A Taste of Oregon

I have been a very busy gal volunteering at different events around town lately, but in the midst of all of my running around, my taste buds got to take a little vacation in Oregon last week.

I got to volunteer at the James Beard House for the first time last Wednesday. The James Beard Foundation invites in chefs to create multi-course dinners in James Beard’s former home. They work right there in the house's kitchen and guests are able to pass through and see what the chef is doing. It's a really nice, intimate setting. . . Ok, it's kind of a foodie's dream. Of course, the dinners aren't cheap, but they’re also not unreasonable for a splurge given the experience and the level of food and wine served.

On the volunteer side, it really is a fantastic experience for a culinary student. Because the kitchen is rather small, there can only be a limited number of people cooking at a time, which means that you are right there in the middle of it with the chef(s) and they really have to use your help. That means that you're probably going to get to do more interesting things than you might elsewhere. I'm sure these close quarters could quickly become a nightmare if you clash with the chef, however that was not a problem the night I went.

I was lucky enough to be paired up with the greatest group of chefs from the Pacific Northwest.  Chef Will Leroux, Chef Josh Archibald, Chef Aaron Bedard, and Chef Peter Dougherty really allowed me to jump in there with them and be truly involved in helping them prep and plate the dinner for service.  It was a busy night, but the pace was exhilarating rather than exhausting. I learned a ton and had an amazing time all at once.
I get really inspired when a chef or cook is really excited about their food. The enthusiasm rubs off on me, and that was just the case on this evening. The Chefs were really happy to tell me about the various ingredients they'd used and I heard 'You gotta try this!' many times throughout the night. I was happy to oblige.

The theme of the dinner was "A Coastal Oregon Celebration" and they brought pretty much anything they could transport to showcase the area around Cannon Beach, the coastal town most of the chefs came from. There were beautiful Oregon cheeses, locally caught crayfish and salmon, even honey harvested from Chef Will's own hives. Of course, the wines were Oregonian as well and all came from Hawk’s View Cellars

All of these beautiful ingredients formed a feast of refined comfort foods. The crayfish became a salad that filled choux. (I stuffed those bad boys.) The smoked salmon, which the chefs cured themselves, was largely allowed to speak for itself atop a mini risotto cake with a light garnish of an herbed cream and micro-greens. For the main, a tender lamb shank osso bucco was served on a bed of creamy, truffle-scented polenta with baby vegetables, butternut squash, and an intense, velvety sauce. I think I could have drunk that gravy all by itself.

All of the food was delicious, but for me the revelation of the evening was the dessert. For this course, slices of moist, dense fruitcake were served with praline crumbles, rich moonshine caramel sauce, and mushroom ice cream. You read that correctly -- mushroom ice cream. It sounds crazy and I was definitely skeptical, but it really didn’t taste like mushrooms at all. They used Oregon candy cap mushrooms to create a mild, smooth ice cream that tasted toasty and caramelly, with hints of brown bread.

I didn’t nibble this dessert. I scarfed it and it was oh, so good.

Sadly, I didn’t take pictures of all of this lovely food.  My camera was broken, my iPhone was nearly dead, and it was just too busy an evening anyways. However, since the Chefs were in from out of town and did not want to take anything back with them, they sent me home with an armload of goodies so big that I was barely able to carry it all. So, almost every morning since, I’ve been waking up with a cup of strong Sleepy Monk Coffee and a slice of fruitcake, which often gets a quick swirl of Chef Will’s Backyard Honey. I've been exhausted and this has  been the perfect thing to get me going.

You can see the evening’s complete menu on the JBF website.

Greg and I have been wanting to tour the Pacific Northwest for a long time, and after this dinner the desire to make it up there has gotten that much stronger, but if any of you lovely readers beat me to it, check out the Chefs’ restaurants and tell them I say hi:

Chef Will Leroux - Martin Hospitality, Cannon Beach, OR
Chef Josh Archibald - The Wayfarer Restaurant & Lounge, Cannon Beach, OR
Chef Aaron Bedard  - The Stephanie Inn Dining Room, Cannon Beach, OR
Chef Peter Dougherty- La Bottega, Vancouver, WA

1 comment:

  1. Here is a little added bonus. At this link you can read about the same evening, from the perspective of one of the Chefs: http://chefarchibald.blogspot.com/2011/10/ny-2.html

    Thanks again, Chef Josh!