FOOD-CENTRIC EVENTS abound year-round in Portland—a grand departure from our scene just 15 years ago when Taste of the Nation was the single annual celebration of restaurant culture, a chance to dress up, drink too much, and meet chefs who were otherwise shrouded in the mystery of their kitchens. These days, the faces of our chefs are often more familiar than their entrées, while charcuterie companies and breweries have brands as recognizable as designer handbags. And while excessively frequent tastings, classes, and collaboration dinners may have desensitized discerning diners to the magic of having 20 gifted culinary professionals catering to a crowd, there are a select few events every year that manage to make a true impression on our ever-crowding culture of consumption.
Feast Portland returns for such a purpose with its second annual weekend of gastronomic excess. Feast promises to celebrate our (obviously superior in every way) restaurant industry with a four-day showcase of Portland's chefs, winemakers, food artisans, and culinary experts. Featured events essentially echo last year's debut festival, with a similar selection of seminars, collaboration dinners, and hands-on classes to supplement the outright gorging at tastings like the Sandwich Invitational and street-food-inspired Night Market. Ticket prices remain steep—though totally worth the bill if you bring an appropriate appetite. And don't forget it's all for a good cause: Last year the organizing team donated a whopping $46,000 to their featured nonprofits, Partners for a Hunger-Free Oregon and Share Our Strength.
Packages for the whole weekend sold out within weeks of release, but a select few tickets are still available to most major events and several seminars. Here are a few ideas of how to make the most out of the weekend's remaining offerings, in addition to instructions for winning free tickets to a main event:
Educate Yourself: Feast Portland's speaker series has six themed lectures, each featuring a panel of local and visiting experts to shed light on a variety of political and otherwise controversial subjects in the food industry. From thoughts on how to play in the world of big business without losing a local and human focus, to an in-depth discussion of the evolution of GMO regulations, each session costs $10 and offers a modern education in how the world of food affects more than just what ends up on a plate. The entire series will be hosted at the Portland Art Museum (1219 SW Park) on Friday, September 20, and Saturday, September 21, at varying times (each session is all ages, runs 60 to 90 minutes, and is ticketed individually at feastportland.com).
State Flavors: The Oregon Bounty Grand Tasting is one of Feast Portland's main events, a state-themed buffet of edible products held outdoors in Pioneer Courthouse Square (701 SW 6th) on Friday and Saturday from noon to 5 pm. Wash down an abundance of snacks with wine, beer, and soda from across Oregon, and stick around for invariably entertaining cooking demonstrations from the likes of Jenn Louis, Gabriel Rucker, and Chris Cosentino (of San Francisco's Incanto). Tickets are $60 for this leisurely tasting-style event and are still available online, but keep reading for the chance to score a couple of free passes.
Food Fight: New to the festival's lineup of main events is a bloody, knife-slinging, fish-scaling, mammal-boning contest featuring the "nation's best butchers and fishmongers," who will sharpen their blades for a contest of animal deconstruction judged by a panel of experts, chefs, and media members. The Best Butcher Contest and Fishmonger Face-Off will feature 22 finalists selected from regional competitions at Whole Foods Markets across the country, all in the running for a prize based on technique, presentation, and possibly quality of tattoos featuring animal parts and kitchen equipment. The event will take place in Director Park (815 SW Park) on Saturday from 11 am to 2 pm, and it's totally free to attend, so show up early for a front-row view of the action.
And now for those patient readers who have waded through this article: The Portland Mercury has scored a pair of free tickets to the Oregon Bounty Grand Tasting, a $120 value, for one of our treasured readers. To win such sweet swag, send your name to our editor at email@example.com by noon on Thursday, September 19, with "FEAST" in the subject line, and we'll pick a winner at random to attend the event on either Friday or Saturday. Happy Feasting, Portland! We can all be proud to support an industry that founded a festival of this caliber—and already, we can't wait until year three.
UPDATE: We have a winner for those free Oregon Bounty Grand Tasting tickets. Thanks for playing, and stand by for even more great ticket giveaways from the Portland Mercury!