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Portland Taste of the Nation 2014 - Great Chefs and Great Impact

Share our Strength’s 27th annual Taste of the Nation brought together over 50 chefs, brewers, distillers and winemakers for a sparkling evening to battle childhood hunger. The theme, "What My Family Ate" featured satisfying bites and sips at McMenamin's Crystal Ballroom in Portland, Oregon.

Share Our Strength's Taste of the Nation in the McMenamin's Crystal Ballroom.
Wendy Bumgardner
Portland Taste of the Nation
Wendy Bumgardner

The event benefits Partners for a Hunger-free Oregon, Oregon Food Bank, St. Vincent de Paul Society, and Klamath/Lake Counties Food Bank. In addition to the entry ticket benefiting the charities, diners were given the chance to bid at Silent Auction packages, wheel spins for dining prizes, raffle and unlocking a wine trove.

I've attended other grand tasting events, such as at Vegas Uncork'd, and Taste of the Nation beats them forks down. The flavors were stunning as Portland's own chefs brought their best talents to the table. But no diner was left thirsty, either, with spirits, wine, beer and sodas to fill your tumbler.

I joined the VIP ticket guests for early entry to the main tasting as well as special offerings in the VIP lounge. It is well worth the premium price to get a VIP ticket and have a relaxing nosh before the main crowd arrives. The lounge also has tables to sit and take a breather from the action in the main ballroom.

With 30 chef's bites and another 30 drink purveyors, it was impossible to sample everything offered. I made a mighty try, but here are my top bites and sips of the night:

Gregory Gourdet of Departure served up chicken stewed with peppers, pickled chilies and ripe plantain. It was a delicious and satisfying small bowl packed with flavor.

John Gorham previewed his upcoming Mediterranean Exploration Company in the VIP room with a house canned tuna board. That is an inadequate description of a tasty plate with tuna, beets, pickled onion, green beans, peppers and more.

Jake Heil and Jordan Felix of Multnomah Whisk{e}y Library served Sazerac Punch in the VIP room.

Tyler Malek of Salt and Straw served a special Pots of Gold & Rainbows but I went for the salted caramel ice cream instead, to my intense delight.

David Briggs of Xocolatl de David served up fluffernutter sandwiches and chocolate milk in the VIP room.

Chapter 24 Vineyards Fire + Flood in the VIP room brought their two pinot varieties - Flood, grown in Willakenzie river soils in the Willamette Valley, and Fire, from grapes grown in the higher volcanic soils of the Dundee Hills, Eola Hills and Coast Range. It was a pleasure to talk to the winemakers and taste the difference. I'm a Fire sort of gal, which runs contrary to the usual preference as women usually prefer the Flood.

Rick Gencarelli and Todd Voelker of Lardo and Grassa served up a delicious bite of their new lumache pasta and pressed me with a full bag of pasta to cook at home.

I was too full to try Pacific Pie's offerings of strawberry rhubarb and chocolate bourbon hazelnut or Petunia's gorgeous dessert bites. It was hard to pass those by, but it takes a mighty eater to make it through everything.

I enjoy seeing the chefs in person, and this was a great event for Portland culinary star gazing. I will definitely be attending in future years. The charity is awesome and the food and drink top notch.

Tips for attending: Dress casual and wear comfortable shoes as the room will become crowded and you will need to maneuver. Be prepared to juggle your drink tumbler, small plate, program, etc. The noise level was acceptable but the room did heat up from the cooking, serving and crowd. It is worth the price to go VIP, and gives even more benefits to the charities.

Share Our Strength Taste of the Nation

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