Finding my Tribe in Portland
The table was set for six in the kitchen brimming with cooking appliances, pots and pans, cookbooks stacked precariously on overflowing shelves and a large white poodle named Thomas sporting a red ribbon, waiting patiently for any scraps that may fall and require clean up. But there were only five of us seated, and with dinner scheduled for 6:30 pm, the missing person was now definitely late when the clock rang seven. "Don't worry, she'll show up", reassures our host as he begins to serve us the first course, reserving a portion for the absent diner. The perfectly airy souffle nearly floated to our hungry mouths. We quickly progress to salad, savoring the sprigs of fresh asparagus bathing in perfectly poached eggs, drizzled with the most delicate hollandaise atop a bed of frisee and dusted with crispy lardons. We shrugged our shoulders as he continued to serve a portion to the empty plate and shook our heads over who would waste a $60 dinner ticket?
Thomas roused himself from his guard as the doorbell chimed and in walked a curious spectacle of curly snow white hair atop a face masked by thick black fish bowl glasses supported by a petitely built frame. "You're late, dinner started at 6:30 sharp" chastises our host without even looking up.
"I know, but the demonstration just ended" she replied. "Which one was it today?" he quizzed. "They want to close down the R2DToo on Burnside" she managed to explain between bites, her plate already almost clear.
And so was my introduction to Glenda Goldwater, who no, not homeless by any means herself, but a vocal advocate for the down and out. I could not help but notice a tattoo of the French flag on her forearm as she ate. Being politely Canadian, I inquired "Vous etes de France?" She looked at me quizzically, and I motioned to her tattoo. "Oh no", she said and added, "would you like to see my others?". I braced myself as she stood from her chair, but to my relief just rolled up her pant legs to show me a Citroën on one and "Vive la France" on the other. My confused expression led Glenda to explain "This is just so that when I die, God puts me with the French, not those damn Americans". We all burst into laughter and our host Robert Reynolds, rolled his eyes. "There she goes again" he mutters.
Little did I know that my Internet search for things to do on my getaway weekend to Portland would direct me to Chefs Studio and a serendipitous introduction to two iconic game-changers of Portland's cultural scene. Glenda, retired librarian and bon vivant, had been eating at Robert's restaurants down in San Francisco for years before tracking him down in Portland after his move north and sharing every Sunday supper since (hence how he knew she would eventually show up) and Robert, legendary culinary mentor and ambassador for local ingredients. Little else did I know that I had the privilege to share at what may have been one of Robert's last tables in April 2012 before his untimely death later that same year.
We shared more than a meal that night. We shared a passion of pursuing what was important. As each guest argued the merits of what they thought were the best places to eat in town, I fervishly wrote names down, eager to discover the Portland food scene. This was not just a round table trip advisor. This was love—not only of food, of quality, of integrity but of the people and places that made Portland special. As each restaurant was blurted out, it was followed by comments: "oh yes, and you have to try ________ at ________" or "it used to be good, but the chef is no longer pushing boundaries". In a quiet voice, Robert also encouraged me to connect with Carrie Welch, founder of Little Green Pickle and link to the food culture of Portland.
From cultural icons to the blue collar guy in work boots sitting beside me enjoying a happy hour beer, this passion is what makes Portland different than any other city. Genuine appreciation at every level of the social ladder, lack of pretension, champions of the art of locavorism. Portland has become my home. I have found my tribe.