I was also invited to the dinner by Little Green Pickle, a Portland, OR media relations firm for several KILLER restaurants including Urban Farmer. However, all thoughts and opinions found in this post are sincerely my own.
A few days ago, I was lucky enough to attend a Portland Food Blogger's dinner at Urban Farmer. The invitation was for a kitchen tour and a whole beast butchery demo, followed by a family-style dinner prepared personally by famed executive chef Matt Christianson:
Although my food blogging tends to focus on baked goods, I knew I couldn't pass up this opportunity because, well... can I make a confession? I'm a terrible cook. For all the talk I do about my massive meat and animal by-product consumption, I have no idea how to prepare meat for myself. Especially not beef. I could tackle chicken, but I'm not going to lie — preparing a steak intimidates the crap out of me! It was time to learn how to do it right. And what better way to learn than to have a talented executive chef at a highly-lauded steakhouse walk you through it?
After a long day of work, I arrived at the Nines Hotel and was immediately greeted by a much-needed glass of champagne. The tour began as Matt welcomed us Portland bloggers into his kitchen and gave us a quick run-down of what we would be seeing in the butchery demo — we would be watching him prepare part of tonight's dinner, ribeye from a 100% pure blood wagyu beef from La de Route farms.
The next part reads like a Portlandia episode. Matt actually has papers with the cow's lineage, proving that it is 100% wagyu, born and bred in the USA:
I know that sounds a little ridiculous, but hear me out — are there any other Lucky Peach subscribers out there? Lucky Peach is a quarterly food journal started by David Chang of momofuku fame and Peter Meehan, a New York Times award-winning food columnist. Each issue focuses on a different theme, and this quarter's theme was "Before & After the Apocalypse". It's a little doom-and-gloom admittedly, but the issue brings up a number of valid points regarding the unsustainability of our current farming practices. Long story short is this: we're blowing through all our natural resources without building them back up again, we're abandoning flavorful grains in favor of bland ones more suited for mass production, and the structure of our current food distribution system makes us vulnerable to mass outbreak and disease. Grim, right?
So I was surprised when Chef Matt actually began to address some of the issues I'd been reading about in Lucky Peach. He stressed the importance of working with small farmers and ranchers, and how superior meat really is when the animal has been raised properly — that is, free-range, grass-fed, insert-buzzword-here type of thing. The wagyu beef that we were about to butcher, for instance, was the prime example of this (hence the lineage papers). Chef Matt had gotten the meat from a ranch that produced only four of these cows a year because it takes a long time to produce the kind of high-quality meat. The next time this sort of beef would be available would be 2014!
Chef Matt then gave us a quick tour of the kitchen's fridges and freezer lockers, discussing the different methods they used to make sure the meat was aging properly and getting the right kind of mold. This completely blew my mind — I knew there was a molding and fermentation process for salami and other cured meats, but I didn't realize steaks at fancy restaurants also underwent a similar process. I mean, I'd always read "aged" on menus, but I didn't really put two and two together.
In the freezer, Chef Matt also described what he did with the different parts of cow. In the picture up top, he's holding a handful of what I believe to be... cow kidney? In order to make Urban Farmer's restaurant practices more sustainable, Chef Matt started recycling all the parts of the cow you couldn't consume (think: entrails, intestines, etc.) and turning them into candles that were actually used in the Urban Farmer's dining room. How crazy is that?!
After the freezer, we made a quick pitstop at one of those really scary and intimidating professional food slicers where Chef Matt gave us a taste of freshly sliced beef tongue:
This was another one of those 'WHOA, say WHAT?!' moments for me. I'm not normally a fan of tongue (it's a visual thing — even looking at the picture above gives me the heeby-jeebies), but I couldn't believe this stuff. It was so soft that it melted in your mouth! Also, it's always fun to see those scary machines in action.
And now, it was time to butcher the meat. Folks, meet our 100% pure wagyu beef in its pre-butchered form:
Don't let my pictures fool you — that hunk of meat comes from a hearty beast. It's on that wood palette for a reason: it weighs an upward of 900lbs! Often times, you need two chefs to pull apart a hunk of meat like this:
Once armed with a more reasonable size of meat, Chef Matt then proceeded to school us in butchery:
I wish I could give you more specifics into what you see above, but there was so much to learn and so much going on that I'm afraid I won't be able to do Chef Matt any justice! Suffice to say, I was simply enthralled by what I was seeing before me. There was something infinitely fascinating about watching Chef Matt take apart this beast with nothing but his hands and a couple of knives. The amount of strength and skill required to do something like this is completely beyond me. I was in awe.
It wasn't just Chef Matt's impressive butchering skill that really blew me away. This is going to sound like a total cliche, but it really seemed that Chef Matt really cared about moving towards a more sustainable practice. The entire time he butchered the cow, he kept on pointing out different things that highlighted why a grass-fed, free-range cow was far superior (and healthier!) when compared with the stuff you buy from big meat production companies. From the beef quality, the cow's lineage, and "recycling" inedible parts of the meat to turn into soap and candles. I know that sustainability is one of the buzzwords of today, but Chef Matt seemed to genuinely believe in the movement.
Eventually, Chef Matt hunkered the meat down to a couple steaks we would be eating for the family dinner:
And of course, the menu for our family style meal:
- UF Shrimp Salad with Avocado and Hama Hama Oyster
- Dungeness Crab Cake with Pear, Butternut Squash and Mustard Aioli
- Roasted West Coast Duck with Beets, Wild Rice and Amaranth
- An Amuse-Bouche of Celery Sorbet with Truffle Honey, House Coppa, and Tangerine
- New York Steak from Dry-Aged Laney Classic Beef
- Ribeye Steak from La de Route Farms's 100% Pure-Blood Wagyu Beef (what we butchered!)
- Brussel Sprouts with Molasses Pecan Butter and Quince
- French Curry Cauliflower with Apple and Tarragon
- Twice-Baked Fingerling Potato Tarts
- White Cheddar Grits with Stinging Nettle Butter
- A Dessert of Spiced Chocolate Panna Cotta and Mascarpone Ice Cream
I wish I had taken pictures as the night went on, but admittedly my photography skills were getting worse and worse as the night wore on (Fun fact: the number of glasses of wine consumed have a directly inverse relationship to the quality of your photos. Wait a second, did I just say something incredibly nerdy?) and I was way too busy enjoying the Portland blogger's company as well as the delicious meal set in front of me.
As far as the food went, Chef Matt was 100% right. Using such a high quality meat, one with pure lineage (which sounded so ridiculous at first, I know), really does makes the world's biggest difference. The wagyu was amazing. I've never had steak that juicy and tender. I swear it melted in my mouth. In fact, everything was delicious. You could really tell that everything was fresh, high-quality, and thoughtfully combined and cooked to take advantage of the local produce and what's in season.
All in all, it was quite the experience — great people, delicious food, and lots of wine. I can't even begin to thank everybody involved for what an amazing time I had.
Can't wait for the next Portland Food Blogger's dinner!
- The links for Urban Farmer and Departure (where we ended the night) for your menu perusal.
- Read up on Urban Farmer's Executive Chef Matt Christianson. Here's his twitter account, for your social media stalking purposes. And Eater coverage for you hardcore food nerds.
- Little Green Pickle is the media relations firm that organized this blogger dinner. In addition to being incredibly fun and friendly, Carrie and Brooke are whip-smart and really seem to know their stuff. Thanks for organizing this dinner ladies!
- Special shout-out to the other Portland bloggers who attended the event. You gals are awesome!