Feast Portland: Proving That Food Festivals Matter

Article by: Jenny Block

Mon October 14, 2013 | 00:00 AM

Feast Portland is, as the name would imply, a food and drink festival. And, as one would expect from such a festival, I came prepared for delicious bites and sumptuous sips. What I didn't expect was connection, with the purveyors, with the other festival-goers; a human connection that makes you feel embarrassingly warm and fuzzy. 

Unfortunately, that’s not what most people have come to expect from food and wine festivals, many of which come with a hefty price tag. Attendees brace themselves for pretentious chefs and vintors, and prepare to battle crowds populated with wealthy, food-obsessed guests. Not so at Feast. The tastes and the libations are high-end enough to deserve such snobbery, but this is Portland. Foodies here aren't about thousand-dollar omelettes and gold dust sprinkled on their desserts. They're about good food, good friends, and making the connection between the two.

Sharing Food & Conversation

I ventured to the event's opening soirée—the Widmer Brothers Brewing Sandwich Invitational—alone, but quickly realized I was in good company. Each line I waited in was as much a part of the experience as the taste awaiting me at the table. I met locals as well as people from all across the country.

“What brings you to Feast?” I asked one guest as we shared a step to sit for a minute.

“I love food,” she said. “And I love people who love food.”

“What’s your favorite so far?” I asked.

“Food or people?” she said with a smile. "The lamb burger and you!"

“Good answer!” I teased back.

One couple had come all the way from Connecticut for Feast, explaining, “Food and wine festivals are what we use our vacation time for. And we love this one especially.” When I asked them why, they answered without missing a beat. “No pretension,” they said. “Some food and wine events are so snobby. But this has been so much fun. Everybody talks to everybody. Just like we are now!” 

Secret Weapons

I went to day one of the Oregon Bounty Grand Tasting alone as well. But I had a secret weapon, a plate I don't go to any festival without. It’s a wooden plate with a hole in it for a wine glass, making one-handed eating and drinking simple. No less than 100 people stopped to ask me about that plate, the perfect conversation starter for a lone festival-goer.

“Oh my God. Where did you get that?!” 

“Are they selling those here?” 

“You should sell those here next year.” 

Throughout the weekend I continued to bump into these folks who would periodically check in, recommending their favorite dishes to me, making plans to connect at late-night events. Perhaps my favorite connection was with a tattoo artist who made me his canvas.

“Would you like one of the designs on the wall or would you like me to create one for you?” he asked.

“You would do that?”

"Of course. What do you do?" he asked.

“I’m a writer.” He paused for a moment and then said, “I know exactly what I’ll do. No peeking.”

The result? An airbrush tattoo of a pear covered in script with a quill poised as if writing. It was so amazing that I returned the next day for a second one. This time of a unicorn bust on a pear. This guy got it.

“Call me for lunch some time!” he said when he finished the second tattoo.

“I will,” I said. I surprised myself, because I probably really will.   

Perhaps the most clever, most surprising treat of the weekend, came from the crew at Tillamook Cheese who gave me a secret “bat phone” to be used only from 11:00 pm to 3:00 am on Friday and Saturday nights during the festival to order up gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches delivered to your door for free anywhere within ten miles of the festival.

At 11:15 I called after allowing myself to recover for an hour or so from the debaucherous Night Market event. When the delivery arrived forty minutes later, the three sandwiches: dark chocolate and ginger, bacon and BBQ sauce, and a classic three-cheese, were still warm and gooey. Connection: made. 

On Day Two of Feast, I brought a close friend to a chocolate tasting panel, and we “mmmmed” and “yummed” together through a grown-up fudgsicle, candy bar, and cake. She came with me to the Oregon Bounty Grand Tasting as well, a different experience the second time around with my very own partner in crime. It became clear then that food and drink are best when shared, dissecting every morsel in concert, admiring every aroma in tandem, analyzing every sip in step.

Community Through Cuisine

It’s true, Feast isn’t cheap. But the price tag doesn’t deem it a rich man’s frivolity, it just makes the festivalgoers appreciate their time here that much more. Food festivals matter. They not only elevate food, but strengthen our connection to it. They remind us of how food binds us together as a community. They show us that food should not be a privilege. It’s a right, and Feast works to make sure it’s a right that everyone has access to. At its core, Feast is a community of people who love food and admire the people who treat it as art, but never forget its heart and soul—nourishment—which is precisely the reason why Share Our Strength's No Kid Hungry Campaign and Partners for Hunger-Free Oregon will receive proceeds from Feast.

And really, what could be more delicious than that?


* Feast tip: If you're not local, select a central home base like Hotel Monaco. It's perfectly located between Feast and the famous Portland food carts; it has a complimentary wine hour; and perhaps, best of all, you can borrow a bike from the hotel for as long as you like, complete with helmet, basket, and lock. Since Portland is so bike-centric, this would give you local status almost instantly, adding even further to the community feel of Feast. Not to mention the fact that you can work off some of those calories you've accumulated throughout the day.