It's that time of year again — Grammy season for the foodie world — when the prestigious James Beard Foundation hands out awards to the best chefs, bartenders, cookbook writers and other top professionals in food and drink.
Once again Portland has a fair showing: Five local chefs and one bar program have made it to the short list of nominees, with the winners to be announced May 7 at a national gala. They are Bonnie Morales, Katy Millard, Jenn Louis, Justin Woodward and Joshua McFadden.
We sat down with two of the nominees to talk about their success, inspirations and what's next on their list of passions to tackle.
Here are some thoughts from Morales, chef/owner of Kachka, one of the nominees for Best Chef Northwest (along with Katy Millard, chef/owner of Coquine, and Woodward, chef/owner of Castagna):
Tribune: Bonnie, congratulations on all of your success with Kachka, and the cookbook! Where do you take it from here?
Morales: Thank you so much! We are about to open a new, larger location on Southeast 11th Avenue and Belmont Street. Attached to the new location will be a small deli which is going to be a very fun project for us. The old location will be turned into a lounge called "Kachinka" or "little Kachka" expanding on our popular happy hour. Additionally, we have a vodka that we produce in partnership with Eastside Distilling. Once we get in our groove at the new location, we hope to be able to spend some time expanding that offering and availability to other markets.
Tribune: What inspires you nowadays in the Portland food and drink scene? What are we still missing?
Morales: I was just talking to someone yesterday about the Greektown in Chicago and realized that there isn't enough Greek food here. I miss it. What is so inspiring about the Portland dining scene is how scrappy it is. In other markets you see the results of investors influencing decision making and diluting or sterilizing concepts. In Portland, there are so many small restaurants that are chef-owned and you can feel the heart that's put into it.
Tribune: Tell us about spring at Kachka — what are your current menu inspirations, and one dish that reflects the season perfectly. How much time do you spend on refining the menu, and how do you typically approach it?
Morales: I love spring! All of the bright "green" flavors are so energizing coming off months of root vegetables. Though a large portion of our menu is evergreen, we do make seasonal shifts to about 15 percent of it. My favorite springtime thing right now is probably the green borsch. It's a soup of nettles, sorrel, asparagus and favas. It is just so nourishing and satisfying.
Meanwhile, McFadden, the executive chef of Ava Gene's, is nominated for his new vegetable-focused cookbook, "Six Seasons: A New Way with Vegetables," with Martha Holmberg.
Also nominated in this category is Ray chef/owner Jenn Louis with Kathleen Squires, who just released "The Book of Greens: A Cook's Compendium."
(Another local James Beard awards nominee is Clyde Common, for Outstanding Bar).
Here's what McFadden had to say:
Tribune: Joshua, congratulations on "Six Seasons"! It looks beautiful, informative and inspiring. Why focus on vegetables rather than do an Ava Gene's or pasta cookbook?
McFadden: One of the things I address right at the beginning of the book is that the magic doesn't start in the restaurant. It starts on a farm. Or in orchard. It comes from nature and the farmers who work with nature in the right way. Ava Gene's has always been about providing access to that magic, and many of the recipes in the book can be found on the menu. But I wanted the book to provide readers — who come from all different levels of cooking experience — the tools and ideas necessary to access the flavor and nutrition of seasonal vegetables.
Tribune: Talk to us about the current season — late March/early April. What sort of veggies should we be watching for at the farmers market and cooking with?
McFadden: We are just getting to the point when new local produce starts to become available. It's so exciting! Greens like spinach, arugula, and chard are already available. Fava beans, early peas, and radishes will soon provide new flavors and texture to start combining with other grains, leafy greens, and proteins. When you start seeing these things at farmers markets, you know winter is over. And once they start coming in, you know other things will start arriving every week.
Tribune: Pie-in-the-sky talk here: What would your dream project be? Another restaurant in Portland? A totally different concept? What really inspires you in the current PDX food/drink scene?
McFadden: I know it sounds cheesy, but starting Submarine Hospitality with Luke Dirks IS my pie-in-the-sky project. Continuing to help Ava Gene's evolve, watching what Sam Smith has done with Tusk, continuing to work with local farmers, and developing new projects with a passionate and talented team ... it's just amazing and energizing every day. It's what I've been working toward throughout my career. I have my dream job, and continuing to see where it goes is all I want to do.
'America's First Foodie'
Anyone interested in food or drink will also enjoy the upcoming screening of "America's First Foodie," the newly released documentary about Portland native James Beard's life influences and impact on the food world.
Produced by Beth Federici and Kathleen Squires, the feature-length documentary takes a playful yet true-to-life look at the pioneer's life as a child, young man and then cook/mentor/entertainer, through printed oral history crafted by Beard himself, archival footage and interviews.
Beard's death in 1985 sparked the creation of the James Beard House in New York City, a scholarship fund for young chefs and generations of chefs who've shaped the culinary landscape in Portland and the U.S. into what it is today.
A screening of the film is set for 8 p.m. May 5 at the Portland Art Museum's Whitsell Auditorium, 1219 S.W. Park Ave. It will also screen on the PBS series "American Masters," 9 p.m. May 19. For details, and to watch the trailer, see www.nwfilm.org/films/james-beard-americas-first-foodie.
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