Sunday, Sept. 23
10:30 am: Guess I woke up too late for Feast’s official bike ride and brunch send off event. Very sad about this. Scratched out a bunch of Feast diary material before heading off for more work: an interview with Andy Ricker and David Thompson.
2 pm: After nagging my favorite Thai food chefs for an hour with scattershot questions, I grab an espresso at Stumptown up the street. Late dinner tonight prepared by these same chefs.
8:30 pm: Full house for the Thompson/Ricker feast. Ricker offers pre-meal greetings, describes Thompson as his “hero.” Thompson consumes adult beverages and cracks jokes. The crowd eats it up, so to speak. The food is ridiculous—a roulette wheel of super-charged flavors and divergent textures. Two dishes, poussin jungle curry and a shrimp and chili soup crank the capsaicin dial to a sweat-inducing peak. Thompson jokes with me about adding ghost pepper to a dish or two for my planned visit to Nahm, his restaurant in London. He says it’s like driving a hot nail through your tongue and flashes an evil grin. I respond with feigned bravado then retreat to my table to glug some more soda in a vain attempt to extinguish the smoldering mouth fire.
10:30 pm: Feast over, this old man goes rolling home.
Monday, Sept. 24
At the end of the day:
Feast v1.0 was a great event. It was superlatively organized and executed, all credit to founders Mike Thelin, Carrie Welch and their assembled battalion of resolutely cheerful black- and orange-shirted staff and volunteers. During the course of the event, it’s been simple to sling barbs as it always is when you are on the outside looking in. But my concerns and most of the criticism I heard from others targeted details: pricing, personalities, participation and use of proceeds topping the list. These are elements that can and presumably will be considered and refined over time.
The nut of the Feast idea—a national scale, extended weekend party/event showcasing Oregon’s culinary wealth through the talents of locals and guests—is not just fundamentally sound, but overdue. Though it can be overstated (and frequently is), Portland is a unique and wonderful place, especially when it comes to food and dining. As I have meandered around the country and the continents over the last 30 years, there is nowhere that comes closer to the ideal combination of hospitable climate, manageable scale and accommodating culture. To my periodic chagrin, there is no going back to the sleepy burg where I grew up in the 1960s and '70s. And I’m no longer convinced that the national media can or will squeeze the essence out of this magical place, then move on to Des Moines. (This is not to be confused with any fondness for the national food media. It is only to say that the Bon Appetits and Food Networks of the world now see Portland as worth a long-term relationship rather than a quick and dirty one-night stand.)
As Feast unfolded, I had to remind myself again and again not to overthink it. Food obsessives—the target audience for an event like this—are predominantly upper middle class and white. There was no pretense that the event was seeking to be all inclusive. All the marquee events—and many of the secondary ones—sold out. The organizers insisted they had to charge what they charged to make the event happen and any proceeds would be donated to charity. I don’t doubt it.
At the visceral level, Feast was a helluvalot of fun. It was fun to eat all the food. It was fun to meet some of the out of town chefs and media. It was fun to gather with friends and colleagues for a large-scale, unprecedented event celebrating food culture—which is what I’ve heard from most everyone I've spoken with about it. It was also great fun to share my experiences with others.
Looking forward to Feast Portland 2013—and I hope Jeff Steingarten shows up again. For sure, I’ll offer him a Pepcid next time.