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We’re wrapping up our On the Road with Oregon Bounty trip in the Greater Portland region, where I began working with food and wine artisans in the mid -1980s. Back then, Portland – like much of the country – was a culinary desert. The Oregon wine industry was in its toddler years, and the restaurant scene was, well, non-existent. Then, in 1984, things changed. Atwater’s Restaurant & Bar, a wine-focused fine dining establishment, brought nouveau cuisine (and a focus on local farms and producers) to the city.

That same year, the Heathman Hotel opened, and Bridgeport Brewery was founded (by pioneer Oregon winemaker Dick Ponzi, no less). Atwater’s, along with Genoa and a few other now-extinct chef-driven kitchens, were the only options for a nice meal other than those “continental cuisine” places with their velvet booths and tuxedo-clad maitre d’. Then, in the early 1990s, Atwater’s begat Higgins, which begat Zefiro, Wildwood and Paley’s Place, which begat the restaurant scene we have today.

Gabe Rucker is part of that third wave of chefs defining and redefining Portland’s food scene. He arrived in Portland in 2003, landing jobs in some of the city’s top kitchens. In June 2006 he opened Le Pigeon, and his notoriety hit warp-speed. In 2007, Food and Wine Magazine named Gabe one of the country’s Best New Chefs. In 2008, the James Beard Foundation dubbed him a Rising Star Chef. Today, foodies are still lining up early for one of Le Pigeon’s coveted tables and Gabe’s rustic France-meets-Spain-meets-California-meets-Oregon cuisine.

Gabe is the chef mentor in our Oregon Bounty “Cuisinternship” contest, which will give seven lucky people the chance to win an all-expenses paid trip to Oregon for an ultimate foodie getaway (that’s right, you could spend a week as a winemaker, chef, brewmaster, cheesemaker and chocolatier, distiller, rancher or fisherman). Check out the video about Gabe and learn how to enter the contest.

When you visit the Greater Portland region, don’t miss the Oregon croissant at Ken’s Artisan Bakery in Northwest Portland, the pumpkin patches and farms on Sauvie Island, or the chance to sample spirits at one of the many artisan distilleries in Portland’s Distillery Row. Go to Travel Oregon’s new culinary travel website to plan a getaway.

Now, get out there and enjoy your own “On the Road” culinary adventure. Cheers!

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