There is an undeniable subtlety at play when a chef is cooking. Dashes of spice ricocheting off sizzling seasonal vegetables, meats and sauces, paired together in a kind of improvisational dance to create dishes that both taste great and act as an apt representation of the artist who created them.
Sounds a lot like a musician. The parallels found in the creative processes of cooking and playing music are many, utilizing the experience of proven structures, the spontaneity of present whimsy, and global and cultural influences to produce a meal or a song. It’s in the spirit of exploring the stories behind such parallels that the Curation Series at Pickathon began in 2015.
Pickathon co-founder Zale Schoenborn had his eye on Ned Ludd chef Jason French to collaborate in some capacity with the summertime music festival. Four years ago, the first attempt at bringing food and music together in an intimate, value-added experience at Pickathon took place as the Backyard Brunch, with French cooking two brunches—one to pair with a performance by Heartless Bastards, and the next day with Sonny & The Sunsets in the secluded yard of Scott and Sherry Pendarvis, whose farm has been the site of Pickathon since 2006.
“We just borrowed stuff from Sherry’s garage and set up a little impromptu stage,” French explains. “There was no cover, and not a ton of effort was put toward it; we just wanted to get it off the ground.”
The first year was a success, so Schoenborn and French began to think about ways to flesh out the experience for themselves and for attendees. The Curation Series was born as a vehicle to pair chefs with artists playing the festival to create a one-of-a-kind meal-performance tandem. The following year, the scope expanded to include three brunches and three dinners in two separate locations on the farm. French selected Portland chefs while Schoenborn curated bands to pair them with—notable collaborations were chef Karl Holl of Spatzle and Speck with the Fruit Bats, and chef Johanna Ware of Smallwares with C.W. Stoneking.
“We realized there’s something magical to the intimacy of it and the storytelling from a Portland standpoint of how food and music in this town are so intertwined and so much a driving force of the communities in the city,” French says. “All of it is so representative of what Pickathon has been about from the get-go.”
In 2017, the series expanded to include live taping of the performances as well as production of a video series that recently premiered on the Pickathon YouTube channel. French hosts season one of Curation Series along with Kelly Cox of the PBS show Original Fare. Through interviews with the artists and chefs, they explore the conversations and inspirations behind the meals the chefs choose to create for the live Curation events at Pickathon. Among other partnerships in season one, Tusk’s Sam Smith is paired with the U.K.’s Wolf People for a mouth-watering vegetarian spread, while Mae’s Maya Lovelace is teamed with Portlanders Y La Bamba (watch at the end of this article) and Holl returns with NOLA's wildly funkified R&B act Tank and The Bangas (watch below). The video series has generated over 1.5 million views already, and stands to build on that as this year’s fest and Curation Series approaches.
The 2018 edition will feature six new chefs preparing brunches and dinners alongside six artists performing at this year’s festival, including Louisiana’s Lost Bayou Ramblers and Revel In Dimes.
The collaborative undercurrents found in the stories between chef and musician are oftentimes heartwarming, exuding the infallible emotional connections between food, home and heritage.
“I don’t know bands who don’t think about food, especially when they’re on the road and eating whatever they can,” French says. “But I also don’t know any chefs who don’t work in kitchens where music isn't playing all day. So I think there’s a lot of fun crossover, and a lot of depth to the nature of what we’ve put together.”