carts?
  • Linda Colwell, of eat. think. grow., works with Portland public schools to integrate food and farming into school curriculum. The founder of the Garden of Wonders at Abernethy Elementary School and the Abernethy Scratch Kitchen dished up tips on how to grow such a movement elsewhere around the country.
  • Farmer-food historian-philosopher Anthony Boutard, who runs Ayers Creek Farm with his wife Carol, described the beauty of fruit like nobody’s business, in conversation with Deborah Madison, acclaimed cookbook author who shares recipes in her latest book Seasonal Fruit Desserts. “Whoever named Cascade Dawn raspberries after two detergents has a tin ear,” jokes Anthony, of the hand-picked berries he favors.

Okay Portland food fans, now it’s your turn. Chime in with your favorite street eats, bakery bites, farm produce, food innovation, or chowhound and tell me why you love them so.

Photo of Piper Laurie, courtesy of Grand Central Bakery. Photo of Anthony and Carol Boutard by Anthony Boutard.

Big thanks to cookbook author Jill O’Connor, who organized the bakery tour.

Next: Five global gourmet picks from the IACP Conference in Portland.

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{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

domenica April 28, 2010 at 3:01 pm

Loved the cheese and the spinach burek at Ziba’s Pitas, esp with that red pepper sauce. Favorite meals were lunch at Nostrana (pizza, radicchio caesar, fried razor clams) and lunch at Olympic Provisions, esp the charcuterie & a delicious salad of fresh peas and paper-thin radish slices. p.s. enjoyed meeting you at dinner at Higgins, though in terms of food that was not my favorite meal!

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Sarah Henry April 28, 2010 at 6:03 pm

Lovely to meet you too, Domenica. Sounds like we’re on the same page on the food front. The chef from Nostrana, Cathy Whims, made a killer morel soup for the farm dinner. Divine.

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Michelle (What's Cooking) April 28, 2010 at 3:30 pm

Lovely post – made me sad that I was too busy in the kitchen cooking with kids to attend the farmer’s market. I’ll just have to go back to Portland!
My favorite meals were at Higgins, Ping and the meal I had with you at SauceBox. I also had a fantastic cheese and spinach burek at Ziba’s Pitas – the same as Domenica above! Couldn’t believe that I could get a complete lunch there for less than $6! mmmmmm.

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Sarah Henry April 29, 2010 at 10:03 am

Hi Michelle,

But a worthy cause that cooking with the kids — and kudos to you for doing the event and getting such great coverage. I, too, enjoyed our dinner at SauceBox, very inventive, and a lovely slab of halibut I had at Higgins.

And it sounds like we’re all pretty crazy for the cheese & spinach burek at Zita’s Pitas — comfort food on the fly.

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Vanessa April 28, 2010 at 4:21 pm

Great post Sarah. So glad we finally met! You too Domenica! Agree on Ziba’s pitas, Domenica. The food of my people! (though my family is Serbian) The pastry was like my grandmother’s strudel without the sugar. Also loved the Ajvar sauce. The drinking chocolate at Cacao knocked my socks off, the Schnitzelwich at Tabor was a textural playground, and also had Ajvar on it. I guess Ajvar is big in Portland.

My dinner at Gruner was memorable. Loved the spaetzle with chicken and morels especially. The texture was perfect with the spaetzle chewy and tender but with a little brown crispiness from the pan. Yum. The fideos at Clyde Common were also winners in my book. But there were so many wonderful things to eat. I wish it all hadn’t been packed into such a short period of time! Wish I’d eaten at Nostrana. Went to a party there, but had already eaten so just nibbled. Sad I barely saw the market!

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Sarah Henry April 28, 2010 at 6:05 pm

So glad to finally meet you as well, Vanessa. Sounds like you, Domenica, and I need to meet at Ziba’s food cart next time we’re all in Portland.

And I’d forgotten about that afternoon fix from Cacao, laced with cinnamon and so thick and delish. Thanks for the memory.

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MyKidsEatSquid April 28, 2010 at 4:52 pm

I’ve never been to Portland but my goodness my mouth is watering–you’re making me want to go on an all-you-can-eat vacation. The Holy Wow would definitely be my first meal/stop!

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Sarah Henry April 28, 2010 at 6:07 pm

And I barely got out of the downtown, MKES. PDX has got it going on. So bring an appetite when you head to the Pacific Northwest.

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Jill O'Connor April 28, 2010 at 5:47 pm

Love that picture of Piper! The BEST puff pastry I can remember tasting in a long time in Piper’s cherry hand pies. I still dream of them. Great post, Sarah. I miss you already.

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Sarah Henry April 28, 2010 at 6:10 pm

I miss you too, Jill. You make me laugh. So, missy, can we have fun on Twitter together, or are you still deciding whether to join the flock?

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shari April 28, 2010 at 8:08 pm

We’ve been considering a “business” trip to Portland to check out the mobile food scene. Thanks for the extra incentive!

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Sarah Henry April 28, 2010 at 9:00 pm

Oh, I’d do it, Shari. I think you’d get some good ideas & I’m happy to share what I learned from this trip with you.

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Jill Silverman Hough April 29, 2010 at 7:44 am

My favorite from the food cart festival was the grilled PB&J sandwiches with all the creative add-ins. It embodied the whole food cart thing for me – comfort food-y but super-creative, and not just creativity for creativity’s sake – the combos really worked! I mean, peanut butter, jelly, jalapeno, and dried cranberries (I think I’m even forgetting an ingredient or two)? Out there, but amazing.

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Sarah Henry April 29, 2010 at 7:55 am

I didn’t try the PB&Js, so glad to hear that these seemingly crazy combos really shine. Thanks for chiming in, Jill.

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Sheryl April 29, 2010 at 7:47 am

Wow, Sarah, sounds like quite the trip. I’ve been to Portland many years ago, but not anywhere quite close to how you experienced it. Next time, take me with you!

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Sarah Henry April 29, 2010 at 10:04 am

Sounds good, Sheryl. We can do a little food tour — I barely skimmed the surface this trip.

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Lentil Breakdown April 29, 2010 at 9:40 am

Yes, jealousy has ensued! I was in Portland about a year and a half ago and went to a great farmer’s market. Sounds like the same one. Was it by the university? I remember the fab mushrooms, beets, pastries, etc. I also happened to be walking downtown and serendipitously stumbled upon all the food trucks parked there. I ate at a place called Veritable Quandary but was kind of disappointed. There’s a place (two locations) with incredible desserts called Papa Haydn. They’re big enough to split. I have a friend there, so I’ll be going back. Thanks for sharing these tips. Great post.

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Sarah Henry April 29, 2010 at 10:05 am

That very same farmers’ market, Lentil Breakdown. And thanks for adding your own tips to the mix.

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Jennifer Margulis April 29, 2010 at 8:14 pm

I’m eager to try some of these bakeries next time I’m in Portland. I’ve honestly been underwhelmed by the restaurants I’ve eaten at, though I know there have to be some really good ones out there… (I can’t remember the names of any or I’d mention them here). They have all had some fatal flaw–too crowded, too cold, too slow, too salty. But the places you mention–Two Tarts Bakery, Grand Central Bakery– sound like winners.

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Sarah Henry May 3, 2010 at 8:41 am

Hi Jennifer, I ate at Higgins (great halibut) and Saucebox (inventive sushi) and folks sang the praises of Clyde Common, Nostrana, Tabla, Navarre and a bunch of others I can’t quite recall right now.

What’s great about bakeries, is the investment is small and the town is, truly, full of winners on that score.

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Alisa Bowman April 30, 2010 at 4:50 pm

I used to think New York City had the best restaurants on Earth until I went to Portland. It’s got to be the top green food capital of the US. Such a great place.

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Sarah Henry May 3, 2010 at 8:42 am

It may well be the top green food capital in the country, who knows, I was just delighted to discover great eats — at every price point — mere minutes from my hotel.

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Jesaka Long April 30, 2010 at 4:51 pm

Oh, I’m so jealous that you were in Portland. It’s just such a stunning city. I highly recommend Stumptown Coffee. They roast their own coffee and its locations are just gorgeous. Friends of mine who were coffee experts for a global coffee company considered Stumptown Coffee some of the best coffee they ever had.

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Sarah Henry May 3, 2010 at 8:43 am

Hi Jesaka, Glad you included Stumptown in the mix as people sang its praises — both local and visitors alike — and it seems a key fixture in the PDX culture.

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