portland’s vegan iron chef 2010

I apologize ahead of time for the lengthy post—as well as the fact that it’s taken nearly three weeks to get it out. Originally meant to be a quick recap with a few photos, this ended up much, much more. Maybe it’ll inspire you to put on your own event…and maybe it’ll scare you away for good.

I first saw Try Vegan PDX’s Vegan Iron Chef when a friend of mine fan’d it on Facebook. When I saw the call for planning committee members back in March I was in. How could I not be? From my first meeting—walking in pretty much a total stranger (aside from comment exchanges here and there with the event director Jess Scone, I’d never met anyone)—I joined this amazing group of people in putting together an amazing event.

Word spread. Ideas grew. Each week problems were solved while new ones sprang up. Sponsors signed on while others realized they’d overextended themselves and had to back out. As a tiny unit without its own official 501(c)(3) status we relied on our cousin NW Veg to help us with some of the larger sponsors. Then our bake sale came up against a nasty storm and a health inspector. We went from buying equipment to renting and borrowing equipment.

Then we put tickets on sale. Then they were gone. In three days we filled up our little Ecotrust space. We’re talking paid-for tickets, not just Facebook fans saying, “That sounds fun. I’ll totally go to that…maybe.” Then our posters came out and everyone saw that Portland has some of the coolest, sexiest chefs around. And everyone wanted in. You can’t imagine how hard it was to say no to some of the folks we had to say no to. Really, it hurt.

About a week before the event we met with our volunteers. We had a list of people and a list of jobs (totally guessing what had to be done by how many people), and everyone was great about signing on for responsibilities. Of course we knew some of those people wouldn’t show up so we had a batch of friends and latecomers in our pocket. (In hindsight we were totally off on volunteer roles, but everyone was great about pitching in where they could.)

Meanwhile, we were postering the city’s veg-friendly restaurants and stores, gathering equipment…and I was trying to sew everything I swore I would get sewn: table skirts, napkins, presentation fabric for the secret ingredient unveiling, and napkin rings. We had a pantry-packing party, still brainstorming ingredients to be procured. Extra microphones (which didn’t end up working with the system anyway) were picked up that morning. And cars were loaded and unloaded on one of the rainiest days of the year! With every bit of work we just had to remind ourselves that unless you pay it in you can’t get it out. DIY may not be easy but it’s rewarding.

Honestly, once we got into our space, after stuffing our programs with donated coupons and rounding up volunteers, the whirlwind of activity—with just a hint of chaos—didn’t allow time for thinking or feeling. The clock was ticking ’til “doors open,” and we had three chef stations, the raffle/apron table, and all the extra ingredients, equipment, and dishes. Oh and then there was the challenge of setting up the still-secret ingredient while still keeping it a secret, although I managed to say it out loud three times while talking to our food guru Isa Moskowitz about the unveiling. Our judges and contestants were briefed; our host, Herbivore’s Michelle Schwegmann, and I came up with a raffle strategy; Jess ran around, puttin’ out fires like a pro; and the DJs and videographer got in place and hooked up.

Doors open!

Isa filled time while the room filled in with trivia questions, rewarded with Go Max Go candy bars and other prizes. Our vendors outside spread the word and sampled their wares. And excitement grew.



Cooking, cooking, cooking. Left to right, that’s Qausu Asaase of Asaase Ital Palace, Aaron Adams of Portobello Vegan Trattoria, and Wes Hannah of Blossoming Lotus. Click on thumbnails to see full-size images. Like most of the photos in this post, these were taken by Lucas DeShazer.

Tasting, tasting, tasting.

And the winner is Qausu!

Again, this was all less than three weeks ago but we’ve already had one meeting to discuss next steps and are planning another soon. And to fill the time between Vegan Iron Chefs we’ve got a trivia night, Try Vegan Week, Vegan Prom, and as many bake sales as we can squeeze in. Plus there’s the Let Live Conference. And NW Veg has Race for the Animals coming up—and don’t forget VegFest!

Oh yeah, if you want to help support what we do—all this fun stuff is ultimately to spread vegan love—or to keep your clothes clean and look awesome while cooking, you should get yourself an apron. We’ll ship it to you USPS for $17. Click that link there to Paypal us some cash and I’ll get the apron out to you right away.

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