There are food festivals, and then there’s Feast Portland. In what’s increasingly notorious as the US’s most foodie city, a festival has to be something pretty special to make an impression on locals used to the culinary cutting edge. Be it as simple as coffee (Stumptown) or sandwiches (Bunk), or as sophisticated as fine charcuterie (Olympia) or intriguing ice-cream (Fifty Licks) or hugely influential restaurants (Pok Pok), these guys have seen it all.
But Feast is indeed pretty special. This year’s festival was the fourth, and everyone we met was confidently announcing it to be the best so far. The programme was rammed with talks, panels, ‘drink tanks’, tutorials, celebrations. Parties: many many parties. And dinners – an amazing line-up of international chefs all collaborating in the one kitchen. We were lucky enough to catch the one featuring Christopher Haatuft of Bergen’s Lysverket, a restaurant I loved so much in its homeland I went twice in the one week. The menu was extraordinary: everything from fish head kare kare from Austin’s Paul Qui, to Christopher’s hauntingly good fried oysters with maitake mushrooms and pig’s head.
St JackEggslutFranklin Barbecue
This was when we got our first taste of the week’s premier activity: queuing. Or, as our US chums would have it, standing in line. It’s not my favourite pastime, but in Portland it becomes social: everyone’s got something to say. And the queues moved quickly, so it was pretty painless. Plus we were furnished with wine holsters – like a necklace from which you dangle your glass of vino, leaving hands free for grazing. It’s my favourite new toy, and didn’t leave my neck when we went to the Oregon Bounty Grand Tasting in search of, well, Oregon’s bounty. This amazingly fertile state’s wines are already famous and there were more than 30 wineries showing their wares (I was particularly keen on one called Love and Squalor), so our glasses were permanently topped up. But we also tried mini bison burgers, Oregon-harvested salt from Jacobsen, exquisite wildflower honey from Bee Local and chocolate spreads and sauces from Xoxolatl de David.
It’s an opportunity to catch the work of some of the US’s finest chefs (more than 80 of them) and restaurants, wineries and breweries in one compact, alluring city; most of the events are downtown, making it even more accessible. If I’ve one regret, it’s that the dreaded jetlag meant I missed some the riotous, messy after-parties; when I go again – and I’d love to – I’ll be sure to pack industrial amounts of melatonin in addition to the anti-bloating pills helpfully included in our welcome pack.
And in case you think all this gluttony is reprehensible, the festival is in aid of charities No Kid Hungry, and Partners for a Hunger-Free Oregon. So you might come home with a straining waistband, but you’ll also have a gloriously clear conscience.
First published October 2015
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