This morning, I had the great fortune of getting contacted by an old teacher of mine from culinary school. Chef Joe Sheridan was appearing on WOND, a local New Jersey radio station, discussing culinary education, the industry, and seeking the voices of alumni. I was having a slow morning and agreed to call in.
After catching up a bit on the show and brief introductions (including plugging this blog and my book. #shamelessselfpromoter) Chef Joe asked me an interesting question.
“Matt, I’ve recently been reading this book “Burn The Ice” by Kevin Alexander and- well, to stereotype your entire city, we came from an era of white table cloths and pressed napkins. Now we have chefs with tattoo sleeves, in black T-shirt’s with hats on backward, serving in dining rooms with bare tables and distressed walls. It’s all different!”
Now, I gotta own that since coming to Portland, I’ve gotten a couple food tattoos. I haven’t worn a proper white chef’s toque since I graduate culinary school (I hated them anyway. The paper ones tore and had a habit of knocking things off overhead racks, directly onto my neck.) There’s no denying that the Pacific Northwest spawned a reckoning in how fine dining was treated in America.
While I have yet to read Kevin Alexander’s “Burn the Ice” on the subject (I just bought it on Kindle a few minutes ago. It’s officially on The Pile,) the sharp cultural difference between living on the West Coast and training on the East is something I’ve mulled over plenty.
Given that my last few topics have been a little heavy, I figured it was long since time to talk about something that I love and that fascinates me, inspires me, confounds me, and frustrates me in equal measure.
One of the things I love most about any kind of craft or creation- food, cuisine, beer, woodworking, music, whatever- is that when you first get acquainted with that craft, it seems monolithic- until you realize it isn’t, that nothing is, and what you always thought was one solid notion is home to a universe of variety.
It’s terrifying, crazy-making, paralyzing, beautiful, and exhilarating all at once- at least to me. How do YOU address the complications of life? Well, let’s discuss it!
When I first moved out to Portland from New Jersey nearly four years ago, one of the first things I was struck by is BIKES EVERYWHERE. In New Jersey, a bike was how kids got around, or what adults did for exercise while wearing goofy clothes.
In Portland, a bike is possibly the easiest way commute through the city and go about your life- and the city leans into that fact hard. Special low-traffic “greenways,” specially-marked bike lanes, bike accessibility on public transit… for a city rife with steep hills and busy streets, cycling is how you get around. In fact, I’d say that bike commuting is as much a part of Portland’s constantly metastasizing culture as “weird,” beer, small food businesses, and big green spaces.
So when I was tooling around Division Street on my bike yesterday, felt the need to dodge the near-record heat for a bit and came across a cute little house with a big front lawn, a sour beer menu, and some simple eats, you didn’t have to twist my arm.
It’s been a while since I was in the “park blocks” of SE Portland. The stretch of greenery in the Culture District is home to a number of museums and venues before it terminates at Portland State University (and, on Saturdays, the PSU Farmers Market.)
Wednesday evening, I was beating feet up the sidewalk, past fresh-air takers and statues in the park. Like a Saturday morning, I was making my way toward the food… a display of Oregon’s artisans, and the produce of this foodie wonderland.
Unlike those Saturday mornings though, I’m not dashing toward the market. I’m making my way toward a museum… and I’m eating to feed others.