June 22, 2011
Local ingredients are primary focus at Thistle in McMinnville
by Nate Rafn
It's becoming more common for restaurants to use local ingredients, or at least mention it on their menu. I often see menu text that reads something like this: "We use local ingredients when we can." or "We use fresh eggs from Smith Family Farm when they're available."
Those statements sound nice, but are designed to be somewhat ambiguous. It gives diners the impression that the restaurant really cares about supporting local farmers, while at the same time makes no promises.
There are some restaurants in the Willamette Valley that make a considerable effort to use local ingredients. They don't just talk the talk. The Silver Grille comes to mind first. Next I think of Thistle, a small restaurant in downtown McMinnville.
Behind Thistle's locally reliant menu is chef Eric Bechard. I recently spoke with Bechard about his restaurant and local cuisine.
Living Culture: Tell me about your cooking background.
Bechard: I am a graduate of San Francisco's California Culinary Academy. I started my career at the "one michelin star" Acquerello in SF. After moving to Portland I worked alongside French master chef Phillipe Boulot at the Heathman restaurant. I moved on to open the Alberta Street Oyster Bar in Portland and was named The Oregonian's "Rising Star" in 2006. In 2009 I opened Thistle.
Living Culture: How would you describe Thistle to those who haven't been there?
Bechard: Thistle is a 26 seat dinner-only restaurant in which I source 95% of our ingredients from 15 small family farms within 45 miles of McMinnville. I work hand in hand with our farmers, choosing vegetable and fruit seed as well as breed varieties, predominantly heritage, for our animals. I feel that in doing so we will be supporting and promoting local (mostly within our county) family farming and in turn benefit the community in which we live.
Living Culture: What are your favorite things to cook right now?
Bechard: I butcher whole animals at Thistle. This process calls for the application of offal and much charcuterie work. I also enjoy using foraged ingredients, wild mushrooms and wild weeds, herbs and greens.
Living Culture: Why did you decide to open your restaurant in McMinnville?
Bechard: To be in the agricultural region of Oregon. We have also opened a second restaurant "Community Plate" which operates under the same principles as Thistle with a more everyday neighborhood feel.
228 N. Evans, McMinnville, OR 97128
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