Click. Off went the TV at 9:49pm. Enough. The unthinkable.
Looking down at the phone, there was a reminder: “PFA Welcome Email.”
Right after learning that Donald J. Trump had actually been elected to be president of the United States, there was still welcome email to our guests that needed to be done to welcome them to a dinner at Park Kitchen 20 hours hence. When we’d originally chosen the date for this PFA, I naively stated, “Oh, it’s the day after the election. Perfect! A celebration dinner.” Well, of course it was not in the picture that I would be sunk into my chair months later, air and energy knocked out from my depths, dejected and facing the prospect of an actual “President Trump.” My youngest son had left an hour earlier to take a walk. Nonetheless, there was this task at hand. Normally I use Mailchimp to compose a long tribute to our chef, along with other goodies-upcoming events, recent podcasts, and random thoughts. But this time, all I could stomach at that moment was to log into Brown Paper Tickets and find the prompt that said SEND AN EMAIL TO GUESTS. “See you at 6:30 Wednesday night,” I tapped out, and headed for the SEND button.
Well, that just didn’t feel right. We’re going to have to power on, and not change the way we do the things we normally do. Yep, I had to do this without the gloom and doom I felt at that moment. Pick yourself up, Chris power through, and set the tone as a host, said the therapist and friend on my shoulder. After all, people paid good money to come enjoy a very special night we’d planned; Dinner in the beautiful private dining room at Park Kitchen, with a menu paying homage to the many great Portland chefs who’d been through Park Kitchen, including dining with two of its most celebrated veterans, Will Preisch and Joel Stocks from Holdfast Dining. Deadshot’s talented Adam Robinson, from whom I’d learned about “Who is Jack Nance” and then went to experience it at Deadshot and loved it, would be there to soothe with cocktails along with pairings from PK’s talented Curtis Day. We’d set it up so that Chef Scott Dolich, the owner of Park Kitchen and chef, along with Will and Joel, would rotate between three tables throughout the evening, giving guests the opportunity to get to know up close and personal, in a very intimate way, very important chefs in our wonderful food community. This, to me, was a very special manifestation of the unique focal point of what I do now—allow people to get to know our Portland food world in a different way—not just through the food—but to understand the folks who put all the love into what we enjoy so much. And so, just as I started to find a direction to go with this email, my son walked in the door. Parker has a ton of presence, and I looked up to see his arms outstretched, walking toward me. Not a word. We embraced in a loving, understanding hug for a bit, really tightly. And in that moment, I felt the power of what this tipping point in American life could mean. Seriously embracing and appreciating those we love–what we have.
And so now there was a direction to go for this email (written to be sent the next morning):
I expected some cancellations. Only one came—at about 4pm that afternoon: “…just not feeling it…” Understood. I felt that way some of the day. But I wished they’d tried. For reasons you may see below, it may have been some medicine for them.
Arriving early at Park Kitchen to do the usual seating arrangements, there were warm greetings and hugs by Chefs Scott, David Sapp, Will, Joel, Barman Adam Robinson and one of the best front of the house professionals I’ve ever met, Dylan Kiewel—so good to work with and see his hospitality acumen. For the first time that day, which I’d spent largely by myself with a few phone calls, I found myself among friends, commiserating about how we all felt collectively and individually. We all talked about how difficult a day it was, but that continuing with our days and professions the way we always had was a way to be reminded of what’s really important. Not long after, they did what they do: They held a staff meeting, going over the particulars of all the dishes served, blocking out the evening.
Our guest list for PFA number 59 was unique in that there was almost no one on it I had never met before. We had 23 others coming who were PFA veterans, or people who’d never been to a PFA that who became friends over the past year. Notable among those were my new, dear friends, Allen Schmertzler and his wife Barbara, who were sheer pleasures to travel with during our trip to Spain in late September. Allen and Barbara were 25% of our traveling eating and celebrating brigade over 10 days through Spain. Allen delighted all of us and some of the best chefs in the world with his caricatures. Apropos to this evening, Allen’s art incorporates political commentary. His work and blogs are published on the Huffington Post. Oh yes, Allen would be particularly devastated by the results of the election. He’s a political animal.
We had agreed he’d sketch chefs and as many guests as he could during the evening. I thought this would make the evening even more special, and we’d see how it worked as an evolution of PFA. We really don’t need blogs and photos from each event at this point, but perhaps a new, unique feature that could add to the experience. The idea was exciting and appealing and couldn’t wait to do it.
Bearing in mind that almost half the country’s population didn’t feel the way I did, in Portland, Oregon, it’s highly likely the majority did. And as guests arrived, it was evident. All of a sudden, the world felt maybe a little better. People and those we love remind us of what’s really important, and I, and I think those who came realized that this was the best possible way to press on and replace the feelings we’d had the night before and this day with interaction, great food, wine and sharing.
Dylan pointed out that somehow he’d gotten the date incorrect. I think it was a Freudian way of being in denial that November 8th happened.
Here’s Scott, dressed to dine and not cook, happily whetting our appetites with some bites prepared by his beloved Holdfast friends and colleagues. Puffed tendon, country ham, pineapple butter.
As we sat down, Scott welcomed our guests into Park Kitchen and introduced all the folks who put love into presenting this evening, and talked about how, when he started Park Kitchen, he was relatively clueless, and soon learned that what was important was people—the people he surrounded himself with 13 years earlier. In that time, those people helped define what Park Kitchen was to be, who he is as a person and chef, and how PK would become a springboard for so much talent elsewhere in Portland. That was evident in many of the items on the menu-there were items that were nods to Pine State Biscuits, Xocolatl de David, Blue Plate and Meat Cheese Bread, all opened by former Park Kitchen staffers, not to mention Holdfast and Deadshot, the collaborators for the evening.
It was while Scott was talking that my emotions kicked in. I realized that in the Summer of ’10, Scott was one of the three chefs I’d met with and presented this vision of what I had in mind—give people a special experience that would allow them to get to know our food professionals in a different, more intimate way. As part of my long learning experience, it was when I did that that I started to understand the wonderful community spirit in Portland; three incredible chefs were willing to give my idea a whirl—present a vast representative menu of their restaurants in a setting that would allow guests to feel they were in the chef’s “homes” and leave feeling that they not only were familiar with the cuisine at restaurants, but could feel that they knew the chefs behind them. Well, that was then, and what’s now 59 events later is something that was built without anything other than the idea that if I sprouted something, perhaps it would be fun. I didn’t even have plans to continue past those three events chefs Cathy Whims, Jason French, and Scott had agreed to do. With my contacts from my advertising world, I was able to get TV segments about our first events all over the news. This was way before food events were common. Now, it’s a different world, of course.
As those thoughts and more paraded through my mind, the takeaway is that this evening was a great example of how food and community can be such a catalyst for appreciation, healing, and living. Every single person in the room contributed to all the positive energy that was contained within the walls of Park Kitchen (while protests took place in Portland as we dined.)
Focusing on all of this, rather than politics, was such a beautiful relief.
Our first course, as explained by Scott, was a nod to Scott’s hatred of coffee; prepared in such a way that he was tricked into admitting his love for the stuff. At least in this dish. Carrot, kimchee, coffee. Delicious.
And then, the food… the drinks… the people… smiles, happiness…
Eating with chefs.
Allen doing his thing.
Allen completed 12 drawings. He was not able to get to everyone, but we will surely do this again. And hopefully more than once. Now of course, he had moving subjects, and limited time. So just so you can see what he can do when he is in his studio, there’s this, of Leonard Cohen, who passed away the day after our event.
This photo gives me so much joy.
And so, this. The night after.
November 9, 2016.
Thanks to everyone at Park Kitchen, Holdfast, guests, and every single person who has ever touched others through every single food experience I’ve had over the past six years. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Life is rich and there is so much to look forward to. This night helped me to see that. I hope for everyone who attended, any comfort they derived sustains… That’s the best gift of all.