This post is part of my brand new at the table series, where I share stories and photographs that celebrate the people on the front lines of an inclusive, sustainable food system.
Ohhhhhhh my goodness. When was I on the west coast? A MILLION YEARS AGO?
It’s ridiculous that I’m just now getting around to sharing some of the food stories and photographs with you from my summer in Portland.
But this series has been in the making for a long time, and I wanted to get it juuuuuuuust right. You know?
A bit of background: This project has been floating around my head for a few years now, but this summer was when it really started to come together. In July, I was completely stoked/humbled/energized/amazed/encouraged by your response to my Master’s Research on hunger assistance. Then in October, I was DOUBLY stoked/humbled/energized/amazed/encouraged when my Reader Survey results came in with a TON of requests for additional sustainable food systems content.
Y’ALL. YOU ROCK SO MUCH I CAN’T EVEN HANDLE IT.
So this summer, I took advantage of my full-time-blogger status and went into Work-From-Wherever mode. (Shoutout to Kyle for letting me traipse around the country for two months to bring this project to life! You da best).
I was lucky enough to spend some time with a dozen or so of the Northwest’s most incredible artisans, chefs, entrepreneurs, and food systems experts – each of whom is working, in his or her own way, to create a more accessible, sustainable food system.
So I am PUMPED (do people still say “pumped?”) to announce the beginning of at the table.
You can still expect the same recipes and how-to posts that you’re used to from Life As A Strawberry – at the table will just be an occasional, informative, photo-rich, delicious detour into the stories of some people doing amazing, amazing things for our food system.
My hope is that sharing these stories (and people, and companies, and organizations, and foods) will encourage you to break away from your busy day and take a moment to connect with the people who quite literally put food on our tables and in our mouths.
Because no matter where we live or what we do or how busy we are, we are all a part of our food system – and we each have an obligation to learn as much as we can about what we’re eating, support the men and women who produce our food, and make sustainable choices to ensure future generations have access to the same bounty as we do. This challenge is overwhelming and difficult at times, but my goal – and the goal of this new series – is to make eating well (and eating sustainably) a little bit easier.
So grab a cup of tea, pull up a seat, and join me at the table.
Today, I’d like to introduce you to Chef Carlo Lamagna of Magna PDX. (When we shot these photos, he was the chef at the former Clyde Common space in Portland. A bright, buzzing restaurant in Downtown Portland, Clyde Common is famous for its creative mixology and clever cocktails, but since Chef Lamagna took over the kitchen in 2014 I’ve been hearing just as much praise for the locally- and sustainably-sourced food on their menu.)
I meet Carlo and a few of his chefs at the restaurant early one morning (well… 10 or 11am. Early ISH) so I can tag along on one of their frequent (several times a week, at least during the height of the late summer harvest season) runs to Little Gnome Farm. The small farm is run by Farmer Paul (as the chefs call him) and located just over the border in Southern Washington (background for non-Pac-NW folks: Portland is just a short jaunt from Washington State. Hop on I-5, head over the Columbia River on a short bridge, and BAM! You’re there. Easy Peasy).
On the drive up, Chef Lamagna and I talk about his cooking philosophy (make delicious, seasonal, creative food) and the role of restaurants in the sustainable food movement.
Carlo knows that Clyde Common only serves a fraction of the people in Portland. But his goal is to lead by example – to use his seasonal menu to educate diners and encourage them to shop seasonally and sustainably outside of his restaurant.
He also makes a point to take his chefs to Little Gnome Farm with him – even chefs, he tells me, sometimes need to reconnect with where food comes from – to give them the chance to see the menu through from farm to table.
Chef Lamagna’s success at Clyde Common has also made him an in-demand chef for other events (he recently cooked at Feast Portland, which raises money for No Kid Hungry and Partners for A Hunger Free Oregon), which lets him share his sustainable, seasonal food philosophies with audiences beyond his restaurant kitchen.
What stands out the most to me about Chef Lamagna, though, is his desire to create a real culture of sustainability in his kitchen, with his chefs, and among his diners – rather than just throwing some organic produce on a plate and calling it good.
We pull into Little Gnome Farm to see Farmer Paul already waiting for us. It’s clear immediately that there’s a ton of collaboration between him and Chef Lamagna – Farmer Paul is quick to walk us over to a patch of peppers he knows the chefs will want to try, and even in September (when these photos were taken) the two are already planning which crops they’ll grow for 2016.
Farmer Paul uses drip irrigation – a series of small hoses that drip water slowly onto plants right at their roots for a more efficient use of resources – to water his various organic crops, and he shows us a small greenhouse that will allow him to grow certain types of produce through the winter. The Clyde Common menu changes constantly, and the dishes are inspired by whatever seasonal ingredients Chef Lamagna has access to – so the greenhouse can expand his menu options during colder months.
On our visit, the chefs toss just-picked organic produce – peppers, cantaloupe, parsley – back and forth, each taking a few bites and shouting out menu ideas.
“Prosciutto!” someone yelled as we dug into a fresh cantaloupe.
“No, let’s juice it!”
“We NEED to pickle some of these peppers.”
The back-and-forth was natural and energetic – just the way good food should be. And it takes all of 30 seconds with this group to realize you’re with people who seriously, completely, totally freaking love food.