Speaker 1 Ron Paul are growing up and the title, the executive director of the James Beard Public Market. All right.

Speaker 2 So tell us about this project, Ron, and how that started.

Speaker 1 Well, the project got started realizing well over a decade ago that one of the missing links in Portland's food culture was having a central market and a group of citizens joined me and first thinking about what a public market should be and with a discipline to understanding how it could serve contemporary Portland and then and only then thinking about the logistics of where, when and how. And early in that discussion, we focused on the history of markets in Portland. And of course, James Beard's history intersected with the history of markets. And so the two themes became intertwined, really starting a decade ago. How much

Speaker 2 do you think

Speaker 1 I'm going to have a chance to live and breathe that by seeing where the market culture really took root in Portland? And that was from the late eighteen hundreds into the nineteen twenties along southwest Yamhill Street between 1st and 5th Avenues. If you can envision hundreds of vendors on a daily basis just clogging the sidewalk and the street corners, selling everything edible as well as many things, just dry goods and, and things that every day shoppers would need. And Portland in those years was larger than Seattle aspired to be the San Francisco of the Pacific Northwest and so took its food and other parts of its culture very seriously. And sourcing high quality ingredients, whether they were local or from other parts of the world, really had a central role in in Portland's culinary development. And so understanding that helped us focus on what a public market for Portland could be and at the same time understanding that we had a unique opportunity, indeed an obligation to try to link a new public market in Portland with the legacy of beer. So many Portlanders are not aware, let alone New Yorkers are not aware of beards, roots in our city. And so being able to honor him with a living memorial in the form of a daily year round public market was not only the right thing to do, but really the only thing to do in terms of bringing the market to life.

Speaker 2 To tell you personal history, it's kind of when you first

Speaker 1 intersect here, well, food hijacked my life in the mid 70s as a 20 something year old. I knew I wasn't a lesbian or a poet or a musician of any sort. And food, though, became the art form of choice. And once I recognized that, it just eclipsed other parts of of my life. And for the next twenty five now, 30 some years, food has been center stage. And so from expressing art in a way that was personally satisfying to recognizing that, I couldn't go to the National Endowment for the Arts for a grant in the nineteen seventies, that would have been heresy, that the only default was to be able to open my own place. And in essence, it evolved into a studio where we were experimenting with local food, working very closely with the Oregon wine and beer industries, and developing an ethos of local artists in food that has obviously since blossom.

Speaker 2 So in some ways, you know, it's a similar story to be reading, he found a creative outlet,

Speaker 1 although he was and he tried, I knew better than to do that and never had any theatrical aspirations. But what we both probably recognized was the value of local food and the integrity that local food offers wherever you are. And my own role sort of began to evolve in a beer direction in 1990 when, as chef of my own charcuterie, Ron Paul Charcuterie, I was invited as the first Oregon chef to cook the beer house. And we had a terrific time bringing local food to a very discerning public dining at the Beard house that night, who were quite amazed that lox and caviar from the Pacific Northwest could rival anything that Zabar's and Petrosian would be able to offer them. And in fact, they have the audacity to ask if that's where I sourced it. And I had great pleasure in letting them know that not only was the caviar from the Columbia River, but it was black market at that and that we indeed cured in our own locks before we came to New York and St..

Speaker 2 I was sitting nicely through what just happened to be real luxury for the Beard Awards this year, right. So did you ever meet?

Speaker 1 I never met him. I'm not sure how close our paths had crossed in the years that I was cracking before he died in nineteen eighty five. But I certainly got a taste of who he was by spending a couple of days cooking in his house.

Speaker 2 I'm sure over the years you've probably met people who knew him and any funny anecdotes that you had heard.

Speaker 1 Well, one of them that impacted me directly was Beard being very skittish about natural gas. So now were you to go to the beard house? The kitchen has been completely renovated and they're fully functional and commercial gas stoves and ranges. When I was there, it was all electric. And if you can imagine doing a five or six course meal for eighty five people on an electric range, you understand the sort of pyrotechnics that we have to deal with to to really try to get the dinner to come out on time.

Speaker 2 And you don't want

Speaker 1 to have any history of wine. I think it was fear of flame and fire, especially in an old brownstone in the West Village. But it really was just one of those quirks about him.

Speaker 2 So what? First of all, what is the name the do you think about here? What do you think his legacy and his contributions to American cooking really are?

Speaker 1 Well, it's the integrity of local food and looking around you

Speaker 2 because you're not going to hear me.

Speaker 1 Right? Right. So the what resonates about beer and his philosophy of food with me is the integrity of sourcing local and really doing with it only as much as necessary to heighten its flavor. I'm often reminded of Michelangelo's expression that the form is in the stone and he is there just to chip away the excess. And I think our role in cooking is to do less, not more, but to heighten the flavors that are within the foods themselves. And I don't think Beard was necessarily a strong adherent of that philosophy. But distilling his thinking over the years moves to more and more in that direction. And he and I came from the same geographic base. And living in Portland at a time when local foods were so under discovered was a thrill for me because I was encountering those same foods that he had as a child growing up and, you know, this part of of the world.

Speaker 2 So I'm sure, you know, you've done a lot of people probably have some criticisms of him. What are some things that you have heard and kind of your reaction to? Perhaps people will say, why should we care?

Speaker 1 Well, Beard wasn't perfect, and I think he would acknowledge that as quickly as anyone else. I think some of us in the food world who spent a considerable amount of time in the trenches would often scratch our head and say, well, he had a catering company doing orders on the Upper East Side for a brief period of time and then really devoted his career to writing, teaching and cooking that way. And it's not so much a criticism as much as just understanding that those in the full time restaurant community really understand the rigors of running a kitchen, putting out dinner night after night and sort of wonder, well, we didn't do that. But he certainly had other compensatory skills that he offered. There was always a question about his endorsing products and whether that was appropriate. And I think that you can't be dogmatic about that. You just have to embrace that. That was part of who he was, the economic necessities, in addition to the philosophical issues that were there.

Speaker 2 So no, elaborate a little fast forward. We've come today. You see all kinds of chefs endorsing products and having lines of knives and cook. So, you know. Where do you feel like he was a pioneer not just in philosophy, but in the media? All right.

Speaker 1 Medium Beard was the first television show going back to the forties, and hopefully we'll find some footage that will will document that. And I think he was one of the early recognizable food leaders who could both profit from and get away with endorsing products. Now, whether it's naked chef line of this, that or the other or Wolfgang Puck, elaborate line of both restaurants and products, it's become much more mainstream and a way for chefs to cash in on their hard earned credibility and notoriety. Beard was ahead of the curve in doing that and caught some flack, perhaps, for having his head out in front.

Speaker 2 What do you think he would think

Unidentified about the fact that now there are two full time for? Other kinds of

Speaker 2 food related,

Speaker 1 I think he laugh a lot at it because the form has eclipsed the substance and deep down beard was about substance. He was flamboyant in how he presented both himself and what he did. But there was a solid core and essence to what he wrote about, what he talked about and how he thought about food. And I think the frivolity of food television now would get to him just like it gets to me.

Speaker 2 So the very words we think that he would think about beautiful.

Speaker 1 Well, I think the beard would be flattered that the equivalent of the Oscars, the Emmys or the Oscars have his name on it. And he was certainly you know, my sense was that self-centered enough that that would be as ego pleasing as anything could be. My bias is that food shouldn't be a competitive sport and that you everyone eats. Everyone loves good food, tastefully prepared. I've never participated in a culinary competition and I don't know if Beard would have had a similar attitude. But when you move food from its intrinsic good and its benefit and bringing people together into a competitive sport in that kind of environment, it changes the atmosphere. And I'm shy about wanting to do that.

Speaker 2 Are there any words that you think are missing from the docket that he would probably champion?

Speaker 1 I think stewardship of the land and natural resources beard awards are now reaching out into other areas of journalism, of looking at issues other than being a restaurant or restaurant designer or a cookbook author. But we're beard paying attention to local norms and all. Now, it would really reach farther than that to farm worker issues, stewardship issues, genetically modified organism, the GMO, and really trying to get champions identified in those arenas that the market.

Speaker 2 Free markets of the country?

Speaker 1 Well, there are certainly great markets in the country that Beard would appreciate, and I think when he comes back in spirit to visit the the market named in his honor in Portland, that he will be dutifully pleased again, whether markets deserve an award or just an acknowledgement for existing is is really what counts because their existence fulfills so many purposes, not only the daily transactions of edible life, but the bringing people together, the placemaking the community development, the economic development and all those things that you couldn't single out one category to give, given an award for it. You just need to celebrate the magic of markets.

Speaker 2 So you can now describe for us a picture of the Portland

Speaker 1 market to come. Well, Portland has this rich tapestry, not only the history that we talked briefly about and of markets here, but the the types of foods that make their way into an urban core, whether it's the toilet and the Willamette Valley or the rivers and the ocean that supply the seafood or the rangeland east of the Cascades. We have this amazing and marvelous network that just cries out to have a market showcase all of that food. And so the market that we're envisioning for Portland, the market with its name on it, will be that kind of showcase and will allow us to celebrate the local bounty wherever and whenever we can find new and better sources to bring those foods into into the city. We're conscious, though, of many other variables, how food travels here, its carbon footprint, accurately labeling the types of foods that are sold in the market. We're not dogmatic and I don't think it would be in saying it has to be all organic or it has to be all biodynamic. What we're interested in is consumers having an educated format in deciding how they want to buy the food that appeals to them and whether that's conventional or organic. Biodynamic Food Alliance certified all the food will be accurately labeled and that will allow the the consumers to make their their best decisions.

Speaker 2 So what's her time, schedule,

Speaker 1 time schedules for the markets open yesterday, but we missed that. So on this being 12 and 13, we're in active fundraising mode for the next two plus years and have a tough nut to crack, but have great support from both private philanthropy as well as from the government. And we hope within two and a half years to have the capital necessary to build the market. And then it would take about 18 months to 24 months after we have the money in hand for the market to to be built and open.

Speaker 2 And so the goal is

Speaker 1 to well, realistically, it would be 12 and 17 to 18. But it all depends on the success, the early success of our fundraising so that we can accelerate that.

Speaker 2 Why do you think he has the kind of unique experience that I think certainly Mary Elizabeth was attracted to and made her want to stay

Unidentified and of course, his life continued to come back?

Speaker 2 What makes Portland,

Unidentified Oregon, so special that this kind of spontaneous you

Speaker 1 mean Portland has always been sort of the intersection of rivers, valleys, oceans. And so from the food perspective, the it's a no brainer because we have access to so many things. But dial back to is really history. And you have the rugged individualism of Oregonians coming over the the trail to get here. You have the proud ancestors of our our current Portland families who really understood that this was a special, if not sacred place that deserves stewardship. And for all of the talk about Stumptown and having mowed down almost every tree in sight, we have magical natural spaces preserved, whether it's Forest Park in the hills or the park blocks right in the heart of downtown or Laurelhurst Park on the Near East Side. So there was a consciousness early on about the balance between natural and urban, and the urban was developed with a sensitivity and the scale that valued the individual. We have very small blocks, two hundred by two hundred, so that it's a walkable city. And we got great comments from urban planners now hundreds of years later, just saying that that was the best decision Portland could make. But it couldn't have been a more exciting place for Mary Elizabeth Virag or a young Jim Beard to to grow up. It was larger than Seattle. It was bustling day and night. It had its share of body culture and corruption as as well as the sort of Presbyterian spirit of wanting to do good. And it just had the magic then I think that has been distilled for those of us who proudly call Portland home that.

Speaker 2 What do you think in modern day society,

Unidentified the public market will play and why that's important?

Speaker 1 The James Beard public market is not just an exercise to recreate the past and the mercantile culture that we have, but it's looking forward to anticipating the food needs of our community. The sustainability quotient of the market is very important, from sourcing to retailing to composting and even how we have light and air filtered in the market for the benefit of of all of us. So the market is both an artifice of the past, but a vision for the future and a way of of looking to Portlands future, especially as embodying not only the richness of the food history we've had, but the sustainability efforts that we are now well known for is as well. And so on. The market is this palette upon which we can project Portland's past, present and future almost like no other civic institution, because we're new. There hasn't been a James Beard public market before and we want to honor Beard in the past and what he has brought to us. But at the same time, this is a very contemporary experience and one that allows locals and visitors alike to to see the essence of Portland under one roof and with the visuals of some of the most incredible food in the country,

Unidentified you can come in. Steepens.

Speaker 2 In Beard's time, the market was a place that all levels of economic society could come in and shop, and then we saw market. Why do we see markets go away? I guess that's a question. What do you think? We saw markets

Unidentified disappearing and what took place? What did that mean for the average?

Speaker 1 So the history of markets in Portland is really indicative of food policy and culture anywhere in North America. The John Carroll market between 1st and 5th Avenue on Southwest Yamano was eventually pushed out because traffic planners thought it was a hazard to have all these people on the street when cars were now trying to whiz through. And that became the metaphor for suburban sprawl. The supermarket ization of the food system and looking at what had been the traditional way of people to come together to buy food in a central urban environment to now a sterile suburban shopping mall where chances are you won't see more than two people. You know, if that during the course of of a very antiseptic shopping experience. So we've lost in many ways that market culture. We're regaining it in bits and pieces from farm stands to you pig to CSAs to great farmer's markets in Portland, and now having a public market that will solidify and focus that back to a norm that was very prevalent in the early nineteen hundreds, but that the automobile sped away and created the type of suburban sprawl and supermarkets that were anathema to local foods.

Speaker 2 And so continuing on that kind of talk about food deserts and then the disconnect, because as we saw them move out to the suburbs in many cities, poorer folks, folks of color often stay in the city and now they were having fewer and fewer choices to shop.

Unidentified And so it's kind of maybe

Speaker 2 relates to

Speaker 1 the concept of food deserts is one that demographers are increasingly documenting. The the reality is that the availability of fresh foods is disproportionately favored, disproportionately favors upper white, middle income and higher shoppers. How do we want to change that disproportional availability of fresh foods? Some of it is a function of gentrification where historically poor neighborhoods have seen their populations moved farther and farther out of town. And just when then the supermarkets that wouldn't have been there when it was a poorer community are now there for the gentrified public. But the gap is in the areas where the lower income people have now moved. And so the economics of opening a full scale grocery store in an economically depressed area are very challenging. We're looking at any number of different strategies to be able to bring fresh local food, to have programs to challenge the epidemic of obesity and Type two diabetes in those communities by working with convenience stores and having what's called a healthy local food initiative, where there's a certain public subsidy that allows the convenience stores to have a better selection of produce. And so not everything is shrink wrapped in deep fried. That's a short term strategy. What we need to have is a better understanding of changing the footprint of large grocery store formula and having a more decentralized system that would rely on a new era of convenience stores. We have a brilliant entrepreneur opening what she calls green zebra groceries and a much smaller footprint in diverse areas of town to do just that. And I think Portland will be a great laboratory in trying to figure out how do we push out the kind of food culture that has been more rarefied, that has been more expensive, that has attracted a primarily upper middle class audience into the general population so that everyone has access. It's certainly a goal of the public market, but that's when people are in the central city. And we'll work hard to represent all of the communities of color that we can within the market. But that doesn't solve the problem of how do we decentralize the food system that has most conspicuous areas of our community.

Ron Paul
Interview Date:
American Archive of Public Broadcasting GUID:
"Ron Paul, James Beard: America's First Foodie." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). 02 Aug. 2013,
(2013, August 02). Ron Paul, James Beard: America's First Foodie. [Video]. American Masters Digital Archive (WNET).
"Ron Paul, James Beard: America's First Foodie." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). August 02, 2013. Accessed May 26, 2022


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