I’ve just returned to Swan’s Nest from the International Association of Culinary Professionals annual conference in Portland, Oregon – a happenin’ city when it comes to food, wine, beer, coffee, tea, and all things culinary. Portland is one of the key places in the United States to learn about culinary trends, because as host city committee chair Mike Thelin describes it, Portland’s residents are “obsessed with food”. And why not – so much of Oregon’s fertile land is used for food production. Here, the population understands where their food is sourced, from wine to berries, and fish to quail.
Conference attendees were focused on issues such as sustainability, local sourcing, eating lighter, and the role of food as a way of life, not just a way of supporting life. By the end of the week, I had spent time with food and wine producers; learned how earthquakes and the shifting of the earth’s plates under the ocean millions of years ago literally gave rise to three distinctive growing conditions in Oregon’s Willamette Valley – world renown for its Pinot Noirs and acclaimed for Pinot Gris and Chardonnay; and I had learned tips for reaching out more effectively to culinary schools, cooking class students, my readers, and fans of celebrating Home and Family.
There were a couple of highlights for me during the conference. One was the class led by IACP member, Art Institute Culinary School of San Fransico instructor and dear friend, Linda Carucci. Chef Carucci’s class wasn’t about how to cook, it was about how to teach through student interaction, fun activities, quickly assessing the background cooking class students bring to class and what they already know, and class goal. So there we were, eating Jelly Bellys while holding our noses to learn how flavors are perceived by our taste buds, and learning how to season dishes while discovering how salt brings out the flavor of individual ingredients in a recipe. It was fascinating.
Another highlight was the “Wild and Rare” dinner I attended in a private banquet room in Portland’s Heathman Hotel. I had actually dined in The Heathman the evening of my arrival, and the perfectly-cooked tender lamb chops and Oregon Pinot Noir I enjoyed that evening were superb. The focus of the “Wild and Rare” dinner was twofold – learning about Oregon’s sustainable wild game industry and memorable wines while chatting with the producers who contributed to our meal. I was fortunate to be seated with two of the producers who supplied the elk, rabbit, and quail from Nicky Farms. Guest chefs from some of Portland’s finest restaurants joined The Heathman’s chefs Andrew Biggs, Philippe Boulot, and Karl Zenk in creating this deliciously memorable evening that ended with a demonstration on the art of pulling sugar by pastry chef Daniel Jasso of “Genoa”.
As I settle once more into our lives at Swan’s Nest, I’ve come home with a renewed passion in meeting and learning from our local food producers. I look forward to sharing my discoveries with you.