In light of the news that Castagna chef Matt Lightner will soon leave Portland for New York, PoMo's Karen Brooks pens an extended love letter to the chef and his groundbreaking work (in the form of a now-unpublishable review) — and the result can best be described as food writing gone pastoral. (Sam Sifton, NYC's grandfather of the florid, poetic review, would be proud.)
In the piece, Brooks draws comparisons between Lightner's dishes, fine art, cultural theory, geography, and everything in between. Among the things name-dropped: painter James Lavadour, writer Ken Keasey, abstract expressionism, and the concept of alternative reality.
5) "Some chefs make menus out of whole animals from nose to tail. Lightner considers what it eats and where it plays, then harnesses the taste of clovers, the smoke of hay, and, sometimes, it seems, even the good long nap the beast might take under a white oak, all of it becoming a culinary ecosystem on the plate."
4) "Like a ritualistic Japanese kaiseki feast, it unfolds in kaleidoscopic fashion on a procession of stones, slate, and bone-colored plates that cascade before you as if in a silent movie, while color harmonies ravish the eye."
3) "Lightner surveys the Oregon coast, tide charts in hand, waiting for the right moment to snatch up sea lettuce, which he transforms into a briny perfume that goes straight to the brain."
2) "Lightner brings us a criss-cross of long brown salsify roots (an artichoke-like member of the daisy family) soaked in wild licorice and juniper berries, then rolled in teeny leaves and wood-like shavings of toasted hazelnuts. Are they fallen logs in a mossy forest, or a reminder of Oregon’s logging history?"
1) "[Lightner] reaches deep into the herb, the vegetable, and the root to help us understand their beauty. Even a weed, something we step on, he ennobles."
In other words: No pressure to Lightner's replacement, longtime Castagna second-in-command Justin Woodward. No pressure at all.
· Matt Lightner: Oregon Imagist [Portland Monthly]
· All Previous Matt Lightner Coverage [Eater PDX]