We have heard from Portland’s premiere restaurateurs. We spoke to the head of one of Portland’s most prominent food stores. Now, we will look at another take on food: the author.
“If you are in the food industry, this is one of the greatest places to be in the country.”
Laura Russell, food writer for the Oregonian and author of two cook books (Brassicas: Cooking the World’s Healthiest Vegetables and The Gluten-Free Asian Kitchen) says there are two reasons why food in Oregon is some of the best in the nation.
“First, we have this amazing landscape for product.”
Oregon is home to some of the world’s best produce. Oregon has a great climate and optimal soil to grow vegetables. We also have abundant grapes for wine, fruit orchards, the coast’s seafood and even unique natural salt.
“We have this overwhelming amount of quality products to start with. We have this amazing foundation to do great things.”
And then there is the accessibility to make food.
“Portland is a great place to allow innovation. It is an affordable place to have a small startup business.”
Food carts are a very inexpensive way to open a restaurant. Chefs open up a food cart and once they get a following they often come up with the funding to open up a brick and mortar restaurant. Salt and Straw, Lardo, Cultured Caveman all started as a cart.
“This has allowed a lot of really young, innovative people to start their own businesses in Portland whereas they would never be able to afford that in New York or San Francisco.”
After going to culinary school in Chicago, working as a recipe developer at Food and Wine Magazine in New York City (her job title being Associate Editor of Cook Books), Russell moved to Portland. About eight years ago, Russell started her column in the Oregonian and has written two cookbooks in the last five years.
When Russell came to Portland, food began to change for her.
“What changed for me personally is I started having some major health problems. After about two years of trying to figure out the cause, I realized it was gluten. I began to completely rethink the way food can affect your health.”
Step one: stop eating gluten-a tall task for someone who loves Asian cuisine. So she researched and wrote The Gluten-Free Asian Kitchen.
“I was writing a book for me. I thought ‘I am newly gluten free, I am going to need to figure out how I can make these foods that I will absolutely miss. If I can recreate them I bet there are a lot of people in my exact situation.’ So I was writing it for them.”
Now, Russell’s focus is healthy cooking.
“People are becoming a lot more conscious and responsible for what they are eating. they are realizing that there really is a connection with what you eat and your health.”
And this also changes the restaurant scene. As more and more people search for food alternatives, chefs and restaurants respond accordingly.
“Portland in general is an amazing place to be as a healthy eater but also if you follow any special diet. Most places here understand that Portlanders eat in different ways.”
Being the healthy cook that she is can sometimes become difficult. Nobody wants to eat a big bowl of kale. There is a line between being healthy and being tasty and as a foodwritier, one must consider both.
“It always has to taste good. Who is going to ever trust your recipes again if they make something and it didn’t taste good? I look at a recipe and see if there is any way I can make this a little bit healthier without compromising the taste. Ok, I used three tablespoons of olive oil, would it be just as good if I used two? Little tweaks that help the overall health profile.”
Food in Portland is changing constantly. Who knows what kind of food we will all be eating in three years.
Favorite Restaurants in Portland
Lang Baan (good luck getting in)