Carrie Welch Talks About Creating One Of The Hottest Food Festivals in North America: Feast Portland Which Is Celebrating Its 5 Year Anniversary, Her Girl Crush Chefs, And Why She Fell In Love With The Rose City
by Heather Cassell
Driving into her office recently, Carrie Welch, co-founder of Feast Portland, pinched herself to make sure she wasn’t simply dreaming as she cruised through the quaint streets of Portland, Oregon.
“It feels like a dream. It really does,” she says. “You know how people say that expression, ‘Oh I’m living the dream,’ and a lot of times these days they say that ironically like they don’t really mean it, but I do. I truly do.”
“I know it sounds very innocent and naive of me, but I am living the dream and I’m living our dream of what we moved here to do,” Carrie continues.
Carrie, 37, and her wife, Jannie Huang, 38, left their Food Network executive lives in New York, where they each lived for nearly 15 years, to set roots in Portland six years ago.
Since landing in the Pacific Northwestern city things have been smelling pretty rosy.
The couple chose Portland, because of the “openness” and because “it is so integrated,” says Carrie. And it’s a perfect place to raise the couple’s 1-year old son Taylor, they both say.
Carrie is originally from Connecticut and Jannie is originally from New Jersey. They both met while working at the Food Network in New York. That was more than a decade ago and it’s definitely been and adventure filled with food and celebrations. They married in 2010.
That integration of the diversity of the city and openness is a main feature that makes Feast Portland unique as far as food festivals go.
“I think that’s part of what makes our festival exceptional,” Carrie says. We want to make sure that we have everybody of all backgrounds in our festival because that’s what’s going to make it great.”
When the couple first moved to Portland, they believed they were going to open a restaurant, not create the hottest newest food festival in the country. Fordor’s named Feast Portland one of the top 15 food festivals to attend among the many accolades the festival has received.
However, after Jannie, who is creative director of Feast as well as co-owns the couples’ restaurant public relations firm Little Green Pickle, Inc., tried her hand at working in restaurants in Brooklyn, New York and Portland after the couple landed there they knew that wasn’t the path for them.
“We were crazy, not stupid,” says Carrie, Jannie smiles and nods her head in agreement adding that they realized starting out in the restaurant business is for young people to grow up in, not jump into later in the game of life – at least for them.
When they moved to the Rose City, they knew they were going to be a part of Portland’s food scene, but they weren’t sure how.
So, they went back to the drawing board. They did what they knew best and opened up a public relations company focused on chefs and restaurants. Soon after, they met Mike Thelin. Sparks flew with ideas to create a food festival for Portland. That was five years ago.
Carrie, who is a food festival historian fanatic, says Feast wasn’t Portland’s first attempt at celebrating its culinary scene. She believes she owes Feast’s success to four key factors. She tips her hat to Portland’s pioneering chef and restaurateur Bruce Carey’s legendary Zefiro (now replaced with one of his four restaurants 23Hoyt, Bluehour, Clarklewis, and Saucebox) who revived Portland’s dining scene 25 years ago and the mother of the slow food movement San Francisco Bay Area chef Alice Waters. Previous attempts for festivals showcasing Portland’s chefs and gourmands and the sophistication of American’s palates and the rise of the food festival in the US. Finally, timing and Portland’s current culinary scene which is simply on fire with hot talent and eager diners.
A Feast In The Making
It was time for Feast Portland, which doesn’t only showcase the cornucopia of Portland’s restaurant scene and local farms, fishing and ranches, but the Pacific Northwest, nationally, and as of last year internationally.
“We do want talented chefs who are doing really exciting things in food,” says Carrie. “We want to make sure that we have everybody of all backgrounds in our festival because that’s what’s going to make it great.”
“I think that’s part of what makes our festival exceptional,” she states proud of the fact that Feast Portland has a record of representing a “very high percentage of women chefs.”
“We try to make a big effort to be sure that the female population is here. It’s important. Female chefs have a totally different perspective,” says Carrie.
Girl Chef Crushs
“I am always excited about our female chefs,” she says counting the ways of her “girl crush chefs.”
She loves celebrity Chef Elizabeth Faulkner, who is based in Brooklyn after decades dominating San Francisco’s restaurant scene, presented at Feast Portland in 2014 and returned for last year’s Feast.
“She always just has that pastry chef meets savory chef perspective which I think is really cool because you can do pretty much anything in food if you are able to walk that line,” says Carrie. “I think that makes her exceptional and talented.”
Amanda Cohen, owner of New York’s Dirty Candy, who is “very campy” and “just killing it right now,” she gushes about Amanda, who was also featured last year.
This year, Carrie’s crushing hard on Los Angeles chefs Jessica Koslow from Sqirl and Suzanne Goin of Lucques/Red Cat as well as pastry chef Hedy Goldsmith, who recently launched her cookie line, Sweet Hedy, and Portland’s own Katy Millard of Coquine and Naomi Pomery of Beast/Expatriate, she tells Girls That Roam.
Not all of these chefs will be at Feast Portland this year, but the lineup of women chefs is mouthwatering.
Christine Flynn of iQ Food Co. of Toronto, Canada will serve up international cuisine with a women’s flare.
Girl chefs from around the nation include Chicago’s Beverly Kim of Parachute Restaurant and Adrienne Lo of Fat Rice, Los Angeles’ Isa Fabro of Unit 120, New Orleans’ Nina Compton of Compere Lapin, and Seattle’s Ericka Burke of Chop Shop and Rachel Yang of Trove.
Home grown Portland chefs include Devon Chase of Hamlet, Lisa Clark of Petunia’s Pies & Pastries, Maylin Chavez and Melissa Mayer of Olympia Oyster Bar, Jami Curl of Quin, Gabrielle Quinonez Denton of OX Restaurant, Mona Johnson of Tournant, Jenn Louis of Lincoln Restaurant, Maya Lovelace of Mae, Bonnie Morales of Kachka, Kristen D. Murray of Maurice; Kelly Myers of Xico, Nong Poonsukwattana of Nong’s Khao Man Gai, Annie Portlock of Annie Pies, Sarah Schafer of Irving Street Kitchen, Johanna Ware of smallwares, and Cathy Whims of Nostrana.
Women chefs are thriving in the Pacific Northwest.
“I think that there is a lot of opportunity in the Pacific Northwest,” she says about why women chefs bloom in the Pacific Northwest. “It leads to a lot more creativity and a lot more potential to just to try things.”
Carrie also senses that women chefs are just as excited as she is to present at Feast Portland, which she takes as a huge compliment.
It’s “just a great feeling that’s a huge complement for me because I kind of feel like ‘Oh we’ve got this little festival and may be you want to be a part of it,” says Carrie.
Satiating The Hunger
That little “handcrafted” festival attracted 9,000 gourmands its first year now attracts upwards of 12,000 foodies annually at last count. It was completely sold out weeks before opening day.
Feast Portland is intimate in the sense that attendees actually get to meet the chefs, including culinary stars, more than 30 taste masters, and more than 100 local, national, and international chefs, The culinary experts are joined by nearly 40 wineries, more than 15 breweries and cider houses, and nearly 15 distilleries to wet attendees whistles along with 15 Oregon artisans showing off what Portland and Oregon in general have to offer.
Portland is known for its microbreweries, wine, roses, creativity, and now its culinary scene, which has been exploding in recent years. Feast Portland has been on the cutting edge of showing off the Pacific Northwestern town’s gastronomic adventures in local to global fare.
After attendees dine and sip at the sold out festival, they get to shake the calories off dancing to the spin masters busting out the beats beneath the Pacific Northwest stars.
The “boutique” food festival “exemplifies what everyone wanted in the Pacific Northwest,” says Carrie, who puts the festival on with Mike’s and her six-member team and upward of 300 volunteers throughout the weekend.
It’s a feast that Portland’s native son pioneer food personality James Beard would be proud and excited about his home town’s culinary scene today. It’s more vibrant than ever and adhering to practices he treasured, local, sustainable, and American as well as welcoming the flavors of the world to the Rose City.
Feast Portland cooks up its five year anniversary September 15 – 18. Tickets are on sale now, but many of the events are already sold out! Hot tamale! Tickets are still available for some events $60 – $85. For more information, visit FeastPortland.com.
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