Zagat: What makes Feast Portland stand out from other culinary festivals?
Portland is super DIY. We love good food but we don’t have a lot of fanfare around what we do. The restaurant scene is down to earth, but it’s also a little bit of a fierce community. It is pretty saturated and there is a lot of competition in this town. As far as a food town we have great produce and really high quality meat and fish. Everything is raised and grown really close to the city. It’s a food festival where they don’t have to truck in a lot of stuff. What I do is quintessentially Portland.
Zagat: Tell me about your first professional cooking experience?
I have a very untraditional cooking background. I didn’t work in restaurants and I didn’t go to culinary school. The first meal I ever cooked was for Outward Bound. I got the job as a fluke from a friend. She worked for the North Carolina Outward Bound school and she said, “I’m going in the field this summer to instruct, so you should take my job cooking.” I said, “I’ve never cooked before.” She said, “Just take the job.” So I got the job and they said, “Here’s your budget. Don’t go over budget. Make three meals a day and a snack from scratch and feed everybody.” These were people who were rock climbing or kayaking all day and they came back hungry. So I just figured it out.
Zagat: You and your husband are avid cookbook and cocktail book collectors. What is your most prized possession?
I have a ton of cookbooks but I am not a very materialistic person, so if all of my cookbooks were torched today, I would be bummed but everything is replaceable. The most treasured things to me are obviously things I can’t replace. I have a couple of books that my grandmother gave to me. They are not necessarily my favorite cookbooks but before she died she wrote in them for me. And whenever my colleagues’ books come out I get them to sign them, and I love those. I had a few people here last night - Chris Cosentino, Anita Lo and Ethan Stowell - and they all signed their books. I got to dictate to Ethan Stowell what I wanted him to write. He wrote, “To the hottest chef in the world.”
Zagat: Are you working on a cookbook?
Yes. I started to research gnocchi and I realized that it is not a single potato dumpling—it is a whole genre. I got crazy into it and started to write recipes and test recipes and now I have about 30 recipes for gnocchi, whether malloreddus or malfatti or gnudi. When I pitched it to a bunch of publishers, some people said, “Nope, too narrow a subject.” But it’s not and no one has ever written about it in the English language. Chronicle is publishing it.
Zagat: What inspired your restaurant Sunshine Tavern? With the comfort food, soft serve ice cream and arcade games it seems like it was built out of guilty pleasures.
It started as a series of conversations that my husband David and I had about what we wanted on our days off. We want pizza, we want burgers we want homemade soft serve ice cream. We thought putting a shuffleboard table in the middle of the dining room would be awesome. It’s fun, it’s free, and everyone plays. So we created this great place for days off that we never get to enjoy because we don’t want to go to work on our days off.
Zagat: Who is the better shuffleboard player, you or David?
Probably David because I never get to play.
Zagat: What happens at the Bar Camp that you hold at Lincoln?
David teaches bar camp. He instructs about 12-20 people at a time. Typically he will have a subject, like Bar 101 or Amaro and he talks about the history, how to build your bar at home, and he demystifies the myth that making a cocktail is difficult. We put a little snack out and after the class we sit everybody down and they have a dinner paired with cocktails that they just learned.
Do people bring sleeping bags to Bar Camp?
They might need to. A car service is highly recommended after Bar Camp.