Nobody goes to a food festival to eat. Anyone who can afford a $465 ticket to Feast, which will occupy visiting food nerds and local Twitterazzi for the next four days, knows this. In the best moments, you're standing under a tent with a plastic fork, balancing a glass of boxed wine, eating mass-produced grub made with sponsor-donated ingredients. Otherwise, you're waiting in line.
Even food that travels well, like barbecue, is a disappointment. Take it from someone who's had Aaron Franklin's brisket at his Austin eatery and at last year's version of Feast's $95 Sandwich Invitational: Hors d'oeuvres off a Sterno-heated catering rig are a poor substitute for the real deal. The chef collaborations remain interesting, but they're pricey and all sold out.
So the real reason to go is to hobnob. And at this year's Feast, there's a way to do that for a mere $5. At Friday afternoon's Cookbook Social, you can meet some of the best and brightest at the entire festival. Then as well-heeled foodies head off to the $125 Asian night market—which is sold out anyway—go to Tanuki, Hokusei or Mirakutei and go crazy with a $50 omakase.
Here's who you want to meet at the Cookbook Social and what to ask them.
Gabriel Rucker of Le Pigeon, who made the best meal we've eaten all year. Ask him about the time he charged some willing bro $36 for his famous burger, more than double the price. Or about the sketch in his restroom: an unflattering portrait of a food critic felled by gluttony.
Lucy Burningham, co-author of the bikey beer guide Hop in the Saddle. Ask this well-traveled local writer about beer in the Galápagos Islands, Croatian distillers and fluoridation.
John Holl, author of The American Craft Beer Cookbook. Cooking with beer is the most boring thing you can bring up with this former New York Times reporter. Instead, ask about beer in Antarctica and how craft beer has influenced music in the last 30 years.
Mark Bitterman, co-owner of the Meadow food boutique and author of the Beard Award-winning cookbook Salted. Ask him how to tell the difference between savory and dessert salts.
WW contributor Michael Zusman and restaurateur Nick Zukin, co-authors of The Artisan Jewish Deli at Home. Ask them about Mexico City, Oregon Ducks football and Ken Gordon.
Allen Salkin, who has a book coming out Oct. 1 about the drama inside the nascent Food Network. Ask him if he was at all surprised by Paula Deen's racism or Guy Fieri's douchebaggery.
Ken Forkish of Ken's Artisan Bakery and the book Flour, Water, Salt, Yeast. Tell him you're a big fan but you're pretty sure you're allergic to gluten. Does he make a gluten-free levain?
Portland Monthly food writer Karen Brooks, the festival's spirit guide and author of The Mighty Gastropolis. Tell her you're a writer for a national magazine and need a grand tour of Portland food.