Portland: A Booming Foodie Community

November 5, 2013 at 9:48 am Leave a comment

After a wonderful kickoff in New York City, the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness’ (NFCA) GREAT Kitchens team headed to Portland this week for the second leg of the Gluten-Free Chef’s Table tour.  Upon entering the city, Beckee Moreland, NFCA’s Director of Gluten-Free Industry Initiatives and Chef Ambassador Jehangir Mehta, were greeted with unseasonably warm weather and a full schedule of activities.

The first day began Monday, October 28 at the International Foodservice Editorial Council’s (IFEC) Annual Conference.  IFEC brings foodservice media, communicators and retail food product companies together to discuss food trends, what food topics will be written about in 2014 and provides companies with a chance to introduce their brand/product/service to some of the foodservice community’s most influential individuals.  As a part of the conference’s welcome reception, the GREAT Kitchens Chef’s Table Tour presented a delicious gluten-free dish, masterfully created by Chef Mehta, to attendees as they arrived.  The dish, an onion-seed shrimp wrap, proved to attendees that safe, gluten-free food can be complex, full of flavor, delicious and prepared properly with no cross-contact worries.

Guests from publications like Nation’s Restaurant News and Campus Dining Today stopped by the table to discuss the GREAT Kitchens gluten-free training program for both restaurants and universities, as well as the purpose of the educational tour. Also, organizations like the National Pork Board and brands like Chobani stopped by to discuss gluten-free options and recipes.  As NFCA engaged in ongoing conversations with media/organizations in Portland, the GREAT Kitchens team encountered that Portland restaurants/individuals have increasingly embraced serving customer’s dietary needs, including a booming interest in gluten-free offerings.  With that, the team set out to educate Portland restaurants/foodservice establishments on the need for proper gluten-free training to ensure that those with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity have access to safe gluten-free options when dining out.

Portland: A Booming Foodie Community: Chef Jehangir Mehta speaking at IFEC

Chef Mehta explaining the importance of safe gluten-free food preparation.

Portland: A Booming Foodie Community: Shrimp

This shrimp was amazing!

On Tuesday, October 29, the GREAT Kitchens team headed to its first restaurant event, held at Beast in Portland.  Beast is owned by Naomi Pomeroy, a chef you may recognize from Top Chef Masters.  Chef Naomi opened her doors for a private luncheon specifically for Portland/national food and health media and bloggers, including Portland Monthly and the Portland Business Journal to name a few.  The luncheon began with a brief introduction to GREAT Kitchens and the NFCA before heading into a four course gluten-free meal, prepared exclusively for the group by Chef Naomi and Chef Jehangir.

The meal began with butternut squash velouté with fried herbs and creme fraiche created by Chef Naomi, followed by a delicious chicory and apple salad with a brown butter & sherry vinaigrette. While guests sampled their meal, Chef Mehta prepared a cumin red snapper with shishito, beet and a chickpea onion ring.  For individuals with celiac, often they go without food like onion rings because of ingredients and access to a dedicated fryer.  For this meal, Chef Jehangir created a dedicated frying pot and used a chickpea flour to make the batter gluten-free. For dessert, Chef Naomi created Quince and Frangipane Galette with lemon verbena ice cream. The full meal was a great opportunity to showcase to media that creating delicious gluten-free food does not mean you have to compromise on flavor or technique.  In addition, some of the best feedback that was received was how receptive attendees were to supporting NFCA’s mission of making safe gluten-free food for those with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity in Portland.

Throughout the meal, Chef Naomi and Chef Jehangir both went into detail about exchanging ingredients in their restaurants to serve a gluten-free customer safely. The event truly was a great success and provided the opportunity for media/bloggers in Portland to ask one-on-one questions about celiac disease and accessibility for gluten-free foods in restaurant and retail environments.

Portland: A Booming Foodie Community: Chefs Naomi Pomeroy and Jehangir Mehta at Beast

Chef Naomi Pomeroy and Chef Jehangir Mehta at “Beast”

The second event on Tuesday was a media/blogger event at Imperial by Vitaly Paley.  Chef Vitaly is very well-known in the Portland community, particularly because of his interest in keeping menu items truly farm-to-table, enabling the opportunity for guests to try new items based on seasonality or availability of produce.  National foodservice media such as Plate Magazine and Portland media/bloggers came out to celebrate and learn about the tour and indulge in a gluten-free tasting menu.  Chef Vitaly overdid himself but creating unique dishes like puffed sorghum (sourced from Bob’s Red Mill), a slow-braised veal and a delicious icebox cake.  Chef Vitaly also provided the group the unique opportunity to taste a limited offering of sorghum whiskey that he was commissioned to create earlier in the year.  The stop garnered more 20 guests, all of which are influencers in the Portland market. Chef Paley recently released a new menu with gluten-free menu items, as well as added a new grill that will remain free of gluten, and believes executing the proper training is the only way for staff to truly understand the proper protocols for serving the gluten-free guest.  It was a GREAT night!

Portland: A Booming Foodie Community:Portland: A Booming Foodie Community: Chefs Paley and Mehta

Chef Vitaly Paley of Imperial and Chef Jehangir Mehta discussing gluten-free food preparation.

The two restaurant events were a huge success.  We look forward to reading the recaps of the evening in the blogs/publications in attendance.

October 30th started off with the opportunity for NFCA to participate in a KATU-TV segment that addresses the gluten-free diner in Portland.  Beckee Moreland talked to KATU’s Valerie Hurst about her experience as a gluten-free consumer at a restaurant and went through a menu, discussing questions she asks during a restaurant experience, including ingredients and kitchen protocols.  Chef Vitaly also participated in the segment, showcasing his gluten-free menu and sharing his thoughts on the importance of serving all customers in his restaurants, including those with dietary restrictions or celiac disease.

The last event we participated in was a trip to Portland State University.  With students and the foodservice staff equally excited for gluten-free options, Chef Mehta cooked alongside Chef Matt Kemp from PSU. Jehangir created a shrimp wrap that was a huge hit by students, who lined up outside his station beginning at 11:00 a.m., with some grabbing 2-3 for their plate.  While on campus, the NFCA team had the opportunity to speak with Portland State students with celiac disease and were excited to hear the strides that Portland State are taking to serve these student’s needs.  With a “worry-free” station that includes gluten-free, dairy-free, peanut-free items, students are given the opportunity to have safe, gluten-free dishes.  Although a limited selection according to students, the university is making strides in increasing its offerings and the staff is passionate about being accommodating to all students. We look forward to the opportunity to work with Portland State in the future through our GREAT Kitchens training program.

Portland: A Booming Foodie Community: Chefs Kemp and Mehta

Chef Matt Kemp of Portland State University preparing gluten-free dishes for the PSU students with Chef Mehta.

Overall, Portland was a great example of a city taking the right steps in serving the gluten-free consumer, including businesses like Petunia’s and Tula’s, two gluten-free bakeries that NFCA visited while in the city. With dedicated bakeries and other restaurants increasing gluten-free offerings, NFCA found that Portland is in the forefront of making the necessary steps to increase options for people living with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity.

On to the next stop: Seattle!

– The GREAT Kitchens Gluten-Free Chef’s Table Tour team

P.S. Follow the tour on Facebook or by following the hashtags #GREATKitchens or #GFChefsTable on Twitter.  We’re posting lots of photos from the road on Instagram, too!

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