Friday night and New Year's Day, Anna Witham stood in the kitchen of Palate, a coffee bar, and served up her gourmet bowl of ramen. The pop-up ramen shop ran for the weekend, opening up at 6 pm and running until 9 pm or until sold out. Already at 6 pm the coffee house was maxed out, with a line of curious ramen seekers out the door. The 1,2,3 patrons were thrown out of their everyday routines and expectations, faced with having to make a decision about whether or not the ramen was worth the wait. Most people stayed put because something magical called to them.
The line moved up, the tables were served, and some ramen eaters stood in between tables or off to a corner, slurping on homemade broth, chewing and wiggling home-rolled noodles, and tasting the symphony of choices like citrus glazed pork, spicy mushrooms, or tea-braised duck; paired with options of six dancing condiments, such as pickled lime, fermented radish, peanuts, bean sprouts, nori strips, and a sweet chili sauce.
Those who waited patiently were provided with an illustrated paper of instructions for folding a paper crane; the rest of the strangers and friends gathered to laugh, wonder, and slurp together. It was like a full ski lodge, a warm place with bowl of soup and a fire to warm your toes by.
The secret to the ramen success? A deep calling for true nourishment and heart.
Anna's apprenticeship began 20 years ago in the kitchen of Devore's, where she learned to cook the pre-prepared salads and wraps that help sustain the hungry people of Bend who want something fast, yet more wholesome than fast food. Anna spent a year in France, helping in the kitchen of her home stay and learning the subtleties of French cuisine. When she became a mother, her desire to nourish her children's health and her passion for cooking kept her up in the middle of the night studying recipes and perfecting delicate meats, sauces, fats, and fermented condiments. You may know her as the co-founder of LonePine Coffee Roasters, and her days spent at farmers' markets trading coffee and making connections with all the local farmers.
Like the ramen bowl, going from scratch broth to alchemized condiments, Anna starts every meal with the foundation of, the more local the better, and the closer to the earth the better for you.
The Root Cellar is Anna's creation; it is the name of her catering/creating food with soul business. Since starting this endeavor a year ago, she has catered multiple weddings, one of which was in a treehouse forest, and she's held various culturally thematic dinner events, including a night at the Grange Hall in Powell Butte, where she paired each course with a storyteller's story. The themes of her dinners guide the eater to get caught up in a dream, and at the same time you find yourself feeling close to the earth and deeply connected to your community. Don't be surprised if you are seated across the table from the woman who raised the duck or rabbit on which you are feasting.
She recently held a tamale feast at the Boys and Girls club, during one of the monthly contra dance gatherings, with a special order of 50 pounds of masa from the Sisters Nixtamal, out of Portland, who use a special process called Nixtamalization, which is an ancient process of making corn more assimilable in the body.
Anna's goal is to bring the people back to balance between earth and spirit with her food, to show us that the things that are good for our bodies can be full of magic and delight. She is a food artist, who continues to "pop-up" with surprising new ideas, and always woos us with mystery, humanity, humbleness, and the subtle flavors of life.
For those curious about the path of this gypsy Root Cellar, and what adventures it has in store, keep your eyes out for the next event at therootcellarbend.com.