2012 Portland Feast Interview with Carrie Welch

Feast Portland Food Festival

TDM: How did you get people in Portland behind you and to believe in you to sign up on this?
CW: I have to give all the credit on this one to my co-founder Mike Thelin. He's from Portland, knows the scene, knows the right people to engage, and basically had a rough outline of the events he wanted to do and sponsors to approach since the moment I met him. He is someone who truly loves food and understands chefs, so people trust him. I realized very early on, Mike was one of those good people in our industry that works unbelievably hard and makes things happen. Between my experience in New York City and his reputation in Portland, it was a good match and I hope people believe in us because we will bring an amazing festival to Portland in less than a month!

TDM: Did you feel any resistance from chefs to coming out here, being a New Yorker with no historical blueprint, and organizing these events?
CW: No. I can't tell you how welcoming Portland is as a city. Somehow people got it that me and Mike both have really good intentions with Feast. This is a festival about Portland, for Portland. Everyone has chipped in a ton, offered help at every turn, and just been awesome. We are so happy to have a strong community here that supports us, we feel really lucky. Feast wouldn't exist without partners like Travel Oregon, Travel Portland, and the local government here from the mayor to the governor who have all supported us from the get go. I get the question — why did you move here a lot, but I think the answer is obvious.

TDM: How did you inspire all of these people to back Feast and do this so quickly?

CW: Mike and I make a great team. We complement each other really well and I think together explained our vision for Feast in a way everyone could understand. We dream really big, but we also have the experience and the know how to back it all up, so our partners and chefs have recognized that. Through Mike's relationships we signed on solid partners early on in the process like Travel Oregon, Whole Foods Market, and Bon Appétit magazine, which added to our credibility right away. The chefs totally understood what we were trying to do from the get go, so we were able to sign some prominent chefs like April Bloomfield, Sean Brock, and Chris Cosentino early on, too. One thing we worked really hard on was to work with the local wine community here in Portland and be sure they had a distinct role in Feast. We are a food and drink festival so wine, beer, spirits, coffee, and tea will all play a big role throughout the weekend.

TDM: How do the people of Portland feel about this? There's going to be this huge influx of tourists to what is after all, a relatively small town, which while obviously worth celebrating isn't necessarily used to this kind of influx.
CW: Portland is into it! Oh my gosh, the city is really abuzz right now, our ads and a lot of the promotion just hit a few weeks ago and it's been so exciting to see people really pumped about it. We get lots of emails from people asking questions about events, tickets and everyone wants to know more. It's not easy conveying a vision for a festival that doesn't quite exist yet, but the people of Portland and beyond are really taking the leap with us and going for it. I know the food community is excited about the visiting chefs and Feast is all about collaboration between our chefs and those from around the country. Our goal is to make this the SXSW of food and by bringing in folks from around the country, whether chefs, media, or otherwise it's all additive to the greater good of celebrating what an awesome city Portland is and the bounty of the state of Oregon.

TDM: Feast is taking place in various places in downtown Portland. How do these places best illustrate what Portland is really about?
CW: To me, Portland is a city of ingenuity and our venues exemplify that to the nth degree. We're holding events in public spaces, historic landmarks, and of course our celebrated restaurants, so everyone who attends will get a different perspective on Portland and the whole state. We have artisans, wineries, breweries from across the state and attendees will see just what Oregon can really do. It's incredible the breadth of what we have here in terms of food and drink. Centering Feast around Downtown Portland also helps us make it easy for our guests to navigate the city — we have some of the best public transit in the country. Portland is about great food, easily accessible and sustainable, and we have all of those things represented at Feast.

TDM: What's the philosophy behind Feast? How did you structure the festival and for what reasons?
CW: Feast Portland is a one-of-a-kind, region-defining food and drink festival. We made the distinction of food and drink early on as while wine is a huge part of our drink culture here, there are people making amazing beer, spirits, coffee, tea, drinking vinegars, and a ton of other cool stuff we want to highlight at Feast. We want to take a lot of the things that work well for festivals and change them a bit, make them ours. We structured it with anchor nighttime events and a main Grand Tasting on Friday and Saturday, which is the way many others are set up. We added the Whole Foods Market Speakers Series to get intellectual about food, plus additional demos and hands on classes. I call it, "Do good by day, have fun at night." And we have our charitable mission on top of that — we're partnering with Share Our Strength on the national level and Partners for a Hunger-Free Oregon on the local to be sure everyone knows childhood hunger in Oregon and across the nation is something we need to end.

TDM: What's the story behind these charities and why they were selected?
CW: Share Our Strength and Partners for a Hunger-Free Oregon are two of the best organizations you can work with. They both have the mission to end childhood hunger, one on the national level, on on the state level in Oregon. They work together often with Partners being a Share Our Strength ally, meaning they work closely together as a partner state to implement specific strategies to combat hunger in Oregon. I worked with Share Our Strength when I was at Food Network and know they are one of the most passionate, heartfelt groups of people working towards a common goal and Partners is the same as it relates to Oregon. The whole Feast team feels honored to work with such great people!

TDM: How many chefs are participating in the event?
CW: A hundred chefs overall with local Portland chefs and those traveling to Feast.

TDM: It seems like food festivals are popping up everywhere these days, but with chefs and food personalities like Inaki Aizpitarte, Mark Bittman, April Bloomfield, Aaron Franklin, Amanda Freitag, Gabrielle Hamilton, Paul Kahan, Paul Qui, Adam Rapoport, Nancy Silverton, Shook and Dotolo, Andy Ricker, these are just some of the huge names participating! The Feast seems to have a leg up on any new festival launch in recent memory. Portland has obviously gotten quite a bit of attention over the past few years, but what's the story behind this fantastic lineup?
CW: There a few different forces at work here — me, Mike, Bon Appétit, and a few other stars that aligned for us. I can't tell you how excited we were when Bon Appétit signed on as our national media partner, what an honor to be one of their first new events! They helped us secure some of these chefs and the rest we just asked. Many of them have been to Portland and want to come back, or have never been and want to experience it. Part of Feast's reason for being is to give people a reason to come back to our fair city every year and see what new and different things are going on in the world of food and drink. Our chef lineup is a great representation of those who want to come and cook here now.

TDM: Feast notes that weather contingency plans are in place for each event. What exactly are weather contingency plans for a region known for rain?
CW: September in Portland is surprisingly sunny, so keep your fingers crossed. Let just say there will definitely be a lot of tents just in case!

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