At just two years old, Portland’s premier food and drink festival, Feast, is but a toddler. This year’s festival was very similar to the inaugural year, with a few twists and tricks. Just like in year one, Feast featured four main tasting events. The Sandwich Invitational pits Portland and visiting chefs against one another to create the tastiest possible bread-layer-bread concoctions. The Night Market is an outdoor feast of chefs’ street-food-inspired bites. Oregon Bounty is a gluttonous showcase of of Oregon food producers, including wineries, breweries, farmers, and bakeries. At High Comfort, two dozen chefs prepare high-concept takes on comfort food—like the fois gras hot dog. On top of all that, there are numerous more intimate guided tasting panels. The emphasis of Feast is resolutely on food and booze—the work of dozens of chefs, including heavyweights like Hugh Acheson, Paul Qui, and April Bloomfield, is showcased alongside dozens of Oregon wineries and breweries. Coffee plays a smaller role, but is still an important presence at every event thanks entirely to Stumptown, the festival’s official coffee sponsor. It’s a fantastic opportunity for foodies from across the country to see how great coffee can be seamlessly incorporated with great food.
To balance out all the ingesting and imbibing, substance came largely in the form of an excellent speaker’s series. This year, it brought together national leaders to discuss issues like hunger in America, the role of food and nutrition in healthcare reform, and GMOs.
A sustained bout of Feasting, it turns out, is exhausting. To keep up strength for the entire weekend, my scribbling and nibbling alternated with napping. Somehow I persevered long enough to bring you this field report:
8. This tricked out 1972 Citroen from Union Wine Company, based outside of Portland in Tualatin, Oregon.
Don’t you wish your mobile coffee cart looked this good?
7. This lazer etched hazelnut.
A bunch of nerdy grad students in Oregon State University’s food sciences program figured out how to write stuff on hazelnuts (one of Oregon’s best-known specialty food crops). They spent two days lazer etching thousands of hazelnuts with the OSU logo to hand out at Feast events. I filled my pockets like a good chipmunk. Next up: Laser engraved green coffee?
6. It’s all the rage: The menagerie diet.
What follows is but a sampling of what I ate over the course of 72 hours at four different tasting events, complemented by gallons of ginger ale (which only partially tames the tummy beast that roars to life when you eat like this): Oysters, caviar, caviar, and more caviar, fois gras (on a hot dog), elk tongue, beef tongue, rabbit (three ways), lamb tartare, lamb belly, goat chili, Chinese sausage, duck crackling, fried cod, dungeness crab, herring rillette, something to do with mussels, pork cheeks, pork confit, wild boar, baked potato foam—and offal aioli. I think I saw a carrot one time, but it might have just been orange meat shaped like a cone.
5. The photo booth.
4. Stumptown, purveyor of ubiquitously awesome coffee.
Since the festival started in 2012, Stumptown has been the official coffee sponsor, with a major presence at each of the four main tasting events and tableside Chemex service at most of the dinners. Caffeinating Feasters is no mean feat: About 40 extra pairs of hands were needed to staff the weekend’s many simultaneous events, so representatives from Stumptown Seattle, including Andrew Daday, the Stumptown show runner in the Emerald City, to help out. For the Sandwich Invitational, Stumptown trotted out it’s adorable Airstream and served up cold brew to antsy eaters excited to kick off the festival. For the Night Market, they teamed with local ice cream demigods Salt & Straw to offer cold brew afogados with five-spice and fennel pollen ice cream. And for the relatively swank High Comfort event, it was all ribbons and flowers and bowties. The line was always longest at the end of the night, as people fueled up for the onslaught of afterparties.
3. Best dessert-off: Boozy Otter Pops vs. Popcorn Pavlova
It’s pretty much impossible to identify a favorite dish from the weekend, but if I had to put my finger on something sweet, it would come down to a face-off between pastry chef Kristin Murray’s Oregon berry and sweet corn pavlova and the bourbon-and-huckleberry freezies created by Sara Schafer, executive chef of Irving Street Kitchen and the host of one of the official afterparties. Murray’s dessert, featured at High Comfort, was a romp—salty popcorn embedded in a light meringue, topped with candied sweet corn, Oregon berry drizzle, and some kind of delightful crispy wafer. I ate three. (Lucky for us, she is opening her very own dessert shop in Portland in three short weeks, called Maurice.) But for sheer fun, can anything compete with a boozy Otter Pop?
2. Roasting coffee in a Whirley Pop.
In addition to obscene bouts of eating, Feast also provide an occasion for scholarship. The festival schedule includes a number of hands-on classes on topics ranging from pig butchery to cooking on salt blocks. Adam McGovern, the charming owner of Portland’s Sterling Coffee Roasters, taught the festival’s only class focused on coffee with professorial flair. McGovern’s overview of how factors like processing and geography contribute to flavor was easy for attendees to grasp without sacrificing smarts. (If you’ve never heard him wax poetic on coffee, put in on your bucket list.)
Once the talking was over and the roasting was underway, it was delightful chaos—over the din of 8 Whirley Pops being swirled simultaneously over eight flames, you could make out the participants’ excited exclamations: “I think I hear first crack!”
1. This thimbleful of whiskey.
Stein Distilling was my favorite discovery of the whole festival. I like every single thing about them. Their whiskey is made from grain grown by the distillers on their Eastern Oregon farm. Their labelling is unpretentious and charming and horn-driven. Their rye is one of the best American ryes I’ve tasted lately, and it was served to me in this thimblecup. If I could get my hand on a box of these, I would never drink whiskey out of anything else.