On July 31st, five chefs who have the most online votes will win a trip to the historic James Beard (a native Portlander) House in New York to put their most well-crafted burger on display at an exclusive event where customers will vote on their favorites.
This event, The Blended Burger Project, challenges chefs from across the United States to create their best version of a “blended burger,” described as “combining ground meat with finely chopped mushrooms to create a delicious, healthier and more sustainable burger.”
Altabira’s chef de cuisine, Luis Escorcia, recently showcased his entry, the Catalan Blended Burger, along with several other mouth-watering creations on a beautiful day for a rooftop gathering at the corner of 10th and NE Grand on the 6th floor of Hotel Eastlund.
The Catalan Blended Burger itself is hand-formed with a mixture of ground chuck and shiitake mushrooms, then is put on the grill with spring onions, romesco sauce and fresh aioli on a toasted house-made bun.
The bun is warm, soft and provides the perfect foundation for Escorcia’s composition of beef, mushrooms and vegetables. The burger itself is cooked just the way you like it – in this case, medium-well.
We had the pleasure of interviewing Escorcia about his time at Altabira and what makes the classy regional American cuisine tavern tick under his stewardship. He considers himself somewhat lucky, yet his talent should not be undersold.
“It’s my first head chef position,” he admits.
His culinary training comes courtesy of the California Culinary Academy. Over his epicurean travels, Escorcia has cooked in kitchens from New Orleans to San Francisco before he landing in Portland and catching that stroke of luck when he found a position working with well-known Portland restaurateur David Machado.
He was hired on as a sous chef, at another establishment under David Machado’s stable of restaurants, before he was brought over to Altabira, about four months after they opened. He worked under another chef, then was eventually promoted and, “the rest is history,” as Escorcia puts it.
So, now that he’s found himself in his first head chef position, he’s excited for what the future has to bring.
“You grow with the company,” he says, “and take charge and – if you’re able – create menus and have fun with them.”
He certainly does have fun with his menu. Outside of his blended burger, Escorcia’s idea of fun comes through in other dishes he has on display for the day.
The oven-roasted sugar snap peas with mint, feta cheese and a garlic lime vinaigrette are an excellent complement to a warm day on the rooftop. They’re cool, crunchy and packed with flavor. These are the vegetable side-dishes that help elevate a main course, rather than upstage it, yet stand alone if need be.
This is intentional. Escorcia goes out of his way to ensure each menu item can shine on its own or serve as a side.
“I do read a lot of cook books,” Escorcia admits. “I also dine out a lot. I like to eat and see what other people are doing, and get ideas and then I just start thinking about them and bringing them to fruition. You find inspiration in different things and your craft and how you put them together. I like to keep myself on the pulse and keep it exciting and fun.”
His push to make exciting food comes through in another one of his creations, the spicy Asian chicken wings. Large, locally sourced chicken wings hit the palate with a bit of a zing. If you love a little spice in your life, then these savory chicken wings are for you.
The fun continues with Citizen Baker local pretzels with a mustard and pimento cheese sauce and Kobe beef corn dogs with a Dijionnaise sauce.
Fortunately for those looking to enjoy a meal with view atop one of Portland’s freshest new restaurants. Escorcia doesn’t see himself taking his talents anywhere anytime soon.
“I like where I’m at and what I’m doing,” he says. “I see myself with the company for quite some time. David [Machado] is one of the greatest bosses I’ve ever had.”
Certainly, being part of David Machado’s group of restaurants isn’t a bad place to be. Including Altabira, his stable also counts the aforementioned Citizen Baker, Nel Centro and Tanner Creek.
“He treats his employees well and he’s very respectful,” Escorcia says before adding with a chuckle, “and I like being in charge.”
Of course, being in charge isn’t a bad place to be, especially at an elegant rooftop eatery like Altabira.
To grab a bite at Portland’s latest rooftop restaurant, you can find Altabira at 1021 NE Grand Avenue, Suite 600 in Portland, Oregon. For menu, reservation or other information, visit their website at www.altabira.com or give them a call at 503-963-3600.
If you happen to try one of Escorcia’s burger and would like to cast your vote to send him to New York for the James Beard challenge, you can do so in one of the following ways:
- Visit jamesbeard.org/blendedburgerproject to view the gallery of blended burger photos, and cast your vote for the blended burger that best represents the most creative use of mushrooms, best flavor profile, and most appetizing appearance.
- Taste a blended burger at Altabira or any of the participating restaurants from Memorial Day, May 29-July 31, 2017 (view the list at jamesbeard.org/blendedburgerproject/participants).
- Post your burger photos to social media with the hashtag #blendedburgerproject to spread the word!
William Bessette – PDX People Contributor
William Bessette is a journalist and freelance writer who has been covering politics, entertainment, culture and travel for over thirteen years. When he’s not profiling Portland-area restaurants and residents, you can find him reporting on national and international travel and eco-tourism through his travel brand, Floppy Hat Adventures.