So I was sitting in a bar and a man says to me (there actually is a punch line at the end of this, believe it or not), “One time my petite ex-wife gets pulled over for speeding, and as the cop is approaching, she rolls down her window and orders a burger and fries, no lettuce and extra ketchup on the side.” Apparently the cop began to howl and just walked away. “How on earth did she get away with that?” my new bar friend mused.
After spending a month in Central Oregon, this is exactly what I think to myself: this place is full of extreme contrasts. Multiple personalities gnash up against each other without seemingly any discord, shimmery Porsches drive along its desert highways behind the worst kind of pick up trucks spewing blackness that must have been grandfathered into environmental acceptance. It would be equally common to find a two buck chuck – a ubiquitously reviewed wine made specifically for Trader Joe’s by Charles Shaw, costing $1.99 USD a bottle – and wealthy retirees planning the construction of their second wine cellar because, well, how could they buy more wine without a place to put it? (Obviously.) And even the weather can’t decide what it wants to be, bluest and yellowest sunshine one minute, and a brooding storm the next. The town of Bend is exactly charming, sweet and kind of confusing.
I fell in love with this part of Oregon more than a decade ago, while working as a designer on a project just outside of Bend. The landscape was raw and wild, the air smelled of juniper trees and sagebrush. Sunset would reflect on the monolithic angles of Smith Rock, and I was ready to pack up my life and move there, except for the life I already had in Vancouver. When I was picking amongst the places to retreat and write my food memoir, this was it. I remembered the nature, the solitude, the small town enchantment where everyone waves and says hello and in theory you could go and borrow a cup of flour from anyone if you needed it. But it was the dichotomy that also drew me. As much as I need nature, I am a city girl, and moments away from its rural farms and seclusion are fine foods stores selling my favourite imported cheeses, and cocktails that could give popular Portland bars a good run for their money.
Once a week, I drove into town for essentials, and found hints of a buzzing culinary scene with James Beard nominated chefs and whispers of local produce all over the menus. So I quite literally followed my nose and found flavours and chefs that brought their own worldly experiences to a plate that was also loyal to local.
Chefs Ariana and Andres Fernandez both have deep roots in other traditions, Andres originally from Colombia and she from Northern California. Both attended culinary school in Bend on a whim, eventually marrying and starting Ariana Restaurant, which serves sophisticated tasting menus in a restored craftsman bungalow in a residential neighbourhood.
I spoke with them about the flavours of Colombia, of the Sancocho Andres’ mother made back home, a mixture of every good thing with chicken, pork, short ribs, yucca, plantains topped with a cabbage slaw. They both reminisced about simmering it on an outdoor fire and they admit emphatically that it just cannot be made elsewhere because the ingredients taste so different. “You just can’t get pork that has the same flavour and so it’s never as good,” says Ariana. And knowing this, instead they create spectacular food with the culinary products found from local farmers and purveyors, the ingredients as they should be right there in Oregon. Wine from the Willamette Valley, mushrooms from Eugene (which is also known for a notable truffle festival in January of each year), local beef and produce from biodynamic farms: the ability to use such truly local ingredients is what enticed them to stay.
Chef Bette Fraser of The Well Travelled Fork, a catering and culinary tour company that began with a passion for educating about fresh, local, seasonal and sustainable food, explained to me the reason behind her Farm and Ranch Tours. “The lack of knowledge about the source of food in this country is stunning. People think that chicken comes boneless, skinless & wrapped in plastic in the grocery store. We take guests out and they see a live chicken and wonder 1. ‘where are the nuggets?’ and 2. ‘where does the egg come from?’ People think brown cows give chocolate milk.”
Part of her time is now spent championing local family farms, trying to create a stronger farm-to-table culture, heavily involved in chef and producer “mixers”, events where hands meet face-to-face.
I stumbled on The Drake on my first afternoon in Bend, looking at their menu and noting the attention they paid to local and house-made ingredients, like a neon welcome sign for the food-obsessed, and naturally I walked in. Over the following month, I found myself going back, again and again… and again. Why? The food was downright honest and — I think this might be only and best word to use — good. Each time I tried a new dish, everything was prepared perfectly, treated properly; a pork chop, cooked medium, so tender and juicy you could cut it with a butter knife, and I suggest you do, right around the bone where the caramelized crust has the best char. Top it off with a house-made apple and cherry mostarda, the flavours melded together without losing its fresh edge, and you’re served a dish where nothing is lost in its familiarity. It is intact and inspiring because it isn’t missing what is often lost, however well-intentioned, with the mixture of creativity and over-ambition.
I ordered one of my favourites, their spicy chicken sandwich, a mouthwatering convergence of sweet, salty, spicy and crispy, while Chef John Gurnee shyly allowed a portrait to be taken. He was like his food: unfussy, straightforward, and genuine. He, also coming from other parts of the country and with a fine dining background, confessed to being inspired by local products and trying to forge strong relationships with producers. As we chatted, the farmers from Juniper Jungle Farms sat in the booth behind him, waiting to plan their next growing season together. He told me about the local blueberry vinegar he recently made, adding it to a gastrique accompanying a squab dish, the pickled green garlic on the daily special, and the summer dinners he co-hosts on the farms themselves. I could see that, as comforting as his food was, he was definitely bringing his own culinary perspective, mingled with a true sense of place. “Ingredients that are local and seasonal just taste better,” Gurnee tells me, and I agree because I tasted his food, and it was pretty great.
And after a month of award-winning chicken fried steaks with thin mint milkshakes and Eugene truffles, seeing road cyclists going 25 mph juggling whole pizzas and walking past a ramen cart in a town with a Japanese population of 120, the whole thing started to make sense, and in fact, that is exactly why I love Bend. Just like my new bar friend’s ex-wife, it’s tiny but spunky beyond belief.
Places to eat, drink and explore if you’re travelling to Bend, Oregon:
1304 NW Galveston Ave
What to order: have the tasting menu and wine pairings. It’s the best way to explore the menu and what is best in season
801 NW Wall St
What to order: spicy chicken sandwich and pork chop. Their popcorn and cocktail list are also impressive.
Zydeco Kitchen & Cocktails
919 NW Bond St
What to order: being a Cajun influenced menu, their shrimp & grits is known to be the best in the state.
Tim Garling’s Jackalope Grill
750 NW Lava Rd #139
What to order: Osso Bucco
The Good Drop Wine Shoppe
141 NW Minnesota Ave
What to Order: try a local Oregon wine like a pinot noir from Stoller Family Estate, which not only has impressive wines but is also a LEED Gold facility, making them leaders in sustainability.
The Well Travelled Fork
What to try: The farm and ranch tour
Ariana’s Roasted Beets with Burrata and Pistachio Pesto
For the Roasted Beets:
2 medium ruby beets, greens trimmed and washed well
2 medium gold beets, greens trimmed and washed well
Olive oil for roasting and drizzling
Kosher salt and pepper to taste
For the Beets:
Toss the beets with olive oil and salt and pepper and wrap tightly in aluminum foil, keeping the gold and ruby beets wrapped separately so they don’t bleed onto each other. Roast at 350°F (175°C) until tender, depending in the size of the beets it will take anywhere from 30 minutes to one hour. Let beets cool slightly so you can handle them and use paper towels to rub the skins off the beets. Slice the beets into 1/4“ (0.6 cm) slices and season with olive oil, salt and pepper. Can be made up to 3 days ahead, keep refrigerated.
For the Pistachio Pesto:
1/4 cup (63ml) toasted pistachios, shelled
2 small cloves of garlic
1/4 cup (63ml) olive oil
1/4 cup (63ml) parmesan cheese, finely grated
1 tbsp (15ml) lemon juice
Kosher Salt and Pepper to Taste
In a food processor, or mortar and pestle, process the garlic and oil until smooth. Add the pistachios, parmesan, and lemon juice and pulse to combine until the pesto is chunky, not completely smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Can be made up to 3 days ahead, keep refrigerated.
2-4 pieces of dresh Burrata cheese
2 cups of watercress
Kosher Salt and Pepper to Taste
Assemble the beets alternating gold and ruby slices. Toss the watercress in a bowl with olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper and arrange next to the beets. Carefully plate the burrata next to the beets and break it open to reveal the stracciatella inside. Drizzle everything with the pistachio pesto and serve immediately.
The Drake: Perfect Porkchops
4 – 8 oz (227g) bone in pork chops
For the Maple Brine:
1 cup (250ml) Maple Syrup
1 cup (250ml) Salt
1/4 cup (63ml) sugar
1 tsp (5ml) whole juniper berries
2 whole star anise
1/2 whole cinnamon stick
1/2 tsp (2.5ml) chile flake
4 cloves garlic, smashed
Small thumb of ginger, smashed
2 bay leaves
4 quarts (3.8 litres) water
Bring all ingredients to a boil, stir until all the sugar and salt is dissolved. Remove from the heat and place in a non-reactive container until cold. Brine pork chops can be brined overnight or up to 24 hours. If brined too long, they get to “hammy”. Brine can be made a day before use, keep refrigerated.
For the Cherry & Apple Mostarda:
1 tsp (5ml) brown mustard seed
1 tsp (5ml) yellow mustard seed
1 cup (250ml) sugar
1 tbsp (15ml) apple pectin
1 tsp (5ml) salt
1/3 cup (83ml) apple cider vinegar
3 tart apples, small-diced
1 cup (250ml) preserved Cherries, quartered
1/2 cup (125ml) reserved Cherry juice from preserves.
Whisk together sugar, salt and pectin in a small bowl. Toast mustard seeds in a sauce pan until fragrant and add vinegar and cherry juice. Reduce by 1/3 and add apples, cherries, and sugar mixture.
Cook just until apples are softened. Turn the mixture out into a shallow baking dish, cover and chill thoroughly until ready to plate. Can be made up to 3 days ahead, keep refrigerated.
For the Rosemary & Brown Butter Apple Purée:
3 lbs (1.4kg) Granny Smith Apples, peeled and cored
1 large sprig of fresh rosemary
1/4 lbs (113g) of unsalted butter
1 tsp (5ml) salt
1 tbsp (15ml) lemon juice
In a heavy bottomed sauce pan, cook the butter over medium heat until it smells nutty and looks deep golden brown to brown it. Add the rosemary, apples and salt and cook until the apples are caramelized and soft. Discard the rosemary and transfer to strong blender or Vitamix. Add the lemon juice and purée on high speed until very smooth. Strain through a fine mesh strainer and chill. Can be made up to 3 days ahead, keep refrigerated.
Place a dollop of apple purée on the plate, top with your pork chop, barbequed or pan seared and a spoonful of compote. Chef Gurnee served it with roasted brussel sprouts and coins of fingerling potatoes, but feel free to serve it with whatever is local and seasonal for you.
Passionfruit Curd, Coffee Espuma, Vanilla Bean Meringues, Raspberries
For the Passionfruit Curd:
1/2 cup (125ml) passionfruit purée, can be purcahsed frozen from specialty stores
1/3 cup (83ml) Sugar
3 large eggs
3 large egg yolks
1/2 tsp (2.5ml) fine sea salt
10 tbsp (150ml) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
In a metal bowl set over a pot of simmering water or double boiler, whisk the passionfruit purée, sugar, eggs, yolks, and salt. Whisk the mixture constantly until it becomes thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Remove from the heat and whisk in the butter piece by piece until well incorporated. Pour into a container and cover with plastic wrap until ready to plate. Can be made up to 2 days ahead, keep refrigerated.
For the Coffee Espuma:
1 cup (250ml) heavy or whipping cream
1/4 cup (63ml) lightly roasted whole bean coffee, Ariana uses Lone Pine Coffee Roasters of Bend
3 tbsp (45ml) sugar
A day before you plan to make this dessert, place the cream, whole coffee beans, and sugar in a container. Stir, tightly wrap and place into the refrigerator to let the flavor of the coffee infuse into the cream. After 24 hours or longer, strain the beans from the cream and discard. Whip the cream until it forms soft peaks and set aside until ready to plate.
For the Vanilla Bean Meringues:
1/2 cup (125ml) sugar
1/4 cup (63ml) water
2 tsp (10ml) light corn syrup
2 large egg whites
1/8 tsp (0.63ml) cream of tartar
1/8 tsp (0.63ml) fine sea salt
Seeds of 1 vanilla bean
Preheat the oven to your lowest setting. Heat sugar, water, and corn syrup in a heavy bottomed saucepan until it reaches 230˚F (110˚C). In a mixer with a whip attachment, whip whites, cream of tartar, and salt until foamy. Whip the egg mixture on high while drizzling in the cooked sugar syrup and continue until it is shiny and smooth peaks form. (Be careful while cooking and pouring the sugar as it is extremely hot and can harm you.) Stir in the vanilla and pipe small kiss shapes onto a parchment lined baking sheet. Bake for 30 minutes or until completely dried and crisp. Can be made up to 1 week ahead and stored in a sealed container.
20 Fresh Ripe Raspberries
Spoon some passionfruit curd into the bottom of a small bowl. Top with a spoon of the whipped coffee espuma. Sprinkle with vanilla bean meringues and raspberries and serve immediately