Long before the city became a mecca for some of the best and most creative chefs in the country, James Beard was born and raised in Portland.
Born in 1903, he was raised during Portland's first big population boom, when the Lewis & Clark Centennial Exposition attracted tens of thousands of new residents. He claimed his first childhood memory was watching Triscuits and shreded wheat biscuits being made at that very fair.
Then, like many of Reed College's most successful students, Beard did not graduate from the school, but was kicked out (for being gay). He eventually made his name as a caterer in New York City, and as one of the first TV stars—with the first TV cooking show and with a grand personality that translated the pleasure of cooking and eating into an everyday lifestyle. Compared to James Beard, Julia Childs was a johnny-come-lately. And, unlike, say, Joseph Pulitzer, whose career as a tabloid publisher is so far from his posthumous reputation as the gold standard for journalism, the James Beard legacy has remained relatively close to the actual man—generous, encouraging creativity and awarding excellence. And, for aspiring restaurateurs, simple association with the James Beard name is tantamount to greatness.
As Portland's food scene has rapidly matured over the past decade, the James Beard Foundation has bestowed awards to stars in the namesake's hometown, like to Le Pigeon's Gabriel Rucker and Beast's Naomi Pomeroy.
But Bend has largely remained void from such endorsements. That is, until these past few weeks: Last week, the James Beard Foundation announced its long list of nominees for Best Chef. The equivalent of a nod from the Academy of Motion Pictures, these are strong recognition for outstanding culinary skills—and, included in the Pacific Northwest category is Joe Kim, 5 Fusion and Sushi Bar.
And that is not the only recognition that the James Beard Foundation has bestowed on the local food scene: The husband-wife chef team from Ariana has been invited to fix a full-scale dinner for the organization's members in New York City.
The couple—Ariana and Andres Fernandez—met at COCC more than a decade ago, where they were attending culinary school, and both come from families where food and cooking were a centering force. In fact, Ariana's family is still very involved in the business, with her dad, a chiropractor, managing the wine selection, and her mom working the front of the house.
"It is very much a family affair," laughs Ariana.
Andres is from Colombia and Ariana comes from an Italian family; those influences are evident on the food.
The invitation to cook for the James Beard Foundation came about as a surprise to Ariana. After a customer who had returned for a second visit finished his meal, he walked over and handed Ariana a business card. He was a board member for the James Beard Foundation. It was a simple and unceremonious invitation, but a big deal—something like a talent scout walking up on the street and asking you to play the leading role in a Hollywood film.
"It is a great honor, and it is really nerve wracking," says Ariana.
The menu Ariana plans to present showcases both their talent and the talent of Pacific Northwest resources: A first course includes smoked Columbia River sturgeon and locally-grown crisp pork belly (with spring radish, chile and lime). Throughout the meal, the chefs will sample from throughout Oregon, pulling Dungeness crab from the coast and adding black trumpet mushrooms to wild salmon. As well, each course is paired with regional wines, from an Argyle (Dundee, Ore.) brut to Doubleback (Walla Walla, Wash.) cabernet sauvignon.
These invitations are rare, but the restaurateurs must fund their—and their foods'—own way across the country. To do so—and also because it is in the generous spirit of James Beard himself—Ariana is hosting two preview dinners with the very menu that will be served in New York, Sunday, March 23 and Monday, March 31: $90 for dinner, an additional $60 for wine pairings.