When considering the term “food personality,” an image of a Julia Child-style character hosting a cooking show comes to mind; however, in the contemporary age, it’s not just about the celebrity chef with a network slot. Considering how few local cooking shows even exist these days, many of the food personalities that develop in Portland drum up hometown pride on competitive cooking shows. Think of people like Doug Adams and Gregory Gourdet: Their success is, in part, because of their Top Chef fame, bringing tourists in the door and giving locals a better sense of their individual identities.
But a food personality is more than a television appearance: They become the friendly face peeking out of a cart window, or bringing a dish to the table. Suddenly, it’s not just the food that attracts you; it’s the sense of humor, the creativity, the warmth. In short, it’s the person.
There are a ton of chefs that are becoming local household names, but this particular chef was more than her name or her dishes. Althea Grey Potter has been cooking at Southeast Wine Collective for years, but it’s only recently that she’s started to step out of the kitchen into the limelight. Her food, bold and brash, earned the wine bar a spot on the Eater 38 this year, but her cooking is simply an extension of her persona: Loud, goofy, and earnestly warm, Potter is someone whose light turns heads whenever she walks into a room.
Potter appeared on two different Food Network shows this year: Guy’s Grocery Games and Chopped. There’s no need to spoil them, but what’s immediately apparent is how charming she appears. She runs with her arms over her head, she cheers, she high-fives; there’s nothing about her that perpetuates the idea that Portlanders are cool and steely. And it seems like the camera is glued to her on both episodes — she has enough energy and exuberance to carry the show, even next to blander characters.
Potter grew up in rural Massachusetts, but think of it more as Eugene or Berkeley: Raised by hippie parents, she spent much of her childhood running around gardens plucking ingredients. The juxtaposition is apparent on her television appearances, running through the aisles of grocery stores throwing produce in a cornucopia, scrambling to plate a final dish on Chopped. In her kitchen, back home, things are much mellower, but that big-bold silliness isn’t just a show — if you catch her at Oui any given night, you’ll probably get a dose of that same freewheelin’ charm alongside the pumpkin hummus.
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Ok y’all the secret is out! I taped episodes of Chopped and Guys Grocery Games last year! We are having a viewing party of both episodes @ouilikefoodandwine @sewinecollective next Wednesday 11/20 at 6 p.m. I’m going to make some queso and drink champagne. Come watch with me!