Memphis Chef Star Power Shows Oregon How to Barbecue Like a Southerner

Chefs Andy Ticer and Michael Hudman go Hog Wild in Oregon; so does chef Felicia Willett, below, touring Elk Cove Winery, where the pig roast was held Saturday.

Leslie Kelly

Chef Michael Hudman worked up a sweat, shoveling glowing coals from the bottom of a burn barrel into a nearby barbecue pit.

It might have been just another summer Sunday in Memphis, except that Hudman and co-chef Andy Ticer were cooking pig next to a beautiful hillside vineyard smack in the middle of Willamette Valley (s)wine country.

The official name for this shindig was Memphis Goes Hog Wild in Oregon, a spectacular feed featuring not just the red-haute chefs behind Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen and Hog & Hominy, but also Felicia Willett from Felicia Suzanne’s, who wowed the crowd with her bacon-y deviled eggs and pork belly tacos, a sausage slinging Ryan Trimm from Sweet Grass, Next Door and Southward, and Craig Blondis, pictured below, who racked up a slew of new fans on the West Coast with his Central BBQ ribs.

This culinary dream team was assembled by Michael Hughes from Joe’s Wines & Liquors after the owner of the host Elk Cove Winery suggested a visit during a dinner last winter at Felicia Suzanne’s.

“I said we had to figure some way to get some Memphis chefs out to the vineyard,” said Adam Campbell, the second-generation vintner at Elk Cove, which was founded by his parents in 1974.

Wish granted. Hughes, who is a big fan of Oregon wine, helped coordinate this moveable feast right down to helping prep and serve on Saturday, even though he was sporting a Band-Aid after slicing the tip of his index finger chopping cabbage.

The Memphis chefs arrived in Portland on Wednesday, hit a bunch of must-chew venues (Pok Pok, Kenny & Zuke’s, Clyde Commons, Sunshine Tavern) and on Thursday cooked a collaborative dinner with celebrated chef Jenn Louis at her restaurant, Lincoln.

For Saturday’s main event, Hudman and Ticer got the oak wood fire going about 6 that morning. A member of Campbell’s crew built the pit earlier in the week, using specs from Hudman’s backyard setup: cinderblocks to coral the coals and a sturdy frame with an adjustable grill to hold the pig, a 150-pounder from nearby Carlton Farms.

As nearly 200 guests arrived, they lined up for briny oysters on the half shell from The Parish in Portland and for a rose smack down between some of the best wineries in the area, including Ponzi and Adelsheim. The air was perfumed with that unmistakable savory scent of Southern barbecue, a rarity in this part of the world.

Folks snacked on those glorious deviled eggs and the terrific sausage before heading up to the winery’s tasting room and special event space for an epic spread, served buffet-style: the whole hog, dressed in a Carolina-inspired sweet mustard sauce, ribs with Central’s signature mild and hot sauce, collard greens, slaw, potato salad, creamed corn, cheesy grits and pork belly tacos served alongside outstanding Pinot noir from Elk Cove’s cellar, wines dating back to 1985.

It’s been six years since I moved back to the Northwest after spending three very filling years writing about food in Memphis. I’m routinely asked where to go eat barbecue in and around Seattle and, unfortunately, I’ve yet to find even one place that does a stellar Southern barbecue. Most of the meat cooked low-and-slow I’ve tried on the Left Coast is drowned in sauce or dry and under-seasoned. Some of it is even boiled or baked, which is one reason I come back to the 901 at least once a year (most recently to make a pig of myself at Memphis in May’s World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest) and why I thought nothing of driving four hours from Seattle to this epic event in Oregon wine country.

There’s just nothing in the world like Memphis barbecue, especially when it’s cooked with care and a heaping helping of love like it was on Saturday alongside those verdant vineyards. Here’s hoping this becomes an annual tradition!

Leslie Kelly is a Seattle-based food and wine writer and a former reporter and restaurant critic for The Commercial Appeal in Memphis. You can follow her on Twitter" @LeslieDines.

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