An Ode To One Of The Most Compelling Food Scenes In The Country, Now In Print

Read an excerpt from 'Portland Cooks,' and cook your way through the city's best restaurants.

October 17, 2017 ● 3 min read

You've seen Portlandia. You've made strange noises over an unthinkably beautiful plate of hot wings at Pok Pok. You know what to order at Salt & Straw. You've marveled at the rooftop gardens all over the city, and waited in line at Powell's. No matter how many times you think you've got Portland, Oregon on lock, something new and marvelous reveals itself. The food in this quaint corner of the Pacific Northwest just keeps getting better—and now there's a way you can recreate some of that secret sauce at home.

James Beard Award-winning food writer, recipe developer, and cookbook author Danielle Centoni gathered up 80 recipes from 40 local favorites in Portland Cooks: Recipes from the City’s Best Restaurants and Bars just so you can keep the good vibes going long after you settle the check. Read the introduction below and enter to win your copy over on Instagram!

By Danielle Centoni | Photographs by Leela Cyd

Nobody saw it coming, the national preoccupation with Portland’s food scene.

Nobody expected our sleepy, midsize city to be mentioned in the same breath as New York and San Francisco. We were in our own little blissed-out bubble, oblivious to the fact that the rest of the world didn’t have a small-batch coffee roaster on every corner, local craft beer on every tap, and pedigreed chefs cooking in food carts.

What was newsworthy elsewhere was simply the way of life. Of course the bartenders made their own bitters. Of course the chefs went foraging. Of course they made by hand or locally sourced everything, from the rooftop honey to the charcuterie. We never quite realized how spoiled we were until the articles arrived in a steady stream, month after month: the New York Times, Travel + Leisure, Bon Appétit, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times again, and again. And then came the James Beard nominations, followed by wins, followed by tourists coming just to eat and drink.
Portland, it turns out, was on the cutting edge without ever trying to be, and now our city is synonymous with DIY scrappiness, rule-breaking creativity, and a die-hard collaborative spirit. They’re even recreating our restaurants in Tokyo—lock, stock, and barrel.

We get it now. We know how lucky we are. And if we forget, it only takes a trip out of town to remind us. It wasn’t always like this, though, despite Portland’s claim to fame as the hometown of James Beard himself. How did we get from ho-hum to “big in Japan?”

You could say it’s our geography, a city encircled by family farms, world-class wineries, forageable forests, and fishable rivers, and a stone’s throw from the bountiful sea. The ingredients at our fingertips are nothing short of inspiring.

Chef Akkapong "Earl" Ninsom of Langbaan; at top, Chef Annie Cugino of Q Restaurant and Bar.

You could say the relatively cheap rent, and even cheaper liquor licenses, makes it easier for entrepreneurial chefs and artisan producers to strike out on their own, free to follow their bliss without any corporate handcuffs.

Or you could say it’s in our culture, a captive audience of curious and knowledgeable food lovers who know their Hood strawberries from their Seascapes, who welcome culinary risk-taking, who don’t stand for mediocrity. You can try anything here, but it better be good.

I say it’s all of those things, but they would mean nothing without our deep pool of talent in front of the stoves and behind the bars. The uncompromising creativity of the chefs, bartenders, restaurateurs, and food producers driving our food scene is our richest resource. And that’s what this book is all about.

These pages are a celebration of the pioneers, game changers, upstarts, and torchbearers who help put Portland on the culinary map. These are the talents at the beating heart of it all, and they’re graciously sharing some of their greatest hits with us. Some recipes are an adventure, requiring a trip to the Asian market, while others are a snap to pull off on any given weeknight. But they’re all fantastic and eminently doable (and we have an army of home-cook recipe testers to prove it).

Through their recipes, these chefs and bartenders offer a glimpse of what goes into your favorite dishes. And together, their stories paint a portrait of what makes life in Portland so delicious.