As I mentioned last week, Feast Portland is just around the corner! There will be food, there will be drink, and at least on my end, there will be an extended break from wearing structured fabrics.
A little while ago, because clearly he wasn’t busy enough (I kid, I kid), one half of the team that started the whole thing took some time to chat with me. Mike Thelin is co-founder and co-owner of Feast Portland. His consulting business oversees regional and national programs and initiatives for organizations like Whole Foods Market, Travel Portland and more. He has also been quoted or featured in Portland Business Journal, Forbes, Money Magazine, Seattle Magazine, Kinfolk, and other publications. We discussed important things like Scandinavian food, Oregon’s incredible bounty beyond the city limits of Portland, and cocktails. I may have to reevaluate my standby margarita recipe and save the Cointreau for sidecars. It’s a momentous change, and I’ll keep you posted. Meanwhile, let’s talk to Mike!
You launched Feast Portland with a very impressive lineup in 2012, partnering with Bon Appetit and bringing in the most recognizable names in the industry. The momentum just keeps going, not just in terms of featuring famous chefs and tastemakers, but also in terms of your charitable mission — the event has raised over $162,000 toward ending hunger. How has Feast changed in the four years, and what’s remained the same?
What has remained the same is our commitment to our city, our region and our charities. We want to continue to showcase the best of Portland and Oregon, and to raise significant funds for our charities. What changes every year is some of our programming details. Like any outlet for entertainment in the food world, we work hard to pay attention to what’s happening in the food world and work to keep our programming fresh. So this is less about change and more about evolution — and luckily Team Feast is a talented group of people who are up for the challenge. We embrace change and love change. It is who we are.
I know you’re particularly excited about the Norway/Austin/Portland dinner series with Chef Christopher Haatuft of Bergen, Norway. Scandinavian cuisine has gotten quite a bit of attention lately — is Portland, with its culture and climate, a uniquely well suited environment to showcase it?
Yes. Portland and Oregon is home to many of Norwegian descent, including both Carrie [Carrie Welch, the other co-founder of Feast Portland] and I, and western Norway looks a lot like the Pacific Northwest. Christopher will
…And how does Austin fit into that picture?
Paul Qui’s style really meshes well with Christopher’s, so we wanted to see what would happen when we put them together. Paul actually went to Bergen, Norway in May for a practice dinner.
This year, the Feast lineup includes Texas barbecue masters, Paris-trained pastry chefs, NYC media giants, San Francisco sommeliers, and chefs from the UK, Canada, and all over the United States. How do you balance the local with the global?
We just try to put together a lineup that’s interesting and cool, and luckily the food world is full of diverse personalities and offerings. It honestly just falls into place. Everyone on our team gets excited about whom to invite.
Feast is not just international; you’re also bringing in chefs, winemakers, distillers, and artisans from throughout Oregon. Was it intentional to represent smaller Oregon communities like Ashland, Eugene, Salem, Depoe Bay, Bandon, etc. to create a sense of community, globally and locally?
It is absolutely intentional. We are an Oregon festival first and a Portland festival second. Portland is a great destination and a great city, but it wouldn’t have a food scene without those amazing Oregon ingredients. So when you talk about Oregon, you have to talk about all of it.
Girls! Girls! Girls! is a Feast chef collaborative featuring an all-female lineup. It’s badass and I love this idea. How did it come about?
We decided we wanted to do a dinner featuring top female chefs in 2014, and it was so popular, we brought it back.
Feast is not just a food festival — the wineries, distilleries, and breweries you’re bringing in could stand alone as a beverage festival. Was this the case from the first Feast Portland, or did the festival evolve to feature drinks?
Thanks for noticing! The food and beverage world is the same world. You can’t talk about food without drink — and we’ve been dedicated to that balance since day one. That said, we have learned that our guests respond well to drink panels above all else — so this year we actually decided to focus ALL of our tasting panel content on wine, beer and spirits — and we even renamed it to “Drink Tank.”
This year, for example, you’re devoting an entire Drink Tank event to the margarita. So I’m curious: How do you make your margaritas?
There is only one way. Tequila, lime juice (find key limes or cut normal limes with a little orange juice if you can’t find key limes), and simple syrup. Forget the triple sec.
Lastly, it’s a beautiful day in Portland and I’m hungry. Where should I go get lunch?
The answer to that question is always Maurice if you’re having the type of day where that lunch can be long and leisurely.
Oh, and about that last question…
I’ve been meaning to go to Maurice for ages, or at least since 2014, when this beautiful, quaint pastry luncheonette was named one of Bon Appetit’s 10 best new restaurants in the country. I cook a lot and don’t dine out often, but Mike gave me the push I needed to just.make.it.happen. I’m so glad I did. It wasn’t lunchtime, which actually turned out for the best — the place was enjoying a lull, so I got a chance to say hi to Kristen Murray, the talented chef behind Maurice. She was basically conducting a thoughtful, personalized wine tasting for a couple of other patrons — whenever she had a chance to step away from something delicious she was stirring in a big cast-iron cocotte. If that’s not a true hospitality professional, I don’t know who is. I should note that she is participating in the Bon Appetit Hot Ten dinner series at Feast, which is sadly sold out. But, you can always pop in at Maurice on a late Wednesday afternoon like I did.
The quiche was a stunner, naturally — fromage blanc, squash blossoms, mint flowers, and a perfectly silky, wobbly texture. There will be more trips to Maurice in the future for me, I’m sure. Many thanks to Kristen for dinner, and to Mike: For the chat, for the Feast, and for the nudge to finally visit this Portland gem.