Portland’s Quaintrelle: What does “local” really mean?

The epitome of Portland food. Fresh. Hyper local. Now.

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When people outside of Oregon ask me to describe what “Portland food” is like I think of places like Quaintrelle;

a cute, yet elegant little restaurant located on a trendy Portland street, serving up locally sourced dishes inspired by the Pacific Northwest region. Their list of purveyors are almost entirely made up of nearby farms and businesses just around the corner from the Portland metro area. Meaning: Your food doesn’t have to travel very far to get from the earth to your mouth. And that’s the sort of thing Portland restaurants are all about.

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photo: Aubrie LeGault Courtesy of Quaintrelle

Learning on the job.

Executive chef Bill Wallender is self-taught, trained not in culinary school, but instead, he acquired his skill in Portland kitchens working in some of the city’s best restaurants (Clark Lewis, Little Bird, Ava Genes). Like many chefs, he first entered the industry by getting his hands wet as a dishwasher. He started to get serious about cooking about 10 years ago and chocks up a lot of his knowledge to great mentors like Gabriel Rucker of Little Bird. He learned a lot from Rucker; not only his style of food, but also how he worked with people and managed the restaurant.

Later, it was at Ava Genes where Wallender learned the importance of developing relationships with farmers.

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photo: Aubrie LeGault Courtesy of Quaintrelle

Being a great chef is all about having great relationships. 

Good relationships should be symbiotic. Wallander understood that learning good cooking technique was only half the battle. The other skill was being able to network with the farmers and food producers — being able to get those great ingredients to cook with in the first place. Wallender made friends with “old school farmers” — the ones who would show up in their shorts and flip flops. It would be their crops after all, that would influence his cooking.

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photo: Aubrie LeGault, Courtesy of Quaintrelle

It ain’t easy being local. 

While it’s not always easy, Quaintrelle manages to source 80% of their food from local producers. The exception being nuts, vinegars and citrus which come from California during the winter months. Much of their food comes from farms like Kiyokawa Family OrchardsTwo x SeaEat Oregon First, and Scratch Farms to name just a few. They have a full list of farmers and food producers on their website.

Eating at a restaurant that promotes “locally sourced” food is not something diners should take for granted. It’s a phrase that so many places toss around these days, however being truly dependent on one’s region is not easy.

This past winter was especially damaging. The unexpected snow, flooding and frost proved a challenge for many farmers. For the chef’s, one bad snow can change your whole menu in an instant. Wallender explained, “The weather affects not only food availability but people being able to actually deliver the food to you. Just because you have 50 covers on the books, doesn’t mean that Jesse from Sauvie Island is necessarily going to be able to drive through the snow in his Subaru to drop off 40lbs of meat.”

But then, that’s when the menu gets interesting. Frequent deliveries in small amounts are the secret to Wallender’s simple, yet creative (and beautiful) menu at Quaintrelle.

PS – The cocktail program, led by Camille Cavan is FANTASTIC. Her recipes are often made with Wallender’s input and have a similar emphasis on locally sourced ingredients.

Disclaimer: I was invited to a beautiful dinner at Quaintrelle to sample the food. All opinions expressed are my own. Special thank you to Heather Jones Consulting and chef Wallender.

 

Quaintrelle · 3936 N Mississippi Avenue in Portland, Oregon · (503) 200-5787

 

 

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