Planes, Trains and Traveling Chefs: Battle Portland vs. Seattle

The age old battle for foodie city supremacy in the Northwest took to the kitchen this spring.  Now if you don't live in either Portland or Seattle let us set the table for this epic battle.  Seattle is home of Starbucks and a coffee shop on each corner, grunge music, Eastside techies working at Microsoft or a wireless company (who keep Starbuck's in business), engineers building airplanes at Boeing and the iconic Space Needle.  Portland definitely gets the nod for advanced city transportation (something that Seattle can't seem to figure out), taking eco-friendly to an entirely new level, bikes, microbreweries, roses, kicked-up sneaks (home of Nike) and who can pass up the guilt-free no tax shopping.

With the recent spotlight being placed on Portland with the hit IFC series Portlandia (written by and starring Fred Armisen (SNL) and Carrie Brownstein (Wild Flag vocalist/guitarist)), Seattle had to up the anti. One of our favorite restaurants Matt's in the Market (who can beat the view overlooking the famed Pike Place Market) decided to throw down the proverbial gauntlet and challenge not only Portland, but the  entire I-5 corridor to a food throw down in Seattle. Actually it ended up being far friendlier than that with the head chef Chester "Chet" Gerl hosting and collaborating with six acclaimed chefs from California to Canada.

So what was the intent of such an interesting line-up for the "Planes, Trains and Traveling Chefs" series that was comprised of a Master Chef, Iron Chef, James Beard Award winners and cookbook authors? We asked Dan Bugge, owner of Matt's in the Market, just that very question during one of the dinners we attended.  

Dan Bugge, owner of Matt's in the Market
Dan explained that it really all came together when he and Chet were talking about their five years at the restaurant together and their wish list of whom they would love to have come cook as a guest chef to celebrate this milestone.  Apparently they had very diverse ideas and lists, but an all-star line-up none the less.  So they birthed the idea of the series by just starting to call and invite a bunch of these favorite chefs to come be guest stars in the restaurant.  He said they were surprised how willing these chefs were to participate in the series.

Andy Ricker and Chester "Chet" Gerl
View from Matt's in the Market
We were fortunate enough to go to two of the dinners in the line-up. The first was with James Beard award winner Andy Ricker of Pok Pok. He recently expanded his restaurant ownership outside of Portland by opening not one, but two new restaurants in New York City. In fact it seemed quite apropos that Andy flew in from NYC for the "planes" event and out the next day. Andy's food was an interesting use of Northwest ingredients fused with his Thai inspired techniques and sauces. Andy was recently featured in a Bon Appetite feature. If you want to try some of his recipes at home you can find them here.

The series of Planes, Trains, and Traveling Chefs offiically kicked off on April 16, 2012 with Gabriel Rucker, of Portland’s Le Pigeon and Little Bird restaurants. Rucker won the 2011 James Beard “Rising Star Chef of the Year” award and is the first Oregon chef to do so. We definitely plan to check out one of Gabriel's restaurant's next time we are in Portland since we missed him while he was in Seattle. 

The second dinner we were able to attend and last in the series was with Top Chef Master contestant  Naomi Pomeroy. FloJo was super excited as she's been a huge Naomi fan since eating at clarklewis (no longer owned by Naomi). FloJo is equally a fan of her much smaller and intimate restaurant in Portland called Beast.  Naomi is a strong female chef that clearly makes food her way and has handled a lot of responsibility and pressure throughout her career. She balances motherhood while running a restaurant and juggling other engagements like Top Chef Master and this guest appearance in Seattle. We loved hearing how Naomi and Chet went shopping at the local Ballard Farmer's market the day before and created the menu from the fresh ingredients they found there. 

The menu was as follows and A-mazing with a capital "A."
Amuse-bouche: Prosecco with duck cracklin's and Komodo oysters with sea bean and red onion ice

1st Course: Chilled Pea Soup with uni, sugar snap peas and créme fraiche

2nd Course: Foi gras bon bon, duck liver tart, tête de cochon and pickled ramp

3rd Course: Duck and lamb with caramelized turnip (neither of us are turnip fans) with cherry-duck jus.
Ro enjoying the lamb like a cave woman

4th Course:  Wagyu Ribeye with a soft poached quail egg , morels and lava bean puree

5th Course:  Salad with salt creek greens, sherry-bourbon vinaigrette
6th Course:  Cheese: St Hubris from Bainbridge Island, Dinah's from Kurtwood Farms Vashon Island and Meadow-foam honeyed walnuts
7th Course:  We actually made it through it all!  Panna cotta with black pepper and vanilla bean with lambic macerated strawberries
Chet and Naomi

For the record, the Planes, Trains and Traveling Chefs series line-up read like the American league starting line-up at the annual Major League Baseball All-Star game:
  • April 16: Gabriel Rucker – Le Pigeon / The Little Bird (Portland); 2011 James Beard “Rising Star Chef of the Year” Award-winner.  Check out some of his recipes here.
  • April 23: Vikram Vij – Vij’s (Vancouver BC); Vij is also co-writer of The Flavor Bible: The Essential Guide to Culinary Creativity. Watch for his new restaurant Shanik to open in Seattle.
  • April 30: Ryan Farr – 4505 Meats (San Francisco); Farr is the author of Whole Beast Butchery.
  • May 7: Andy Ricker – Pok Pok (Portland, New York); 2011 James Beard “Best Chef Northwest” Award-winner
  • May 14: Dominique Crenn – Atelier Crenn (San Francisco); 2009, 2010, and 2011 Michelin star chef, first female executive chef in Indonesia, Winner, “Iron Chef,” Esquire Magazine “Best Chef of the Year” 
  • June 11: Naomi Pomeroy – Beast (Portland); James Beard Award finalist; appeared on Top Chef Masters, Food & Wine's Best New Chef of 2009  *check out her cooking demo on A New Day NW while she was in Seattle here

To check out Matt's in the Market's website and the Planes, Trains and Traveling Chef's bios click here.   Leslie Kelly wrote a fun blog on this series as well.  We enjoyed reading it and added her blog (side bar) as one of our recommended blogs.

Aloha!  Live life with flavor and fun!

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  1. Thanks, Ro & Felicia for including MiTM in such a great blog post! We're so glad you were able to join us for our Planes, Trains & Traveling Chefs series!
    Charyn (for MiTM)


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