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Oregon delegation hopes to bring taste for tempeh back to Rockwood community

PMG PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER KEIZUR - Willie Chambers and Mike Hillis plan on bringing a love of tempeh to Rockwood. Two years ago a traditional Indonesian fete was held in the heart of Rockwood.

As part of the 2017 Rockwood International Food and Tempeh Celebration, organizers Mike Hillis and Willie Chambers participated in slametan, a meal that symbolizes the social unity among those sharing meals. Each person cut from the top of the dish, serving one another.

That event brought international food dignitaries into Rockwood to learn about exciting things happening in the community. Next month, Hillis and Chambers will travel with a group to Indonesia to discover even more about tempeh.

"I feel this is the turning point for tempeh in our country," Hillis said.

Similar to tofu, Tempeh is a soy product that originates from Indonesia. What sets it apart is a fermentation process that gives the food a higher content of protein, dietary fiber and vitamins.

With its firm texture and earthy flavor, tempeh is massively popular in Indonesia, and the group believes it can inspire the same love within the United States. Even Chambers, a Gresham resident who spent 40 years as a meat cutter, enjoys the plant-based food.

"I believe in tempeh because it is on the verge of taking off," he said.

Leaving on March 19, the delegation will be gone for almost two weeks, visiting locations across Indonesia, meeting with food makers, and taking part in a 12-course tempeh meal.

The idea is for participants to bring what they learned back to Rockwood and launch a nonprofit organization in the community, possibly based at the future Rockwood Rising site. There, they can produce tempeh and teach people of its benefits.

The facilities would eventually be located in urban food deserts and communities of color across the nation, allowing for job creation, community health and the strengthening of community bonds — all thanks to a plate of tasty food.

"It would start here," Hillis said. "Tempeh can put Rockwood on the map."

Tempeh trip

Willie Chambers is raising funds to help him travel to Indonesia to learn about tempeh.

To contribute, visit willie-chambers-to-indonesia

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