City Spotlight: PORTLAND
Oregon’s Food Pioneers
By Judiaann Woo, Photography by Gregor Halenda
“While the rest of the country grew infatuated with rock-star chefs and outlandish theatrical dining, Portland built a new model from scratch – food first, do-it-yourself, custom-crafted for pure joy, and everyone invited to the table.”
– Karen Brooks, The Mighty Gastropolis: Portland: A Journey Through American’s New Food Revolution
The rumors are true. Portland: “The land of milk and honey — also coffee, tea, beer, wine, game, berries, crab, salmon, ice cream in flavors lifted from food trucks,” is “America’s #1 Food City” according to food critic Tom Sietsema of The Washington Post.
Portland may seem like an unlikely candidate to play such a major role on the world’s culinary stage but these days, you can’t open a magazine and not see a Portland chef, restaurant, or artisan mentioned. Even more impressive is how much influence this small Pacific Northwest town has had – and continues to have – in the world of food and drink and how it’s potentially shaping what we’ll all be eating and drinking in the years to come.
Portland, well-known for its collaborative chef community, is a perfect place to get people thinking about iSi in thoughtful new ways. To help capture this fresh thinking, iSi curated a group of PDX Innovators to share ideas on what makes iSi an essential tool in today’s kitchen, bar, and coffee shop.
It can be agued that nobody epitomizes Portland’s new food scene better than James Beard Best Chef Northwest winner, Naomi Pomeroy. Sure, there are others who have been around longer or have more restaurants to their credit but Naomi captures the spirit of Portland’s eclectic food better than most.
Her restaurant, Beast, was one of the first to grab the attention of the nation’s food literati and images of her holding a butchered pig became the calling card for many young cooks who flocked to Portland to trade in big city kitchen life for more “personal cooking” and to play with Oregon’s abundance of ingredients.
Pomeroy, who just released her first cookbook Taste & Technique, is largely self-taught and cooks from her gut using mostly classic techniques and equipment. But as artists do, Naomi keeps evolving and so does her cooking. “I’m at a point now where I can experiment more with different applications and ingredients and that’s allowed me discover new ways to use iSi equipment in my kitchen that still feels very authentic to my personal style,” says Pomeroy.
A perfect example of a seamless application is the iSi-made hollandaise that she serves over poached duck eggs and seasonal Farmers’ market hash on her weekend menu. The sauce is stored in an iSi whipper, which keeps the emulsion light, airy, and perfect throughout the busy brunch service. In Portland, where brunch is a spectator sport, a perfect hollandaise can make or break your reputation in town. Naomi’s is a winner.
You might recognize Gregory Gourdet as the soft spoken but edgy Brooklyn-turned-Portland chef that made his way to the finale of Bravo TV’s Top Chef last season. While he didn’t win season 12, he won the hearts of many who make dining at Departure, his popular Pan-Asian-inspired rooftop restaurant at the Nines Hotel, a must-do for anyone visiting the Rose City.
While Asian-forward may not be what you might typically associate with iSi applications, Gourdet, known for his complex, bold flavors, and stunning plates, is a natural fit for iSi. “I first used iSi equipment regularly when I worked in Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s kitchens in NYC but they’ve always been a part of my essential kitchen tools because of their versatility to adapt to whatever style of food I’m cooking,” says Gourdet.
“I like to create lots of different textures on one plate,” says Gourdet. In his dessert featuring hibiscus coconut sticky rice, mango, coconut jelly, passionfruit curd, and puffed rice, Gourdet ties all the flavors and textures together with a warm coconut foam made simply with coconut milk steeped with pandan leaves, sugar, salt and a little gelatin.
While Portland didn’t invent nose-to-tail, farm-to-table, artisan-everything approach to food, Portland does it in such a way that captures the imagination of the world. That, coupled with a quiet confidence to present unflashy foods but super well-executed food, has made Portland a Mecca for ingredient-focused cuisine and some of the brightest talents in the country.
In the coming months, we’ll share more from Portland and introduce you to others who are using iSi in very Portland ways.
Judiaann Woo is the former VP of Culinary Development for iSi North America. During her time, with the company, she whipped, aerated, foamed and carbonated everything under the sun and had a whole lot of fun doing it. Today, she lives in Portland, Oregon and continues to share her passion for food with others willing to travel for the next great meal. See what she’s been eating recently @judiaann.