A Chat with Three Chefs at Feast Portland
On any given day, the city of Portland is already full of top-notch chefs. But during September’s Wine and Food Festival, Feast Portland, it was crawling with them. I had the chance to chat with Duff Goldman, Mike Hite, and Matt McCallister while they were in town; here’s what they had to say about the festivities.
Duff Goldman is “that cake guy.” You likely know him from the wildly popular show Ace of Cakes. He’s also a sculptor, an artist, and a musician, and in his signature hockey jerseys he looks every bit the boy next door meets the bad boy every girl loves to love.
Goldman now stars in The Best Thing I Ever Ate and Sugar High, and has been seen on a number of other shows, including Iron Chef America, Cupcake Wars, and Chopped. He recently added “guest star” to his résumé with roles in both TV shows and movies. In 2011, he was nominated for two James Beard awards for both Best TV Food Personality/Host and Best Television Program.
He’s a Baltimore guy through and through, but has fallen in love with life in California, where he moved three years ago. He opened Charm City Cakes West in Los Angeles (the original is in Baltimore, of course), as well as Duff’s Cake Mix, a DIY joint. They bake and ice the cake, covering it with fondant, and then give you all the stuff you need to decorate. The best part, Goldman says: “We clean up.”
This is Goldman’s third year at Feast. “The first year Jannie [Huang, wife of co-founder Carrie Welch and Creative Director of Feast] worked my booth with me making egg McDuffins because I couldn’t do it all,” he told us. “She said she was my sous chef. But I was hers!”
This year, Goldman brought his food magic to Feast’s new signature event, the Sunday Brunch Village. It was the earliest he could get to Portland, having just finished up at a food festival in St. Louis hours before. Goldman and his team served carrot cake pancakes and gingerbread waffles with cinnamon whipped cream.
“Someone asked what I was serving and I said gingerbread waffles with whipped cream and bee pollen and she said, ‘Ooooo! Bee pollen! Really?’ and I said “No. Why would I put bee pollen in there. That's stupid.’” Goldman said with a laugh.
That’s what makes Feast so great. That’s what it’s all about, really. As Goldman explains, “Tuning out the noise. Not listening to the B.S. People making up their own minds. The opinion of one person is not the opinion of every diner in the city. The stuff that matters to people? They will find it.”
Mike Hite will turn 31 in November, but he’s been cooking for 14 years now. He’s now the Executive Chef of Elements Restaurant in Medford, Oregon. How he got there, he says, was all about “getting as much exposure to the scene, the ingredients, the styles, and, as much as possible, continuing to learn every step of the way.”
Raised in Southern Oregon, Hite spent some time in Colorado, but it wasn’t long before he came back to his home state, graduated at the top of his class at Oregon Culinary Institute, cooked for two years at Portland’s beloved Country Cat, and manned his own food cart.
Finally, he returned to his roots in Southern Oregon by snagging a gig as the opening Sous Chef at Jacksonville’s C Street Bistro. In 2012, he made his way to Elements where he has his sights set on the Northwest and Spanish fusion. He was drawn to the position because it allows him so much freedom.
Hite says he has always been attracted to food because of how it “brings family and friends together and because of the endless creativity it allows.” He loved playing with an endless list of ingredients. Most recently he’s been enamored of Spanish chorizo, lamb, halibut cheeks, fall squash, and Pedro Jimenez sherry.
Hite told us that he was thrilled to be a part of Feast because “I'm a local Southern Oregon guy. So, to be able to represent my hometown, to help put the local food scene on the map is awesome.”
For Feast’s Grand Tasting, Hite made Columbia River salmon escabeche in a marinade with vinegar, olive oil, spices, and herbs. He served it with heirloom tomato relish and micro arugula. The fish is slightly poached and then served at room temperature.
Hite says the one thing he wishes people understood about food is its rich history, its origin, its impact. One of his favorite books is Food in History by Reay Tanahill.
Having the chance to represent Southern Oregon and his love for local and Spanish food was a huge thrill for Hite and he loved attending the Night Market. But the best part of Feast was “how many people share the same love for food, on all sides, from chef to consumer.”
Matt McCallister has always been an artist. The only question was whether his art would take the visual or the culinary path. He attended the Metropolitan Arts Institute in Phoenix for Fine Arts, but soon realized that he simply couldn’t deny his love for all things food.
Stephan Pyles in Dallas, Alinea in Chicago, and Daniel in New York, among others, have all benefitted from McCallister working his magic in their kitchens. He is committed to fundraising for Meals on Wheels and is a member of both Foodways Texas and Southern Foodways Alliance. He earned a Mastering Wine Certificate from the Culinary Institute of America in 2011 and was named Food & Wine’s People’s Best New Chef: Southwest in 2013
McCallister is now at the helm of his very first one-man show FT33, which he opened in October 2012. “At FT we take simple seasonal and regional ingredients and create elevated dishes with them,” McCallister said, which makes sense since his first loves when it comes to ingredients are “anything in season,” he told us, and his all-time favorite dish, roast chicken.
Feast was the place McCallister wanted to be because, as he explains, it “embodies the spirit of what we produce at FT.” He starts with the best ingredients and keeps the flavors inventive without leaving the foods’ true flavors in the dust.
For Feast’s Sandwich Invitational, McCallister prepared a fried bologna sandwich on white bread with pimento cheese. Simple. Old school. No frills. Just like McAllister likes it. And from the looks of the lines at his booth that night, that’s how the guests of Feast like it, too.
He says the one thing he wishes people knew about food is where it comes from, a common theme in the food world today and definitely amongst the folks gathered at Feast, from chefs to guests to purveyors.
Taking a break from Feast, McCallister did a little bit of getting back to the source himself, “helping with harvest at Attica Terra in Willamette Saturday. It was one of my best days in a long time.”
As for what’s turning his head in the food world these days, he says, that’s clear. “I like all of the focus back on using regional food.”