When Beast opened, part of what caught the attention of food writers and diners around the country had to do with its radical focus on methodical, slow, sustainable cooking. Chef Naomi Pomeroy would butcher meat for the restaurant herself, serving a multi-course meal of grass-fed beef and wild-foraged mushrooms in a tiny dining room. It became a destination for tourists and locals, one that ended up being a celebration spot for many. But, for obvious reasons, it wasn’t well-suited to socially distanced dining, with its long, communal tables and tasting menu format.
But beyond the emotional toll of the pandemic, Pomeroy was absolutely exhausted. “Frankly, when I started working at Beast... I was paid $30k to work 100-hour weeks,” she says. “It’s one of the things that is inherently broken in the system that has nothing to do with the pandemic. The model of a restaurant in the past was, on some level, exploitation — even on the part of owners, self-exploitation.”
So, after a long temporary closure, the chef decided to shutter Beast entirely, and instead focus on something that allowed her and her staff some modicum of work-life balance. Today, she introduces Portland to that new business: Ripe Cooperative, named for her original catering company, is a specialty-market-meets-take-home-meal concept, with an online market for pre-ordering prix-fix meal boxes, sauces, breads, and wine.
In the marketplace, a laundry list of kitchen-made dishes, sauces, and snacks appear for pre-order. Many of the marketplace items are full, standalone dishes: curried lamb shepherd’s pie, eggplant parmesan, creamy miso chicken soup. However, the majority of the items in the marketplace are meant to accompany and elevate home cooking projects. The list includes salad dressings ranging from parmesan green peppercorn to roasted shallot and sherry. House-made pastas appear on the site, including spinach-flavored ravioli filled with wild mushroom, ricotta, and herbs, as well as sauces and spreads like hazelnut romesco or an amatriciana using house-made pancetta and tomato conserva.
However, the other half of Ripe is dedicated to fully composed “meal boxes,” per-person prix-fixe meals that customers finish at home. They come in four different categories: the “field box,” focusing on local produce; the “sea box,” made with Oregon seafood; the “air box,” with poultry from a local farm; and the “land box,” with sustainably-raised meat. For example, the initial “land box” comes with brioche and tapenade butter, a gem lettuce salad with parmesan-green peppercorn dressing and poached shrimp, a Carman Ranch filet mignon, and a chocolate pavé with coffee-caramel and chocolate shortbread ice cream. “I love coffee ice cream, and I’ve never had a coffee ice cream with a nice caramel swirl in it,” Pomeroy says. “I always want to make this version, like a cookie and cream ice cream affogato.”
That box clocks in at $88 for one person, a price point Pomeroy recognizes is high; for her, the price point is deliberate, and has to do with a larger goal: re-shaping our understanding of the cost of ethical food. “My hope-slash-fear is that the public understands that in 2021, food needs to cost a little bit more,” she says. “Every time that food is inexpensive, people are getting exploited, whether that’s on a farmer level or a cook level. To fix it, as a community, we have to commit to using our wallets in line with our values.”
For her, that means using 100-percent compostable or reusable packaging; offering employees paid time off, profit-sharing options, and benefits; and focusing on farmers and ranchers that are raising animals ethically and paying workers a fair wage. “Farm eggs, good milk, zero corners cut — that’s just more expensive. I guess the hope that I have overall (is that) we as a country could stop eating out every night,” she says. “You could learn to cook some stuff at home, maybe spend a little bit more, in a concentrated way, on stuff you’re inspired by.”
Ripe Cooperative is now open for pre-order at 5425 NE 30th Avenue.