IMAGE: Tom Oliver
WW: Why is it important to you as a chef to be sustainable?
Marco Shaw: I live here, and it's important to support the people who live here. [Also], products tend to taste better when they come from somewhere close, because they are, by nature, fresher.
Why is Fife trying to become the first certified organic restaurant in the state?
I don't believe in doing things half-ass. I think if you say, "We support local products," that's what you do, not just when the product is cheaper or just abundant.
Where do you place Portland in the nationwide sustainable movement?
I'd say we're on the forefront, because we have a unique advantage. Many other food cities have bigger restaurants, and it's harder to find small farms to supply big restaurants consistently. Also, we have a really good proximity to farmland.
What's the biggest challenge of working one-on-one with farmers?
We're basically at the whim of what the farmers have. You have to plan [ahead]: We buy enough berries when in season to freeze them so we have them all winter long. There are eight to 10 weeks a year when there isn't a lot to choose from and we have to figure out a way to use what there is. We have to push ourselves to come up with something better than the previous day or find new ways to use things in an interesting way.
Any advice for younger chefs who want to go the sustainable route?
Go out to a farm and see what they do. See for yourself how it is grown, what can be grown and how much. And at some point you have to realize that it's a symbiotic relationship. But mostly, stick to your guns. It's easy as hell to be sustainable in July. But you have to push your own limits to do it January.