What does Portland look like through the gauzy lens of national food magazines? If you slip into the perspective taken by the writers of feature stories like the one recently unveiled in Gourmet, Portland is a pure and earnest city where principles march over pomposity. It's a place where good people till the good earth for good food. Can you feel the brush of clean khaki against your skin as your chest expands and your chin juts out, turning you, dear Portlander, into a living WPA portrait?
Gourmet calls Portland a place where "a warm day brings everyone out of the woodwork in the leafy Northwest district, sauntering along Northwest 21st and Northwest 23rd to soak up the sun, drink cappuccino, parade rosy-cheeked babies, and browse the shops in old Craftsman houses," gushing in that breathless way only a visiting journo with a fat expense account can. Gentle readers, don't get Miss Dish wrong. She, too, believes that Portland is a magical place where hobbits and elves make merry with a twinkle in their eyes. But she also knows that Portland is a place where what feel like gale-force winds pummel citizens for days on end, local sports "heroes" bitch-slap fans and passive-aggressiveness is an elevated art. While the highly talented Portland photographer Susan Seubert's commercial work, which complemented the Gourmet article, is rich with dappled sunlight and smiling bread-bearers, her award-winning fine artwork features dark portraits of pastoral spots where murderers have dumped bodies.
The fact is, those articles (what they call in the industry "service pieces") aren't supposed to service us. Outsiders don't need to see our dirty undergarments. That's what we have insiders for.
So it's a welcome relief that there are locals working in the trenches to uncover the stories that make our state and our city so uniquely ours. One example of this is the upcoming documentary Life in Vine, slated to appear on OPB at 8:30 pm Wednesday, Jan. 16, which seeks to uncover the grittier side of Oregon winemaking. Filmmaker Matt Giraud (who has a sordid past covering the wine beat for this very newspaper) traces the 1999 vintage from winter pruning to fall harvest. What's caught on film is the unpredictability of the process, the geeky winemakers in their tousled garb and, as in most things Oregon, the weather. In only a half-hour of running time, Giraud has made a short film that's just as romantic as those magazine pieces (no cutting barbs about other wineries or details about turf wars), but a whole bunch more real. Whenever a magazine does a spread on Oregon wine country, glasses are clinking and the sun is gleaming on our miracle valley. Giraud's take (he's careful to note that his project was in no way funded by the wine industry) is much more soggy and far more informative. Let's hope he continues his project with Life in Bottle, surely a wholly different story.
And speaking of good people tilling good earth for good food, there's a fund-raising dinner to benefit Portland's Slow Food chapter (this is the international movement that hopes to make quarter-pounders a thing of the past by exposing sustainable ways of eating and cooking) at 6:30 pm Thursday, Jan. 10, at Genoa. Get this, the guest of honor at the dinner is Lynne Rosetto Kasper, whose voice you'll probably recognize from hosting NPR's cooking talkfest, The Splendid Table. Rosetto Kasper is teaching a professional class to the cooks at Genoa, and the meal will be based on what they learn. The star is a pasticcio di tortellini con crema di cannella, which, according to Genoa's Kerry Debuse, is a Renaissance-era pie with tortellini, meatballs, an elaborate Baroque ragu, and a sweet, cinnamon-scented custard, all encased in a sweet pastry. Sigh. This can be yours for the price of $125, wine inclusive. Call Genoa at 238-1464 to sign up.