A New Level of Oregon Cuisine

Chef Brian Williams returns to his roots at the Big Wave Cafe in Manzanita. Chef Brian Williams returns to his roots at the Big Wave Cafe in Manzanita.

Crave the Coast food festival connects visitors with the world-renowned chefs and products of the northern Oregon Coast.

 Brian Williams, owner of Big Wave Cafe in Manzanita, grew up fishing and hunting on the Oregon Coast. Living off the land was a part of his culture and childhood. Naturally, as a child, he took it for granted.

Williams later became a professional chef. As he traveled the world for different jobs and ate at Michelin-starred restaurants, his revelation surfaced: the food he ate as a child was the best in the world.

This discovery isn’t unique to Williams. Chefs are moving in from all over the country to play with the Oregon Coast’s bounty, an influx so large it’s spawned a “food renaissance”. “On the coast, we’ve unearthed a gem that’s been here forever,” said Williams. “The razor clams, the steamer clams, the oysters, these are world-class products, right in our backyard. Moving back, I feel like I’ve found restaurant nirvana.”
Oysters from JAndy Oyster CompanyOysters from JAndy Oyster Company.

Now, visitors can experience this nirvana as well—yet instead of having to frequent each farm and restaurant, they can taste the region’s flavors in one central location.

Crave the Coast takes place on September 29, a coast-to-table food festival that celebrates the bounty, producers, and chefs of the northern Oregon Coast. Held in Garibaldi, OR, 40 vendors will offer locally grown products, such as cheese, beer, fresh-baked goods, meats, and seafood. Cooking classes and demonstrations will run throughout the event, including a competition for “best fish taco”. Guests can interact with producers and sample products--such as oyster shooters and beer-and-cheese pairings--or even buy directly from the fishing boats and farmers.

Following the success of North Coast Food Trail—a culinary map that stretches over 100 miles from Lincoln City to Cannon Beach—Crave the Coast is part of an ongoing effort to introduce and immerse visitors within one of Oregon’s most abundant regions. “People are driving down Highway 101 and don’t realize that what’s off this road can change their lives,” said Nan Devlin, Tourism Director for Visit Tillamook Coast. “The food tastes like it just came out of the ground or water. Chefs have noticed what’s here, and they’re taking it to a whole new level.”
By “new level,” Devlin is referring in part to the cuisine of Chef Mike Aldridge, who spent five years cooking in Portland restaurants before joining the Salmonberry Saloon last year in Wheeler, OR.

In short, Aldridge has found his culinary paradise. The Coast’s temperate climate means his menu can remain seasonal year-round. His fish is naturally flaky and buttery, caught that day from bright and cold water; his meat is raised and greens are grown just miles from his kitchen. He meets with farmers every morning to sample what’s most fresh. Though his menu is already predominantly local, Aldridge aims to source 90% of his food from farms within 50 miles of the restaurant.
MIKE ALDRIDGE Salmonberry Saloon Credit Broken Banjo PhotographyMike Aldridge dons the chef’s hat at Salmonberry Saloon in Wheeler, Oregon.

The move has reignited his passion for cooking, he said, and has allowed him to reconnect with his rustic roots—cooking with fire, seared fish, and simple sauces. “There’s nothing more magical than cooking what was caught, harvested, or picked that day,” he said. “As chefs, our dream is to literally brush off the dirt of the Earth. That’s the ultimate level of cooking.”

Unlike Netflix specials and reality TV shows, the Oregon Coast food culture is not purely chef-driven, but rather a collaboration between the cooks and producers. Chefs are inspired by the dedication of the land’s farmers, fishers, and foragers, as well as the endless possibilities born from its limitless bounty. As James Beard said of the Oregon Coast: “No place on Earth, with the exception of Paris, has done as much to influence my professional life.”

Many chefs operate off the principle, “if it grows together, it goes together,” assembling a menu on the spot based off what’s brought in that morning. This spontaneity results in innovative dishes, such as blueberry salsa on salmon, grilled peaches and cream, cherry vinaigrettes, and carrot-top salsa verde.

Yet along with the experimentation lies a dedicated simplicity. Bob Neroni has been cooking professionally his entire life, and acknowledges his most important role since moving to the Coast is merely to ‘get out of the food’s way.’ “The biggest thing I’ve had to exercise since I started cooking here is restraint,” said Neroni, who owns Cannon Beach’s EVOO cooking school with his wife, Lenore. “The farmers do their thing and I let the food speak for itself.”
Bob EVOO rgb2Bob and Lenore Neroni, owners of EVOO cooking school.

Like Neroni, many of the Coast’s chefs view themselves more so as the final phase of the meal’s evolution; their talents ensure that the product retains its purity. “The farmer deserves the credit. I’m just the one to not screw it up,” he said. According to Neroni, high-quality food requires no smoking mirrors, no bells and whistles—just simple techniques and minimal seasoning to express the item’s full flavor.

Neroni imparts this wisdom to his students, along with an appreciation of whole foods and the overall cooking process. “We take the rules down for people,” he said. “We always tell them, ‘Don’t overthink it, don’t overwork it. Just make sure you have good ingredients and that you have fun.’”

The Neronis will teach a cooking course on the main stage during Crave the Coast. Though they will demonstrate with Oregon ingredients, the cooking fundamentals can apply anywhere. “Cooking has no secrets,” said Neroni. “Once you understand technique, you can create whatever you want. And if you cook in season, you’ll never make a bad dish.”

As to what they’ll be cooking at the event, it’s far too early to tell—that, of course, depends upon what’s available.
Tillamook Coast food cart brings fresh seafood to Portland dinersTillamook Coast food cart brings fresh seafood to Portland diners.

When someone dines on the Oregon Coast, their experience goes beyond just taste. Each dish forges a visceral connection between the customer and the region. Embedded within each bite is not just the soil and the sea, but the heart and soul of its producers.

What’s on the plate is a reflection of the local community, one defined by hard work and selfless support: crab fishermen risk their lives during December storms to yield the day’s catch; dairy farmers wake up far before sunrise to tend the cows; chefs break down buckets of rockfish before they’ve had their morning coffee.
Nestucca Bay Creamery specializes in French style aged cheesesNestucca Bay Creamery specializes in French-style aged cheeses.

But you won’t hear any of them complaining. These artisans are sustaining themselves just as much as they’re sustaining others. As Mike Aldridge says: “My motto is, ‘Starve the ego, feed the soul.’ I’m feeding my soul on the Oregon Coast, and I’m feeding its people as well.

Crave the Coast will run on September 29 from 12:00pm-6:00pm. Buy tickets now via cravethecoast.org.


 

Brand stories are paid content articles that allow Oregon Business advertisers to share news about their organizations and engage with readers on business and public policy issues.  The stories are produced in house by the Oregon Business marketing department. For more information, contact associate publisher Courtney Kutzman.

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