Meet the chef Q&A: Matt Christianson

Pickling and canning add distinction to the menu of Urban Farmer, a modern steakhouse in Portland, Oregon, with a penchant for local and sustainable food.

Executive Chef Matt Christianson garnishes a chilled shrimp appetizer with pickled celery and oil-cured tomato, adds assorted pickled vegetables to a platter of house-made pate and cured meats and serves burgers with pickled cucumbers in summer and pickled beets or sunchokes in winter. When green beans are abundant, he makes his signature Dilly Green Bean Pickles, a quick pickling application made by steeping the beans in hot vinegar brine flavored with dill, garlic and Thai chilies.

Jars of preserved fruits and vegetables are showcased on the shelves of a pantry-themed dining area in the 120-seat restaurant, which is situated in the Nines hotel.

“Year by year, we improve our ability to sustain the flavor of summer through the different seasons,” says Christianson, who cites his relationships with local farmers as essential for getting good buys on produce at the peak of freshness.

Q: How does canning and preserving fit in with using local foods at Urban Farmer?

A: Just last week we worked with a local picker to get Liberty blueberries, a variety with high acid that we can add a lot of sugar to. We made enough jam to last our breakfast program probably for at least four or five months. So instead of having to buy preserves, we are able to make it ourselves from local ingredients.

In mid-September last year, we canned about 400 pounds of peaches in nice light syrup, which took us through February of this year. We used those to make peach jam to serve with our chicken sandwich and we also combined it with a little winter citrus to make peach compote for our pancakes.

Having relationships with farmers allows us to get better fruit. I had a conversation this morning with a grower who wants me to try a new type of freestone peach that peels better. When you can peaches, you don’t want the skin on because it turns brown. All of these conversations we have with farmers ultimately make it better for the consumer.

Q: How do the foods you preserve in your own kitchen compare to commercially made alternatives?

A: Well, they are certainly more meaningful for the guest. That’s because so much of dining these days is experiential. Having a server or manager or myself go to the table and talk about the food they are eating is so important. It’s like selling somebody a more expensive bottle of wine by talking about how the grapes are grown and your relationship with the winemaker.


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