A series of dining events in Portland and along the Oregon Coast put sea vegetables front and center, shining a light on bottlenecks and opportunities for Oregon’s seafare supply chain.
In February, the Winter Waters campaign, a dining event series designed to introduce Oregon restaurant-goers to locally grown seaweed, made a bigger splash than the organizers anticipated.
“We had so much more interest in Winter Waters than we could have imagined,” says Kristen Penner, co-founder of the campaign and food systems value chain coordinator with Oregon Coast Visitors Association. “The series and team did a fantastic job creating market opportunities for producers in the Oregon seafare economy, building distribution pipelines and rallying new buyers.”
Penner teamed up with Alanna Kieffer of Oregon Seaweed and Rachelle Hacmac of Blue Evolution to create the series, one of the biggest food collaborations to ever take place between Portland and the coast. Thirty chefs and restaurant partners in Portland and along the coast, from Astoria to Newport, educated diners about how to prepare sea vegetables and created seaweed-forward specials, from crudo and cocktails to ramen and burgers.
One of Oregon Seaweed’s biggest challenges has been consumer education about how to cook their Oregon-grown Pacific Dulse, a deep purple, nutrient-packed seaweed that takes on a different flavor profile depending on how it’s prepared.
“It’s like a land vegetable,” Kieffer says. “There are going to be ways that people cook it and love it, and some ways that they won’t. The chefs participating in Winter Waters were remarkable at showing people creative ways to cook with seaweed.”
As Oregon Seaweed was breaking into the Portland market, the company would deliver small orders of dulse to restaurants, one at a time. It was an inefficient use of staff time and had a high carbon footprint.
Luckily, Keiffer notes, they were able to contract with North Coast Commons, which provides delivery service for Oregon Coast farmers, ranchers, fishers, and makers of locally-sourced specialty foods to reach customers along the coast and in Portland. “Flying Fish was our first retail store in Portland, and we are excited that you will soon be able to pick up our Oregon Seaweed products at New Seasons across Portland,” Keiffer says.
The series will culminate with the Winter Waters Finale, Sunday, April 2, 4 to 8 p.m. at The Salmonberry restaurant in Wheeler. Salmonberry chef Charles Lutka is inviting chefs Maylin Chavez and Trever Gilbert into the kitchen to collaborate on Mexican-inspired dishes that celebrate local seafood and sea vegetables.
LINKS: Winter Waters