Food that makes you go (h)mmm

Blind-Tasting Bingo

Last week, I was sitting on the Ecotrust roof with chefs Jason French (Ned Ludd), Naoko Tamura (Chef Naoko’s Bento Café), and a co-worker, watching them pick up small cups that I’d filled with different bite-sized leftovers from dinner the night before—buckwheat crepe, quick-pickled cucumber, romano beans with shiso, and an aprium (apricot-plum). With their eyes closed, the chefs shot the morsels. Then, they opened their eyes and searched small bingo boards looking for the ingredients they thought they’d tasted listed in individual squares.

This was our trial run of Blind-Tasting Bingo, a game that Jason, Naoko, and Johanna Ware of Smallwares will each host during the Time-Based Art Festival, September 6 – 16, 2012. Each chef will prepare 15 “one-bite wonders,” as Jason has been calling them. Under the lights of TBA’s Biergarten, the 25 people who sign up will taste their way through, eyes closed, searching within their tongues and noses for clues to what in the world these chefs have concocted.

Blind-Tasting Bingo is one several food experiences that the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art (PICA) has added to TBA, their renowned, city-wide contemporary arts festival. The most involved is a kitchen, built at Washington High School, the main campus for the festival, where a different chef will cook each night.

Many visionary, talented Portland chefs have stepped up to prepare the kind of food you’d want to eat in the late-night TBA frenzy, featuring late summer Oregon produce. (Full schedule below! Gosh, it’s going to be good. Click on each for tantalizing menu previews!) If you haven’t made it out to their brick and mortar restaurants, do not miss this chance to eat their food for biergarten prices. It would be a shame if you ate before coming – save room!

Ecotrust worked with PICA to curate the blind-tastings, chefs, and even a Snack Office in the school’s principal’s office, where we are living out our farm to school vending machine fantasies, inspired by our work with school districts, preschools, and child care centers to transform the ways students experience food—how cafeterias source ingredients, how teachers involve gardens and experiences on farms, and more.

We created the Blind-Tasting Bingo games as a living extension of our quarterly magazine, Edible Portland, which we publish to engage readers with questions about food: why it tastes the way it does and makes us feel the way we do; how it is grown and who plays what roles to bring it into our lives. All three chefs have intimate relationships with their ingredients and the people who grew/raised/caught them. We’re excited to see how and if that closeness translates in the mystery bites they share.

Food is a medium that engages all of our senses at once. Like art, it can be a way to weasel into and examine really complicated things, including the culture in which we live. We hope the food at TBA this year gives everyone an excuse to spend more time together, enjoying each others company, processing the things they’ve witnessed or been part of, and getting closer to the care and imagination that Portland’s chefs and farmers bring to our city.

Kristan Kennedy, PICA’s Visual Art Curator, summed it up nicely:

We know that all good parties wind up in the kitchen, so it feels fitting that for our tenth year of TBA we would build a communal space for people to celebrate, share, hang out, and eat! Chefs are time-based artists: they work in the moment to create something new, or elevated, or sustaining, or sculptural, or painterly, or performative, or surprising. But like every good performance or show, the magic only happens when the audience is present and participating, so my hope is the tables are full, the tastings are full, and we all get full on art.

Please join us! Get something to eat.

When: Nightly, September 6–15, 2012
Where: Washington High School, SE Stark Street, between 12th and 14th Avenues, Portland, OR 97214

TBA Biergarten
September 6, 10pm–2am: Boke Bowl
September 7, 7:30pm–2am: Grüner
September 8, 7:30pm–2am: The Woodsman Tavern
September 9, 10pm–2am: Artigiano
September 10–12, 7:30pm–2am: Via Tribunali
September 13, 10pm–2am: Portobello
September 14, 7:30pm–2am: Bunk Sandwiches
September 15, 7:30pm–2am: Nong’s Khao Man Gai

Entry to the TBA Biergarten is FREE and open to the public. Individual restaurants run on cash. Make time before the performances, or stay late (kitchen open nightly until 2 am).

Blind-Tasting Bingo
September 11, 8:30pm: Jason French (Ned Ludd)
September 12, 8:30pm: Naoko Tamura (Chef Naoko’s Bento Café)
September 14, 8:30pm: Johanna Ware (Smallwares)
Tickets: $25,

The Snack Office

Nightly, 10 – midnight: Abby’s Table and 50 Licks