When Oregon’s small coastal town of Lincoln City built and opened their new Culinary Center, city planners had figured out that culinary tourism is a prominent star in the contemporary travel universe. They created a state-of-the-art demonstration kitchen with TV cameras and monitors installed over a professional kitchen with space for two chefs to work separately, and a large versatile arena for students, diners, observers and competition judges to take in all the action—all this with a stunning view of the Pacific Ocean.
Chefs Holen and McCart – Photo by Allen Cox
This foresight has pushed this historic maritime town—which already had a substantial food culture with great chefs, cookbook authors, wonderful restaurants and locally sourced fresh foods from sea and land—to a prominent position toward the front of the line in West Coast culinary tourism.
I recently attended an annual charity event called Ready-Set-Cook at the Culinary Center, which raised funds for a desperately needed new early learning facility. This competition pitted chef against chef in two rounds.
The fun began when audience members bid on the positions of sous chefs and judges. Chefs had access to full pantry and produce and learned their mystery main ingredient at the last second before the clock started ticking toward the half-hour countdown to the finish.
Watching pro chefs creating culinary wonders under a tight time limit with sous chefs who have never peeled a potato carries the suspense of a Hitchcock movie. Both rounds had the audience on the edges of their seats as the clock ticked down.
Chefs Wiest, Neuman and Strong – Photo by Allen Cox
In Round I, Chef Jack Strong, a tribal member of the local Siletz Tribe and executive chef at the Chinook Winds Casino Resort went up against Chef Scott Neuman, owner and executive chef at Portland’s renowned ¡OBA!, a frontrunner in Nuevo Latino cuisine. The mystery ingredient: duck breast.
Chef Strong, whose culinary pedigree includes sous chef at Windows on the Green at the Phoenician and chef de cuisine at Kai at the Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort and Spa, both in Phoenix, selected a daunting number of ingredients from the pantry and took the prize in the first round. Strong’s seared duck breast served over mirepoix-dressed corn pudding with a consomme of diced duck breast, arugula and basil was a close winner over Neuman’s seared duck breast over crimini mushroom, pine nut and tarragon risotto with blackberry-honey-port sauce, blood orange segments, and garnished with olive oil powder.
According to Strong, “I think food should be fun and I like to add an element of playfulness to what I create.”
Chef McCart’s Winning Ahi – Photo by Allen Cox
I had dined at Strong’s Rogue River Steakhouse the evening before, and Strong’s appetizer of fresh oyster poached in milk, served in the half-shell atop fennel granita and topped with a swash of tarragon foam proved his point. What he calls “fun food,” others call molecular gastronomy.
Cooking Class at Culinary Center – Photo by Phil Burnett, courtesy of Lincoln City Visitor and Convention Bureau
Round II competitors were no less impressive. Chef Christopher Holen of Baked Alaska up the coast in Astoria, Oregon went up against Lincoln City relative newcomer Chef Sean McCart of The Bay House, one the Oregon Coast’s most acclaimed fine dining spots. Mystery ingredient: Fresh Ahi. Chef McCart’s sesame-crusted seared ahi took first over Chef Holen’s inventive coffee-dredged seared ahi.
Fortunately, local caterers provided a delectable buffet of small bites and desserts for the audience, so watching the two rounds of pro chefs going whisk to whisk was far from torture.
Executive Chef Jack Strong – Photo by Allen Cox
Executive Chef Sharon Wiest runs the Culinary Center and offers an array of foodie fun, from cooking classes to chef demos to charity fundraisers á la cooking competitions. Lincoln City’s Culinary Center packs in locals and visitors alike and has become a main attraction along Oregon’s famed Highway 101, helping put coastal culinary tourism on the map.
To plan your visit:
Go to http://www.oregoncoast.org/culinary/index.php to make reservations at Lincoln City’s Culinary Center.
To find lodging, visit http://www.oregoncoast.org/pages/lodging-packages.php; I recommend The Coho Oceanfront Lodge, http://www.thecoholodge.com.
You might check out Chef Jack Strong’s 2009 book The New Native American Cuisine, available at major outlets.