Oregon Chefs Reprazent!

Robert Greene’s book ‘The 48 Laws of Power’—an update of Sun-Tzu and Machiavelli that has taken hold in the hip-hop community—talks about the tactical dangers of ‘outshining the master’, as I learned from Nick Paumgarten’s latest article in The New Yorker. This weekend I got the chance to see the upshot of such ambition, and take a break from my usual freelancer’s diet of pizza by the slice, cold cereal, and bagels, by tagging along as a group of Portland, Oregon’s top chefs visited New York City. Late last week, Leather Storrs and Greg Smith, chef and sous chef of Noble Rot, along with Scott Dolich and David Padberg of Park Kitchen, rolled in with about 600 lbs of Oregon-made goodies to prepare and serve guests of the James Beard House on Saturday. The anticipation mounted from Thursday as the posse prepped for the big meal, mainly in the way that chefs seem to enjoy most when not actually at the stove: by insulting, quizzing, or laughing at each other, eating out on the town, smoking, drinking, or generally behaving badly. Their Beard House dinner, which sold out in minutes, was a chance for some of Portland’s brightest culinary lights to shine in New York City; more to the point, though, was that they’d be doing it in the Oregon-bred Father of Gastronomy’s own home.There were some things that needed to be done first. Thursday I joined the guys as they visited the Rodeo Bar after their meal at Blue Hill, merely to blow off some early steam; later we noshed on a carnivore’s menu at Momofuku Ssäm bar, where Leather rapped with chef David Chang about another frontman, Pavement’s Steven Malkmus (who frequents Noble Rot; Chang’s a fan). Meanwhile, as beers flowed, Dolich declared Chang’s bacon-wrapped grilled sausage with spicy pickled kirby cucumber, celery salt, and a reservoir of warm mayo to be “cheating,” and took another bite, grinning ear-to-ear. Leather obsessed over the late-night menu’s brilliant ham assortment, gnocchi bolognese-like rice gluten and sauce number, and a plate of cauliflower, straight from the deep fryer, almost unthinkably flavorful. All declared the menu’s dire warning to vegetarians admirable, if useless in Portland, where the scent of fois grois can spark street protests. Friday was a day of prepping, artery recovery, and more drinks, this time at Pegu, which makes fairly convincing case for $13 dollar cocktails, especially one called the gin-gin mule.Saturday came wind and rainy (recalling Portland’s standard conditions). As we jammed into the twee brownstone party in Greenwich Village, waiters navigated the crowd with savory onion tarts, demitasses of Dungeness bisque, endive with walnuts and pickled chanterelles, and salt-cod fritters. Argyle, an Oregon winery that makes exceptional sparking wines in the methode champegnoise, provided a sparkling rosé for this course, as I caught up with Noble Rot owners Courtney Storrs and Kimberly Bernosky. Also on hand were members of Leather’s and Dolich’s family, restaurant designer Mark Annan and artist Heather Watson, Margo Kurtz of Winebow, and me, along with about 55 Beard House regulars. But that was only the beginning. It was a good thing I skipped lunch.Once we sat down under the big portrait of Beard in his living room, things really took off. A plate of ceviche-like razor clams, peppers and almonds, paired with a crisp Abacela Albarino 2005 kicked off the meal. Next came Leather’s ‘Noble Rot charcuterie’, a combination of three extraordinary meat preparations. First, a house-cured prosciutto garnished with a kind of peach paste; in the middle, a dish called “Head Shoulders Knees and Toes”, a warm terrine made of guanciale (hog jowl), pork shoulder, pork shank, and pork foot; last, a profiterole filled with fois grois mousse, which is my turn to call “cheating.” Next came Padberg’s piece-du-resistance, a gnocchi plate with fresh, sweet corn and sage: clean-plate clubs all around. This was paired with the luscious Brick House Chardonnay 2004, which, as Margo Kurtz explained to an investment banker and her mom at my table, was more white Burgundy-style than butterball California swill, having gone through a malolactic fermentation, which made the ladies nod in bewildered approval. Storrs was next with his slow-roasted Oregon wild salmon served with chanterelles and fresh runner beans; the fish, though fully cooked, achieved an almost sashimi-like texture, more swoons. A Dolich-inspiration was the next round: “two types of pork, three types of watermelon”, a plate of warm medallions of pork served with a salsa-like side of seared and spicy heirloom watermelons, potatoes and crispy pancetta. Expanding the universe while finishing off the meal was another Storrs creation, Apples Carl Sagan: poached apple and ice cream on two sides of a rectangular plate, ringed with orbits of caramel. When the guys came upstairs as I swallowed the last drops of Clear Creek Distillery‘s Apple Brandy (like everything else, made in Oregon, even the coffee, from Stumptown) I imagined James Beard looking down from his big dining-room-in-the-sky to smile: the chefs from his home state of Oregon basked in a long ovation.Sunday was a day of recovery, at least until I joined the Storrs and Dolichs, along with “G-Regg” Smith, for a once-in-a-lifetime dinner at Per Se, which would be too exhausting to adequately detail here, having lasted 17 courses and well after midnight, long after Robert De Niro left the room, leaving us quite literally starstruck. Leather and Courtney, having worked at the French Laundry, were excited to be back in the capable hands of Thomas Keller, and the rest of us were only happy to join in, too. “Transporting might be the right word,” said Leather. Key course? Fois Grois six ways, which left our waiter utterly amazed. “Never before—not even when Jean-George rolled in here with his posse—have we seen that kind of thing come out of the kitchen.”Chalk one up for the Beaver State. Speaking of the state animal, Saturday’s culinary performance happened to be the same day that Oregon State’s Beavers toppled undefeated USC, in college football, an upset for the ages. What are the odds?


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