The Beauty of the Bounty
Slow food on the Oregon Coast
By Susan G. Hauser 

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Patricia Morford, who makes award-winning Rivers Edge Chevrè from her 80-goat dairy in Siletz, admits that she was faced with a dilemma when trying to bolster the membership of her local Slow Food group on the Oregon Coast.

“There’s been a lot of discussion about whether or not we even need a Slow Food group,” says Morford about the international association of hard-core food lovers. “Everybody here is already doing it.”

Morford and a growing number of talented chefs, food foragers,
producers and purveyors in the region realize that as far as great food goes, the Oregon Coast is its own perfect world.

“I refer to it as a cornucopia,” says Will Leroux, longtime chef at Wayfarer Restaurant & Lounge in Cannon Beach. “We live in an abundance of awesomeness. You’ve got the ocean in one direction, with fresh salmon and shellfish, and then you turn around and walk a mile in the other direction, and you’re picking mushrooms in the forest and wild blackberries and huckleberries. There are so many things that are just in our backyard.”

Oysters are ripe for the shucking at Oregon Oyster Farms, operating just east of Newport since 1907. And Oregon pink shrimp, albacore tuna, halibut, rockfish, clams, mussels and more can be bought right off the
dock at places like Fishermen’s Wharf Seafood Market in Charleston or Local Ocean Seafoods on Newport’s historic bayfront, where customers can learn where the fish was caught, how it was harvested and even the name of the boat it arrived on.

True, the seafood, mushrooms and berries have always been here. But what’s fresh and new within the last decade or so is the attitude. Residents of the Coast no longer take this awesome cornucopia for granted. Rather, they revel in it.

It’s that appreciation for the local bounty that has caused weekly farmers markets to spring up every summer in cities from Astoria to Brookings. Small organic farms, such as Barking Dog Farms just outside of Lincoln City and Kingfisher Farms in Manzanita, and producers of meat and poultry, such as Walker Farms in Siletz, find customers among
residents and restaurant chefs alike.

“We go to the farmers market on Saturdays and get things for the week,” says Cathy Lusk, chef at Tables of Content, the restaurant at Newport’s Sylvia Beach Hotel. “And we have one or two people we buy mushrooms from. They know the spots to go to.”

Formerly a successful chef in Portland, Peter Roscoe resisted the urge to return to his native Oregon Coast until he noticed, about 10 years ago, that area grocery stores were beginning to stock a variety of fresh produce and herbs, a sign that coastal residents really cared about what they ate.

“I thought, if people are wanting to buy fresh produce and cook it, they’re probably wanting to have that at restaurants,” says Roscoe, who opened Fulio’s in Astoria almost ten years ago. “I think I was right. And now Astoria has become a culinary destination. We have half a dozen
restaurants or more that are filled with people who cook with passion and urgency. People come for that.”

In his off hours, Roscoe digs for razor clams and goes crabbing and fishing. Leroux goes clamming and fishing as well, and has recently added beekeeping to his activities. At Wayfarer, he serves ramekins of his own backyard hive honey with the cheese course.

In Gold Beach, where the Rogue River meets the Pacific and where Nor’Wester Steak & Seafood restaurant has been serving up local salmon,
Dungeness crab, oysters, clams and halibut for more than 30 years, owner Colleen Combs is doing her part to make sure the local bounty continues. She’s a strong supporter of Curry Anadromous Fishermen, a local volunteer group that works with the state to restore and enhance native fish runs, especially the Rogue River’s fall chinook salmon.

The better chefs along the Coast take full advantage of the natural resources. Roscoe serves a side dish of sautéed sea beans, a kind of salty grass found growing in coastal estuaries. Leroux finds good use for mushroom varieties, including porcini in appetizers, chanterelles in his clam chowder and candy cap mushrooms to give handmade ice cream a delicious maple flavor.

Justin Wills, chef at Restaurant Beck at Depoe Bay’s Whale Cove Inn, was recently listed in Food & Wine magazine as one of the People’s Best New Chefs in the Northwest and has made the list of James Beard Award contenders for several years. Much of his acclaim comes from his adventurous spirit in cooking with wild foods foraged from the coastal mountains and estuaries.

Also, the number of coastal chefs who have cooked at the prestigious James Beard House in New York City is substantial, with Blackfish Café’s Rob Pounding, John Newman of Newmans at 988 and Wayfarer’s Will Leroux among those who’ve spread a delicious table of West Coast foods for East Coast diners.

In Cannon Beach, Jason and Hillary Fargo, who own Waves of Grain
Bakery, have received widespread kudos for their tasty breads and pastries, which they bake after milling the Eastern Oregon flour themselves. On NPR’s The Splendid Table, Jane and Michael Stern declared the Fargos’ buttermilk biscuits to be “ethereal,” especially when washed down with locally roasted Sleepy Monk coffee.

Visitors to the Oregon Coast who want to replicate some of the delicious food they enjoy at local restaurants have a few options for cooking classes. In Cannon Beach, Bob Neroni and Lenore Emery-
Neroni offer either hands-on or demonstration classes, complete with fine wine and a meal at EVOO. Sharon Wiest, executive chef at the Culinary Center in Lincoln City, provides a wide variety of classes, including cooking with mushrooms, cheesemaking and Italian cuisine.

“We’re not just about fish here,” she says, although seafood classes are always popular. For her own pantry, Wiest likes to can fresh albacore tuna, caught just off the coast.

Wiest also oversees popular Culinary Center events, such as November’s Chowder Cook-off, where top coastal chefs vie for the coveted clam chowder crown; a jambalaya cook-off in January; a fish taco cook-off
in May; and a wild mushroom cook-off in October. Admission to all four cook-offs is free, with a small charge for samples.

Coastal foods are celebrated in a number of annual festivals. Fill your calendar with delicious, don’t-miss events like Newport’s Seafood & Wine Festival in February; Astoria-Warrenton’s Crab, Seafood & Wine Festival in April; Charleston’s Seafood Festival in August; Bandon’s Cranberry Festival in September; and the Chowder, Blues & Brews Festival in Florence in September.

The Oregon Coast has long been recognized for its natural beauty. But when natural beauty meets natural bounty, it’s best to pack a good
appetite along with your camera.

Always a sucker for a steaming bowl of coastal clam chowder, Susan G. Hauser has been writing about Oregon’s bounty of culinary and scenic wonders for many years and many publications, including The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times.