Jorge Rico, a Portland-area chef, remembers meeting a man at the Montavilla farmers market. The man asked Rico, an alumni of restaurants like Taylor Railworks and Berlu, about where his family came from in Mexico, and sent him home with a handful of papalau from Cuautla. “He kept saying how important it was, your raiz — your roots,” he says. “It stuck with me.”
Rico and his partner, Dominique Rodriguez, are captivated by roots in their most literal form: plants. The couple moved to Portland years ago, after visiting Southern Oregon. They remember walking around seeing bushes of rosemary in people’s front lawns, eating a Mountain Rose apple for the first time, with its sunset pink flesh. “It was the abundance, the community,” Rodriguez says.
Their Northeast Portland pop-up, Raiz, has become an exploration of produce: While neither Rico nor Rodriguez is vegan, the pop-up is entirely vegetarian and gluten-free, focusing on what a carrot or maitake mushroom or potato can pull off. Every two weeks, the couple designs a cohesive menu available for pre-order; the menu is available a la carte, or like a prix-fixe or family meal package. Generally, each Raiz menu involves a soup, a salad, a dip, and some entrees, with desserts available to add on from local brand Rawdacious. The two chefs develop individual dishes to work together, pulling from their separate experiences in kitchens and culinary programs, as well as their lives in California prior to moving to Oregon. “For me, [food service] was a just job for me for a long time... It’s like I started painting fences, and then suddenly I’m painting,” Rico says. “Carrots aren’t just sustenance anymore; they’re color, they’re texture.”
At Raiz, maitakes may end up taking on a particular meatiness on top of a pile of creamy polenta; oyster mushrooms may blend into swirls of buckwheat noodles. Cherries are rehydrated and pickled to add a pop to a chicory salad; carrots become the foundation of a savory ginger soup with chickpea miso, or a creamy dip with harissa and romesco. Some dishes play off of non-vegetarian dishes: a ragu made from black pearl mushrooms instead of beef, or french onion dip reliant on cashew cream. Others, however, feel completely original, like a potato and kale dish with an onion soubise and horseradish.
Rico and Rodriguez got the idea to do a pop-up from Rodriguez’s boss, Tiny Moreso owner Jenn Pereau. She wasn’t using her tiny vegan and gluten-free cafe space in the evenings, and she offered it up to the couple. In return, the two sell her desserts with their savory menu. “Here, it seems like people want you to succeed,” Rico says. “As bad as this pandemic is, it’s helped me realize we’re not alone in this.”