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Portland to Honor Native James Beard

Beverly Stephen - November 4th, 2013

“Raise your hand if you know James Beard was from Portland.” This challenge was presented at the recent International Foodservice Editors Conference in Beard's native city. The percentage of hands raised was relatively small considering the makeup of the audience.

But that's all about to change as Portland boosters forge ahead with plans to open The James Beard Public Market in 2017. Board member Wendy Lane, president of Lane PR, and Mike Thelin, an organizer of Feast Portland, explained the project and filled attendees in on the history of the food revolution in Oregon. While not as game-changing as the movement in California, events in Oregon were significant and have put Portland on the map as one of the country’s major food cities. It’s no accident that Portland ended up as the star of the television series Portlandia.

They traced the beginnings of today's Oregon cuisine to the 1970s, when the first sophisticated restaurants were opened and the wine industry started. Lane recalled going on the first wine tour in 1976, which only included Dave Lett, Charles Coury, and Dick Erath, who was operating out of his garage. Today, there are more than 500 Oregon wineries.

“When Eyrie Vineyards won second place in the Beaune Tasting in 1980, it put Oregon on the world stage,” Lane recalled.

Lane prepared a timeline showing the rise to prominence of Portland restaurants:

In the 1980s, Ron Paul opens the first upscale deli in Portland, and Greg Higgins expands fine dining with the Heathman Restaurant and Bar.

In the 1990s, farm-to-table begins. Significant openings include Bruce Carey, Chris Israel, and Monique Siu (Zefiro); David Machado (Pazzo); Corey Schreiber (Wildwood); Greg Higgins (Higgins Restaurant); Vitaly Paley (Paley's Place). Philippe Boulot arrives at the Heathman Restaurant. Schreiber, and others, begin raking in James Beard awards for Best Chef, Northwest. Duane Sorenson opens Stumptown Coffee Roasters, followed by scores of other smaller roasters.

In the 2000s, Machado opens Lauro Kitchen, thus beginning restaurant growth on Portland's east side. He is soon followed by Zefiro co-founder Siu and husband Kevin Gibson opening Castagna. The Ripe Supper Club begins creating an underground dining movement while attracting top chefs to Portland. Ripe implodes in 2006 but its chefs go on to debut Le Pigeon, Ned Ludd, Sugar Cube and many more.

The longtime chef protégés at top Portland restaurants open their own places. Nate Tilden of Castagna opens Clyde Common. Adam Sappington and Jenn Louis of Wildwood debut the Country Cat and Lincoln, respectively.

The food cart explosion defies the down economy—both activating the streetscape and incubating businesses to go on to brick-and-mortar locations.

“All of a sudden, we were golden,” Lane said.

“Feast bottled the lightning,” Thelin added, declaring that the festival captured the energy and enthusiasm of the region.

This September, The James Beard Public Market website ( and a $20 million fund raising campaign was launched to get the project off the ground. “This will be a place where vendors can showcase all of the best cheeses, produce, wine, et cetera from the state,” Lane explained. “This will be the only James Beard public market in the country. It's an opportunity to grow visibility that James Beard came from Oregon.”