I can’t tell if it was the pain in my leg, my ever increasing crankiness, an academic underbelly, or just the speed dating format of the Whole Foods Speaker Series at Feast Portland, but I wanted more “craft, connection, and community,” as fellow superredhead Portland Monthly food editor Karen Brooks styled it. I don’t know what I was expecting, a food geekout? Technical bits? A conversation among the participants? More access for the actual community (this would have been a great free event in a very pricey weekend)? I guess I was expecting to be charmed. Or thrilled. Or spoonfed something.
Speaking of which, the Whole Food nibbles were ok, with an unfortunate exception of “Rouge River” cheese, which makes this Detroit native shudder, and the Gerding Theater venue was really lovely, with reclaimed wood, cathedral ceilings, and LEED-certified whathaveyou.
The program was led by Portland Monthly Editor-in-Chief Randy Gragg, and broken sort of ineffectively into two halves of Local and Global, and punctuated by short films by wacky Boaz Frankel and chill guitar-strumming from Tom, a guy who served also as timekeeper. The speakers were limited to less than 15 minutes, with no Q&A, disappointing.
The first half of the program was highlit by Brooks and her mini hobo-bag of Oregon treats to demonstrate three C marketing points of what makes Portland a good food city. The talk was rather beautifully delivered and thoughtful; I found myself in a swoon over the little square of David Briggs’ brown butter chocolate and the slice of purple carrot from the volcanic soil of Joseph, OR’s Prairie Creek Farm. (The third item in the bag, a coffee bean, did not cause a swoon, but I wouldn’t have said no to a cannele.) Anthony Boutard of Gaston, OR (below, first photo), my favorite “farmer-philosopher,” spoke next on corn and other trials and tribulations of growing on the 45th parallel (“Oh, I’d like to grow that! Bang. Dead.”). And Sean Brock, Executive Chef of McCrady’s Restaurant and Husk in Charleston, SC, had some interesting moments in a casual conversation with Features Editor of Gilt Taste, Francis Lam (above). I wanted to hear more about his breakdown of the class structure (high SC gold rice, low cowpea) in a bowl of hoppin’ john. They dropped the ball not providing a slide of his heirloom seeds tattoo, though. I’d rather see 10 shots of that than one more slide of a bean.
Then things took a turn for the snarky in the global half. I read Lucky Peach like everyone else, but I kind of chafe at the machismo and fuckery of it all (here’s where I start getting old and crusty, sorry). I thought Editor Chris Ying (third photo above) was shooting fish in a barrel when he took on the quasi-anonymous critics of “the moist brown center of it all,” Yelp (fourth photo). Also, Jonathan Gold had already done it at the UO School of Journalism, when, last year? It was funny and snarky, and usually I’m into that, but eh. I did like hearing that the upcoming issue of LP is about Chinatown in fantasy and reality.
And again, the cynicism and hard sparkly edge (and footwear) of Gabrielle Hamilton (second photo) would have usually appealed, but I just wasn’t feeling it, especially in the interview by Adam Rapoport, a more comfortable interviewer than Lam but too corporate and conciliatory. (Lam’s own talk turned into a confessional/ethnic studies lecture that ended with a weird semi-accusatory appeal to Americans that their culture included authentic Asian food. Yes, I’d like to tell that to anyone operating a Chinese restaurant in Eugene.) Hamilton rightly pointed out the limitations of “eating local” (traumatic experience with too much eggplant in a late Italian summer) and preaching the food gospel bill of goods (against the myth that “if you just eat a family dinner all together at the table, then all your f’d up problems will go away”).
The only thing I want to mention about the talk from Whole Foods’ co-CEO, Walter Robb, is that I found the slide of a Whole Foods going into Detroit amid criticism kind of unsettling. Good luck with that, seriously. Try the Rogue River cheese.
See? I’ve still got the snark. It was just an off day for me.
Anyway, with such a bad attitude and a scowl in my heart, I couldn’t handle the meet-n-greet afterward, so instead limped over to Powell’s, where I scored a used James Beard’s American Cookery and a new Steinbeck East of Eden, and mused mightily over small soufflé cups and a top-o-the-line Rösle food mill at Sur La Table*. Then I fled to Beaverton, where I gorged myself on Taste of Sichuan*, the newish sister restaurant to Bamboo Garden in Bellevue. Highly recommended! (*Just send checks or a food mill and/or tendon salad for product placement to Culinaria Eugenius, Inc. Thanks.)