July 18, 2016

A Taste of Portland

Words + Photos : Carly Diaz

When it comes to food, there’s something special happening in Portland, Oregon. The city has had a spotlight on it for some time now and, through my photography, I’ve had the opportunity to work with many of these talented food creatives.

It also has given me a front-row seat to what I believe is a revolution in the way Americans eat today. Quality over quantity. Flavor over price. Local, organic, and seasonal instead of year-round sameness from big box stores. Many Portland food leaders are making conscientious choices, from producers and suppliers to ingredients and production methods, that reflect this new approach to food.

As a native Oregonian, I’m proud of what is going on in Portland and the state at large. The thriving food scene in Portland is fueled by a community of people who are passionate about their work and their aim to create something new. But it’s more than just doing food well. They seek to provide people with an experience that underscores the ethos of the city and the food values that we hold so dear.

Here are three of my favorite spots that live up to that great Portland spirit.

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At Coava Coffee, customers enjoy steaming cups of single-origin coffee in the light-filled cafe. Next to a counter of pourovers in the making, a small machine alludes to the roasting that takes place in house, one step of the intricate process that owner Matt Higgins oversees with precision. In order to create stability and consistency in what they serve in-house, they start with the source.

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While many coffee buyers rely on the taste they experience at cuppings to source their beans, Coava Coffee takes a holistic look at specific farm in order to gauge potential. Crops vary from year to year, but Matt looks past the beans of the moment to the potential. Can the farm produce at that level long-term? While Coava only serves the highest-quality beans, they makes a commitment to buy everything their partners grow, selling off the excess to third parties. This allows the farmers to invest back into the farm and increases the promise of high-quality beans year after year.

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Back in Portland, Coava Coffee hopes to shed light on another important step in producing coffee with care. In late summer 2016, Coava will be opening a roasting facility that will give a view into production, as well as an educational opportunities. Visitors will be able to sip coffee while observing roasting process, offering them insight and a connection to the coffee that they didn’t have before.

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Quality is taking center stage, from the food to recipes themselves. Holly Erickson and Natalie Mortimer of the food blog The Modern Proper are dedicated to making delicious, wholesome food accessible through unintimidating ingredients, beautiful images, and stories about real life and real food. Through their approachable recipes that put quality at the forefront, they aim to inspire a return to the kitchen and the table that accommodates what a busy lifestyle needs most: time with the people we cherish and food that nourishes body and soul.

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Natalie and Holly are both proficient at the myriad skills required to run a food blog. Recipe development, writing, photography, project management, planning, and all the details of running a business, from client management to bookkeeping. Working as a team means they can share the workload, as well as challenge each other’s ideas and creativity. Although they don’t make and shoot every recipe together, they have a shared vision and goals that have given them a clear direction in their work.

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From a classic cheeseburger and prime rib with roasted garlic to passion fruit pavlova and cookie brittle, they are creating a collection of recipes that can be returned to time and again. Accessible food that brings people together, to gather around the table to share food and life. Exactly the kind of moment they hope to inspire with their work.

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At 180, traditional Spanish xurros are made with a lot of love, laughter, and care. Owners Chef José Chesa, his wife Cristina Baez, and friend David Martin are working to reinvent the popular conception of churros through their commitment to house made ingredients, small batches, and a connection to the local food community. They have a passion for details and an intensity for quality that translates through each of their products and projects, from the ingredients they source to the monthly flavor collaboration with chefs from around the city.

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As you walk into the xurreria in NE Portland, tucked inside their paella-driven restaurant Chesa, a large mural welcomes you to ‘Xurroland’ along with upbeat music and smiling faces. All xurros are made to order and a row of seats along the kitchen-side counter gives a close-up view of the action. Dough is crafted to perfection, fried at 180 degrees celsius (the restaurant namesake), and served alongside a variety of dipping sauces or the classic Spanish drinking xocolata.

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