A Gastronomic Festival – Spain in Portland
WORDS Byron Beck | PHOTOGRAPHY Steven Shomler
Two of the busiest people on the local restaurant scene, renowned chef John Gorham and his business and life partner Renee, share many ideas with each other throughout each and every day. One of those ideas that kept popping to the top of their list was to create a Portland food festival centered on one of their favorite places in the world: Spain. Only seven months later after deciding they would actually make that seemingly impossible task happen, their dreams came true with “La Ruta PDX: A Gastronomic Festival.”
The Gorham’s have the magic touch when it comes to owning and operating restaurants. As Toro Bravo, Inc., they run many of Portland’s top dining destinations including Toro Bravo, Tasty n Sons, Tasty n Alder and Plaza Del Toro among others. But while this dynamic duo know all too well how to run well-regarded and smooth operating establishments, “La Ruta PDX: A Gastronomic Festival,” an industry and trade focused event series celebrating the culinary culture of Spain, was their first attempt at a food and wine fest.
“Although this was our first year, this festival has been in the making since the beginning of Toro Bravo 10 years ago,” said Renee. “All of these relationships have been developed over time with all of the visiting guest chefs and winemakers.”
For La Ruta: PDX, which took place over a hot-but-not-too-hot week in the middle of July, chefs from Spain joined forces with chefs from Portland for a series of collaboration dinners that took place all over the city.
“It is a testament to the city of Portland that so many talented local chefs came together at the festival with their diverse concepts—from Japanese to Russian—to share their love of Spanish influence which runs deep here in PDX,” said John. “Portland is truly an international destination and that was our goal. The success of this festival wasn’t about the work our team put into organizing it, the credit goes to all those who contributed by sharing their craft with Portland.”
Other events throughout the festival—including a street fair and trade show for industry types, informative seminars and a grand food and wine tasting for the general public—showcased Spanish products, purveyors, and specialty equipment that is rarely shared outside Spanish kitchens. The hope is all this sharing would encourage collaboration and mutual enrichment between the two gastronomic cultures.
“Our intention was to bring more opportunity to trade and get products here from Spain and I think we nailed that,” said Renee. “We brought in multiple new distributors and purveyors of Spanish products and all the winemakers want to return. And that’s a great judge of success.”
La Ruta: PDX was a much buzzed about fest from start to its glorious flamenco-flavored finish. Top local chefs including Javier Canteras (Urdaneta), Gabe Rosen (Biwa), Bonnie Morales (Kachka) and Pat Manning (Toro Bravo) mingled with Barcelona’s Jordi Parra and Madrid’s Juanjo Canals, the chef/owner off Con Amor who bears a striking resemblance to soccer star David Beckham. Also in attendance was Michelin-starred chef Manuel Alonso of Casa Manolo in Valencia.
“I went to both the premiere (opening night party) and the Tastes of Spain event and they were both beautifully executed,” said Katie McGuigan of Travel Portland. “I lived in Spain for a little while, and loved seeing familiar wines and flavors that we aren’t always exposed to in the Pacific Northwest. As an inaugural event (La Ruta PDX) knocked it out of the park! I cannot wait to see what Toro Bravo Inc. has planned down the pipeline.”