iron chef eugene 2015: allez cuisine!

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WHO WON HEAT 2?  See my post here

Iron Chef Eugene is one of my favorite events, as longtime readers of this blog know.  I’ve had the privilege of serving as judge and/or emcee multiple times in its short, sweet history.   Our best chefs get to play with dishes and engage in friendly competition with their colleagues, and the winner gets to go on to Portland for Iron Chef PDX.  It’s like our locavore version of a sport state finals.  We’ve done very well at the state level in the past, in fact, with Chefs Gabriel Gil and Jeff Strom coming home victorious (Jeff twice!).

This year, the competition has shifted management into the able hands of Prof. Lisa Benson Aherin and her team in the hospitality and culinary schools at Lane Community College.  She and her right-hand woman, Shelly Kane of Moxie Events, have created a dining extravaganza for guests and judges alike.

Another cool thing about this year’s Iron Chef Eugene is that it is done in three heats on three different days.  The first heat already happened.  Read on and you will see what’s to come.  I’ll be judging Heat 2, coming up on Tuesday, June 16, alongside Chefs Karl Zenk of Marché and Heidi Tunnell of Heidi Tunnell Catering, who won Iron Chef Eugene a few years ago but couldn’t compete in Iron Chef PDX because she was NINE MONTHS PREGNANT at the time (she totally would have smashed the competition otherwise).

For $75, guests will enjoy a multi-course meal prepared and served by LCC culinary students and paired with some of the best wines in Eugene from William Rose Wines.  The winemaker, Mark Nicholl, also of Oregon Wine Lab, and the inimitable Chef Clive of LCC will emcee the competition for your entertainment and edification.  Proceeds help support the LCC culinary program.

While you eat, this is what will be unfolding:  “Each chef will have an identical kitchen, tools and pantry. Each chef will have sixty minutes to plan, prepare and plate a delectable entrée for the judges. Each chef will have no idea what the “secret ingredients” are until they are unveiled at the beginning of the competition for all to see. The secret ingredients must be used in preparing the dish. The chefs will race the clock and each other to create a masterpiece on stage in front of the audience, commentators and judges.  Our emcees for the competition will interview the chefs and judges while the food flies with the action in front of guests. Oregon grown and raised specialties will be featured in identical pantries the chefs will have available for their use during the competition. At the end of the sixty minute competition, the chefs will present their creations to each judge.”

If you’re interested in signing up for a seat at Heat 2 (or the final), don’t hesitate.  Tickets are going fast!  Each heat is ticketed separately. Due to the nature of the event, dietary restrictions cannot be accommodated.  For tickets, please click this link.  If you have any questions, please click this link and ask the organizers on the event page.  Comments on this blog may not be seen by organizers.

~~~~ ALLEZ CUISINE! ~~~~~

The Competition

  • May 31 – 1st Heat.  Guests enjoyed a four-course meal paired with wine from Oregon Wine Lab, prepared by students from Lane’s Culinary program along side of Chef Adam and Chef Tim Hill. Chefs Mikey & Brendan from Belly and Taro & Patrick from Mame competed in an OREGON LAMB BATTLE, and Belly reigned supreme!  Mikey and Brendan will go on to the final.
  • June 16 – 2nd Heat.  Guests will enjoy a four-course meal, prepared by students from Lane’s Culinary program along side of Chef Adam and Chef Tim Hill, paired with wine from Oregon Wine Lab, while they watch Chefs Mark & Tiffany from Party Downtown vs. Ryk & Dunkin from WildCraft Cider Works.
  • July 6 – Final.  Chefs Mikey and Brendan of Belly will battle the winner of Heat 2. Guests will enjoy a four-course meal prepared by students from Lane’s Culinary program alongside a celebrity, Iron Chef Oregon winner Jeff Strom of Koho Bistro! The meals will be paired with wines from Oregon Wine Lab.

raw and the cooked: taiwanese food in all its glory tomorrow!

1465852_733332440022216_2186114124468236670_oI hope you consider at least one of many fine films in this year’s Cinema Pacific Film Festival, now occurring at the Bijou and other places around town.  I’m particularly interested in Monika Treut’s The Raw and the Cooked: A Culinary Journey through Taiwan, which “artfully documents the pervasive passion for cuisine throughout Taiwan, and delves into the social issues surrounding food production. We witness, for example, the efforts of Taiwan’s young environmental movement to resist the rapid pace of urbanization. Your mind will be provoked, but the film’s radiantly beautiful visuals and jaw-droppingly delectable dishes will ravish your other senses.”

Even better?  The Taiwan Eugene Association will provide tasty Taiwanese treats.  For more info, click click click.

I researched, visited, and wrote about Taiwanese food a few years back. Under fortuitous circumstances, I found myself suddenly in Taipei, surrounded by seafood, stinky tofu, and paparazzi.  It was an engaging and educational trip, one of the strangest and most memorable in my life.  I’m looking forward to learning more about this singular place.  Maybe I’ll see you there.

 

600 years of recipes – rare books exhibit opens tuesday!

invitation gingerAll my readers are warmly invited to the opening of “Recipe: The Kitchen and Laboratory in the West, 1400-2000,” an exhibition of rare books and ephemera in the collections of the UO Special Collections and University Archives in Knight Library on the U of O campus.

The opening will take place on April 22 from 4:00-5:30 p.m. downstairs in the Browsing Room of Knight Library.  We’ll take tours up to Special Collections at 4:00 and 4:30.  There will be short presentations by Vera’s students in the Honors College, who helped craft the labels for the early part of the exhibit, a presentation by Rebecca Childers’ letterpress students, who made us an accompanying letterpress booklet inspired by botanical illustrations with botanical ink, and me, discussing the curating of the exhibit.  This event is free and open to the public.

The images below are a teaser: one shows the nutritional wheel for bread, bread, bread, and bread, and the other is a hand-colored illustration of wood sorrel, a plant still being served on wildcrafting menus– you might find it in town right now!

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The exhibit covers 600 years of documenting the practice of experimentation — ranging from extraordinary illustrated works cataloging botanical materials for medicines to photographed cakes tracking the effect of baking soda for home economists.  Prof. Vera Keller (Honors College) and I have been working on this for most of the year, and we’ve found some really amazing stuff buried in the archives. You will see a stove invented by Benjamin Franklin and stoves used in queer communes in Southern Oregon, not to mention incredibly rare volumes featuring some of the most beautiful plant images I’ve ever seen; soursop seeds; a jerboa; vegan punk johnnycakes; the infamous blue blazer cocktail; a nude lady; and the bakery that put Eugene on the map with its sanitation practices!

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We’re honored to have the sponsorship of Party Downtown, who will help us celebrate this history with recipes inspired by some of the cookbooks, and Brew Dr. Kombucha, serving Just Ginger kombucha, a brew that already has a strong relationship to the SCUA with proceeds going to the Ken Kesey collection.

Can’t make it to the opening?  The exhibit will be open to the public and free of charge during SCUA’s opening hours through June.

Images are mine, taken from two works in the exhibit: Nicholas Culpeper, Culpeper’s Complete Herbal (London: J. Haddon, 1815), RB 580.1 C899, and Raymond Hertwig, “Bleached White Flour Wholesome,” Vitality Demands Energy: 109 Smart New Ways to Serve Bread (n.p.: General Mills Corp., 1934), Bernice Redington Papers, AX92.3.

 

 

niblets: new orleans in eugene

1974088_461375073993386_344307710_oOur only official link in Eugene to New Orleans is now Voodoo Donuts, which, of course, is no link at all.  But wait!  I’ve got two very intreeeeging possibilities for y’all.

First, Belly is having a cajun buffet special dinner on Sunday, April 6, to celebrate the noble Aries and raise some money for the new Washington Jefferson Skate Park, who will receive 30% of the proceeds.  You’re an Aries?  You’ll get a door price!  Some of the dishes promised: crabmeat ravigote in Belgian endive, shrimp remoulade on jalapeno cheddar rolls, hushpuppies with honey butter, oysters Bienville, Natchitoches hand pies with meat or veggie, potato salad with egg and hot pepper vinegar, roast beef Po’ Boys, prawn and andouille gumbo, chicken picante, red beans and rice with smoked ham hock, corn maque choux, spring green salad, and sweet potato pies for dessert.

photo-27Like what you ate?  Well then, second, the weird, wonderful artist Myrtle von Damitz has formed the Pearls of Cascadia-Antilles Culture Club, which is the beginning of a project to help land rights and sustainability interests in Haiti.  Formerly a New Orleans resident and lately of Cottage Grove, Myrtle is developing a collection of starts with Log House Plants that reflect the cultural heritage of New Orleans, with its deep and intimate collection to Haiti.  She’s looking for about a dozen test growers for a variety of vegetables, including mirlitons, beans, and peanuts, in garden or greenhouse.  Interested?  Check out the site and list of plants.

She adds:  “if anybody knows who else to talk to about sustainable agriculture/plant and food and land rights in Haiti, please let me know.”  Those are some of the plants she’s cultivated above (pictures stolen from their owners for promotional purposes).

We’ve got a huge number of events coming up in the next month or two or three.  Join Facebook and friend me there for updates about many more local events than I can post here on the blog.

niblets: wine o’clock edition

1622373_10102361703598911_1610052131_oNow that our dull roots are stirred with spring rain, we yearn for a glass of Oregon wine on a warm evening.  And lo, there are already events that can make it happen.

  • Oregon Wine LAB (488 Lincoln St), the brainchild of former Sweet Cheeks front man Mark Nicholl, offers wines from his new label, William Rose, and other local wineries that don’t have their own tasting rooms.  It’s a great concept and a great space with a long, live-edge bar and vinyl spun on the turntable, made even better by Mark’s rather gifted ability to promote and network among cultural venues.  He’s continually bringing in something new: a range of food carts, live music, vendor fairs, wine classes, wine tastings for professionals, etc., etc.  So here’s the latest:

Working Women’s Wednesdays(HAPPENING NOW!), 4-7 pm.  Light appetizers and prize drawings every 15 minutes. No-host bar.

Chef/Winemaker Dinner, Sat. March 15. The “unshackled cuisine” (love this) of Crystal Platt from Marché paired with William Rose Wines.  Menu here. There are just a few seats left so reserve now: (458) 201-7413 or info@oregonwinelab.com. $75. 6:30 p.m. The first of I hope very many.

  • Oregon Pioneer Wine Dinner Series at Route 5 Wine Bar, with food by Marché.  Absolutely love this idea.  I’m going to the Broadley one tonight, which is sold out, but mark your calendars for Ponzi on April 9, Dom. Drouhin on May 7, and Sokol Blosser on June 4.  Call Route 5 Wine Bar for more details — I suspect some details will change, and their somewhat baffling website doesn’t have these events listed yet.
  • And a whole heck of a lot of really good chef/winemaker dinners at the Steamboat Inn on the outskirts of the Umpqua National Forest.  Yes, it’s a 2-hr. drive, but just look at these pairings from great places all over the state, including our very own Chefs Tobi Sovak and Michael Landsberg from Noisette with Ray Walsh of Capitello Wines on March 22, and Chefs Stephanie Pearl Kimmel and Crystal Platt from Marché with Jason Lett of Eyrie on April 4. Wow!!
  • Or grow your own wine by visiting the Spring Propagation Fair on March 22 and 23 at LCC, and getting FREE SCIONS of grapes and apples and pears.  This year marks the first time I’ve been involved, and I’m so utterly thrilled to have helped cut grape scions at Nick Botner’s amazing farm in Yoncalla, one of the largest experimental and diverse repository for orchard fruits in the world, and reportedly the biggest private one.  That’s his rustic and fruity Marechal Foch wine above, and his farm, below.  Organizer Nick Routledge, whom I managed to capture in the photo below carrying scions, works with Botner and the pear repository up in Corvallis to gather some amazing and rare and resistant varieties.  He offers scions and seeds as part of his activism work on restoring the earth and getting people to grow food locally.  The annual fair also offers plants, a number of free workshops, and root stock grafting resources for a nominal fee.  More information is here.

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iron chef eugene 2013 is chef brad burnheimer!

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UPDATE 8/9:  Iron Chef Eugene Brad Burnheimer had an unavoidable catering commitment, so Chef Mandra will be filling in at Iron Chef Oregon this weekend.  If you’re in Portland, go and cheer on our two Eugene competitors, Mandra and Iron Chef Oregon 2012, Jeff Strom of Koho Bistro, who will be defending his title!

Yesterday was a beautiful day at the Bite of Eugene.   We sampled all manner of goodies from local chefs, drank Kore Kombucha, wine from William Rose and Kandarian Cellars, and beers from Agrarian Ales and Claim 52. Take a look at my full photo set on Facebook.
IMG_5165IMG_5144 Most of all, we enjoyed the passionate battle for Iron Chef Eugene 2013 with competitors Chef Brad Burnheimer of Agrarian Ales/Burnheimer Meat Co., Chef Max Schwartz of The Old Pad, and Chef Nengah I Mandra of Lucky Noodle/Ring of Fire.  The competition had some setbacks, after Chef Brendan Mahaney from Belly fell ill, so he and Taco Belly Chef Justin Trent needed to bow out of the contest at the last minute. Luckily, Festival Organizer Steve Olivier was able to have a wonderful chef fill in, long-time Ring of Fire Executive Chef Mandra, who performed as a true pro would — without prep, a sous chef, his own ingredients or tools, and on the spur of the moment.  I was extremely impressed.  When are you going to open up your own place, chef?

IMG_5155IMG_3784IMG_3785 It was nice to see my Iron Chef pals Jeff Kandarian and Joel Pomerantz, judges for the first round, and meet the rep for the festival sponsor, American Family Insurance, Jonathan Nixon, who served as the remaining judge for Round 1.  I judged the finals with my radio show co-hosts, Boris Wiedenfeld and Ryan Stotz, and Lance Sparks handled the emcee gig with a little help from his wife, Artie Lieder, Steve Olivier, and the judges of the final round. It takes a village!

IMG_5175IMG_3777IMG_5194Many thanks are due to William Rose winemaker Mark Nicholl, who ceded his Round 2 judging duties and instead provided us with a couple of bottles of his wonderful Riesling (I think he must have heard me talking about it on the blog!) to enjoy with the finals dishes, and chalk artist Lester Mayer, who sketched the competitors. His work was auctioned off to audience members and presented as a thank you to Chef Max Schwartz, who has competed in Iron Chef for four years running, each time with a narrow miss for victory.

IMG_5152 IMG_5190After some unusual and lovely dishes for Battle Chinook Salmon and Battle Hazelnuts, including a gorgeous squash blossom stuffed with salmon saltimbocca and a chicken ballantine with hazelnut herb stuffing and hazelnut romesco by Chef Burnheimer; a salmon noodle curry with sauteed apples by Chef Mandra; and a surprising hazelnut flan with a nugget of chocolate-hazelnut spread inside by Chef Schwartz, we decided to crown Chef Burnheimer Iron Chef Eugene 2013.  May he reign supreme at Iron Chef Oregon!

And one more shout of huge appreciation to Steve Olivier, who has put on this festival for five years, often just breaking even, and the volunteers and vendors who make it a wonderful experience for all.  Sure, it’s for a great cause and the sponsors donate money to a range of food non-profits, but what matters most to me is the labor and effort we all extend to make our community better when we get together at these venues.  This is why I’m so proud to participate and would encourage more Eugeniuses to make the effort to attend and appreciate the folks who grow and make your meals.  For every weirdo who takes food from the Iron Chef judging table as the chefs are still making their deliberations (yes!!), there are 10 stories of a successful restaurateur giving advice to an up-and-comer about new city funding initiatives for business development, a sous chef impressing his boss with the popularity of a new recipe, farm secrets shared and giggled over, recipes debated, and new directions open to exploration.

iron chef at the bite of eugene 2013: allez cuisine!

284436_240790515945191_4018356_nIMG_7092IMG_7013Yes, it’s that time!  My favorite local competition at my favorite local festival: the Iron Chef Eugene competition at the 5th Annual Bite of Eugene.

What’s the Bite of Eugene?  Let the organizers tell you: “The 5th annual American Family Insurance Bite of Eugene is a celebration of our local food scene and culinary culture with a focus on sustainability. This year’s event will be held on July 20th from 11am-10pm at Alton Baker Park in Eugene.  Admission is $5 for adults, children 12 & under are free. Food and beverages at the event will be priced and sold by the various participating local vendors. Food booths will be offering “bites” of their locally created provisions. Local beer and wine will also be offered along with non-alcoholic beverages. A wide array of entertainment is also available, including cooking classes, foodie seminars, local music, family/children’s area, and a live local Iron Chef competition.”  See the full schedule of entertainers and other details here.

I’m thrilled to be back in action this year at the Iron Chef competition.  Last year, I was going to be the emcee again, but couldn’t even stand up in July thanks to a car accident that smashed my knee, so I had to cancel.  This year, I’ll be joining my co-hosts on Food for Thought on KLCC, Boris and Ryan, as not-so-distinguished judges for the final battle.  Check out this amazing line-up:

IRON CHEF EUGENE 2013

With Emcee Lance Sparks

3:00pm: Battle Chinook Salmon
Chef Brendan Mahaney (Belly)
vs. Chef Brad Burnheimer (Agrarian Ales/Burnheimer Meat Co.)

Judges: Jeff Kandarian (Kandarian Cellars), Joel Pomerantz (OR Restaurant & Lodging Assoc.) and Ray Walsh (Capitello Winery).

5:00pm: Battle White Elm Mushrooms
Chef Justin Trent (Belly Taqueria)
vs. Chef Max Schwartz (Old Pad)

Judges: Mark Nicholl (William Rose Wines), Clive Wanstall (LCC), and Artie Lieder (Restaurant Consultant).

7:00pm: Iron Chef Eugene Championship: Battle Hazelnuts
Winner Battle Chinook Salmon
vs. Winner Battle White Elm Mushrooms

Judges: KLCC’s Food for Thought’s Boris Wiedenfeld, Ryan Stotz, and Jennifer Burns Bright, aka Levin, aka Culinaria Eugenius, aka yours truly!

Any local foodies will also be interested in the fantastic cooking seminars, featuring local talent and some of our best chefs, wildcrafters, fermenters, activists, and more. The headlining cooking classes will feature two past Iron Chef Eugene (and Oregon) winners.

See you there; can’t wait!

CULINARY CLASSES

With Host Mac Chase

  • 12:00-12:45 : Iron Chef Oregon 2012 Jeff Strom of Koho Bistro
  • 1:00-1:45 : Iron Chef Oregon 2010 Gabriel Gil of Soubise
  • 2:00-2:45 : Chef Emily Phillips of Red Wagon Creamery (making ice cream!)

SEMINARS

  • 12:00-12:45 : Food as Medicine with Sue Sierralupe (Occupy Medical)
  • 1:00-1:45 : Making Ravioli with Sarah O’Grady (Pasta Plus)
  • 2:00-3:00 : Fermenting Fun with Yaakov Levine (NTP)
  • 3:15-4:00 : Food Bill of Rights with Paul Cienfuegos (Support Local Food Rights)
  • 4:15-4:45 : 5 Pesky Weeds You Can Eat with Erin McIntosh (Mountain Rose Herbs)
  • 5:00-5:30 : Pairing Beer & Cheese & Wine with Jamie Floyd (Ninkasi)
  • 5:45-6:15 : Sustainable Food Systems and Preserving the Summer Bounty for Winter with Paul Fuller (Sweet Creek)
  • 6:30-7:00 : Foraging for Fungi (TBA)
  • 8:00-8:30 : Brewing Kombucha with Cutis Shimmin (Kore Kombucha)

niblets: jack and the beanstalk edition

IMG_3223Niblets is an all-too-occasional feature on the ins and outs of the Eugene food scene. Syndicate me?  You know you want to.

Yes, I know I said I wouldn’t do another of these for a while, but it’s garden season and this town is just teeming with news.  Plant all day and enjoy one of our new restaurants at night.  Perhaps a new Southeast Asian (Malaysian?) restaurant, Kopi-O, across from Midtown Marketplace at 16th and Willamette?  I kid you not.

Adaptive Seeds reports that “Our very own Andrew Still will be teaching a workshop – Seed Saving & Seed Stewardship: The Path to Locally Adapted Seed and True Food Freedom – next Sunday, May 19th from 10am – 3pm at Sunbow Farm in Corvallis.”  This is special.  Andrew is a fantastic speaker and smart as a whip.  He co-leads one of the most radical new ventures in the valley, an “open source” PNW-appropriate, internationally gleaned, organic seed company that grows and collects open-pollinated seed crops from a small network of local farmers.  And it’s at another one of the coolest progressive farms in Oregon.  Don’t miss it.

And speaking of workshops, I’ll be appearing in a short segment on the Sustainable Table on KEZI 9 TV in Eugene (that’s our ABC channel, for those with fancy things like cable) on Wednesday on the 6 p.m. news.  I made some sauerkraut for reporter Brandi Smith and we chatted about upcoming Master Food Preserver preservation classes, like the fermentation class (now full) I’m offering on May 18.

Oregon Plant Fair sale at Alton Baker Park and the Hardy Plant Sale at the Fairgrounds are happening today from 9-2.  As in right now!

Spotted at Groundworks Organics last week at the farmers market: agretti! This unusual Italian green can be used raw in salads, cooked, or pickled. I grabbed the last one and only wish I could have bought a few more. Hope there will be more today. Please enjoy the visual delights of a white pizza I made (above) with Salumi fennel salami, topped with grass clippings of agretti, oregano, and wild arugula.

Growers of tomatoes and peppers (and aren’t we all?) will be relieved to know Jeff’s Garden of Eaton is open for another year.  Jeff works extremely long hours at a classical music non-profit, so it’s hard for him to manage the extensive work of cultivating nightshades, so please do support him.  He has the best selection of anyone in town — many unusual varieties.  He says:

Just a quick message to let you know that Garden of Eaton is once again offering a wide variety of mostly heirloom tomato and pepper starts for your garden.

We’re generally open every day between noon and 6PM at 2650 Summer Lane in Santa Clara. My assistant, Carolyn, will be here to answer any questions you might have about the different varieties available this year. You can reach Carolyn during the hours we’re open by calling (541) 607-1232 [ed: or email Jeff at jaeaton at clearwire dot net].

I hope to update my website sometime this week to include descriptions of the varieties available, but for now I invite you to drop by and see for yourself!

Have fun and be careful out there! (Bees.)

love bites: chefs’ night out 2013

IMG_4499 One of my favorite Eugene food events, Chefs’ Night Out, is a fundraiser for Food for Lane County, allowing local restaurants and culinary programs to experiment with cocktail nibbles for the thronging hordes.

What I really like to see, of course, is the chefs and service industry workers doing what they do best.  This event, like the Bite of Eugene festival that produces the Iron Chef Eugene competition in the summer, seems to be a pleasure for the industry as much as it is for the guests.

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It made me happy just to watch the workers interact with an appreciative public and do their thing.

Also successful this year?  The giant carrot balloons welcoming vegetarians in the midst of all the tri-tip nuggets, and the new secret wood-lined lounge with a jazz trio and a couple of King Estate standards.  I felt almost hip looking at the tweets broadcasted on the wall on a giant screen, so I drank a pomeberry-pink cosmo against my better judgment.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

I noticed a level of institutional care and attention this year that I really appreciated.  It seemed there were fewer vendors, but that meant less pulled pork and bad wine.  The crowd control seemed to be managed, in any case, so people weren’t lined up at King Estate for more than, oh, 20 minutes.  (I’m kidding — it was by the door.)

Congratulations to the winners of this year’s competition:  Best Overall Bite – Marché Restaurant.  Best Presentation/Hospitality – Sweet Life. Best Savory Bite – King Estate Winery. Best Vegetarian Bite – Govinda’s. Best Sweet Bite – Red Wagon Creamery. We don’t know exactly what won, though.  On the Food for Lane County Facebook page, they indicated to me that “The judges don’t always indicate which specific dish they are voting for, however we did note on ballots that these dishes caught judge’s eyes: Marche’s Spring Pea and Asparagus Salad; King Estate Winery’s Charcuterie (Saucisson Sec, Smoked Duck Breast Speck, Pork and Black Truffle Paté); and Red Wagon Creamery’s Chocolate Meringue Cookies with Toasted Sesame Ice Cream and Whiskey Caramel [below]. We will try to encourage judges to be more specific in their choices next year!”  That’s a terrific idea.

IMG_4434Tag; you’re it!

I was kind of surprised that all the deserving winners were located on the main floor atrium; did the judges go upstairs?  If they did, they most likely enjoyed my Best Overall Bite, Koho Bistro’s duck liver paté on a slightly sweet walnut cocoa flat cake with fig and Zinfandel jam. The flavors matched perfectly.  And not too shabby was the other dish at Koho (which the judges did see since they gave it an honorable mention), the candy-cap mushroom crème brûlée on a pepper sablé with smoked caramel glass (below).  This is the second year in a row that I’ve found Koho’s bites the best, but the quality just hasn’t been acknowledged.  (Last year, it was the candied kumquat and farmer cheese on black pepper shortbread canapés.)  What is in store for next year?

IMG_4491IMG_4490The smoked caramel glass was particularly effective with the puddingy pillowy bite.  It was like the princess and the pea or every rose has its thorn or something like that.

IMG_3115IMG_4506 Other unexpectedly delicious treats were the ricotta-mirepoix-mushroom stuffed pepper with a very fresh and wild basil mousse and chile oil from Ambrosia; a perfectly classic endive, celery and walnut salad with a lemon-tarragon mayo on a homemade potato chip from the catering outfit Our Daily Bread (better than the only other veg bites, award-winning Marché’s peas and Govinda’s stews, I thought); a simple pork confit taco from the new food cart Gastronomad, which was down in the Ninkasi tent; and the now tried-and-true but still good salmon rillettes and watermelon gazpacho with tequila from Shadow Hills Country Club.  Never thought I’d say I like country club food, but there you are.

Whoa, and the wild boar agrodolce over polenta at Excelsior?  A wonderful sweet and sour turn of that pork classic. Has Excelsior hired chef extraordinaire and our best local magician with sweets Shane Tracey, formerly Executive Chef Owner of Nib?  It took a minute to recognize him, because I was thoroughly puzzling over the trio of desserts at the table. When did Excelsior up its pastry game to this level?, I was thinking. Then I saw Shane and it was clear.  You can see two of the desserts above, a little cocoa bomb clothed in green on a brown butter financier and an interpretation of tiramisu with a pretty little hand-painted chocolate disc.

My favorite sweet bite, though, and again a surprise, was the ultra lavender cream puff on a stick made by the students at LCC (first photo).  They infused both the pastry cream with lavender and the whipped cream with lavender-powered pear brandy.  It came on strong and left creamy.  A perfect dessert.

IMG_4517My favorite cocktail was the quickie Cocchi Americano-Rye signature cocktail at Rye, hands down.  Had I known about the lounge earlier, I would have made off with that punchbowl.  I had again a memorable glass of Roussanne at J. Scott, which quenched my white wine trending thirst, and a really good dry rosé at King Estate, which I am told is one of several, and which I do not know from the others.  Oops.

IMG_4436I agree with the awards committee that Sweet Life had the best presentation, what with its pretty server in Victorian mourning and the tulip-themed sweets all over the Parisian pink Eiffel-towered table. But I would create my own award for the unintentionally coolest in a weird way bite.  That would go to Mazzi’s, who served that mystery of mysteries, alive in 2013 only in Eugene — Steak Diane.  The steak was so-so and I’m still trying to figure out why an Italian-American joint would serve it at the tasting, but I liked the sauce and the hundreds of little cups over the Mazzi napkins.  Something very mod about it, both in form and function.

All in all, a good night and lots of fun. Hope it went well, Food for Lane County!  You can see a full photo spread of the night’s photos on my Facebook page.

german wine dinner joy

IMG_3034We had some scrumptious wines at Marché recently.  If you are someone who sticks safely to Oregon Pinot Gris or finds comfort in the red side of the wine rainbow, I understand; I really do.  But over the years, I’ve started hungering for more, and the odd poetry of some of the more interesting whites has grabbed me and won’t let go.  This is scary, of course, because a wine habit attaches to one’s pocketbook, and my purse always seems to have a hole at the bottom.*

Ewald Moseler, for those of you who don’t know, is a godsend.  He’s a distributor who has been importing German and Austrian wines and educating Americans from his base in Portland for almost thirty years.  Ryan managed to coax him to come down to Eugene for one of Chef Crystal Platt’s wonderful special tasting dinners.  This was an unusual move, as wine dinners usually feature a label or a type of wine.  But well worth it.

To welcome in spring, try a dry Riesling. I can’t emphasize this enough. The color is perfect for the season, a little neon-greenish, almost highlighter yellow.  The characteristic smell of fresh little flowers and honey and pear — wrapped in PVC — will shake you out of your complacency.  If the fetish appeal doesn’t grab you, then think of it this way: this wine is a sweet and obliging servant, kind of like a French maid. In PVC. Oops, I’m back in the fetish stuff again, sorry.  So let’s just put it like this: Riesling usually features a strong acid component that balances out the gentle sweetness, acting almost like a cleaning crew for sugars in the wine to enliven your palate.  Which is perfect for spring, no?

IMG_3019We tried three beautiful Rieslings at the tasting dinner:

(1) a bubbly one (!) called Wingut Diehl Riesling Sekt Extra Trocken Roschbacker Rosenkränzel from Pfalz (2009) with pork rillettes and roasted bone marrow toasts drizzled with rose hip jam (above);

(2) a dry (Trocken) Selbach “Blauschiefer” from Mosel (2011) with a perfectly browned sea bass chunk over bold green miner’s lettuce and little asparagus with a grassy swath of nettle purée (below — the picture doesn’t do it justice, sorry);  and

IMG_3025(3)  A deep, intense dessert Riesling:  Christoffel Jr. Riesling Ausles “Ürziger Würzgarten” from Mosel-Saar-Wuwer (1999), a wine that could have been only better with a longer finish so I could have it in my mouth for but a few more moments.  It was served with an apple crostata accompanied by a brilliantly paired unsugared buttermilk mousse.

IMG_3033O how I wish Crystal were able to integrate more experimental dishes into the rather conservative Marché menu, since her food is fabulous and the way she integrates seasonal ingredients, often foraged or PNW-oriented, could renew and envigorate many of the French bistro classics.  I think she’d soon gain a following of her own, not to mention we need to support talented, innovative women in the high-end restaurant biz.

And the pairings were so good.  The entrée of braised then fried boar over red cabbage and what seemed like a lardo and mustardseed mayonnaise special sauce to me, paired with another Wingut Diehl wine, this time a Gewürztraminer Kabinett from Pfalz (2011) might have just transformed me into a Gewürz drinker.  It certainly did nothing to quell my yearning for Central European food.

IMG_3032The only almost miss of the evening was the dish served with the only red, the only Pinot Noir (!) of the evening, an example of how climate change is allowing wine growers to put in grapes farther north than ever.  Morel mushrooms mired in a potatoey swamp of purée, with wild vegetation and flowers growing up around it gave off an Oregon rainy winter vibe, but it didn’t seem to be grounded in anything.  Still, it was an interesting pairing with a Mayschosser Spätburgunder Trocken (2011) that was unlike either our Oregon beloveds or the California pinots we spurn.  Pinot aficionados might want to take note that Spätburgunder is the German name for Pinot Noir, and it is always Trocken.  The Ahr is the region in which you’ll find it now grown.

IMG_3029So all of this brings me to an unsatisfied conclusion.  Where can I get more of these delicious German wines?  Well, Ryan told me he’s bringing some in to Provisions, or you could visit one of the places Ewald services up in Portland by joining his email list.  Either way, they’re a must try.

Thanks, Ewald and Ryan, for making this happen!  Hope we can do it again soon.

*Note: I wasn’t paid a red cent for covering this dinner.  It was absolutely, totally, completely all my pleasure and I had to go home with a few extra bottles, too.  Growing hole in pocketbook.  Q.E.D.