As HIC, Harold Import Co. grows in the food service and restaurant supply industry, we see our products benefiting chefs across the country. Recently we spoke with two dynamic chefs that have been using unique smallwares to make their dishes stand out. Ethan Powell and Tobias Hogan opened EaT: An Oyster Bar, offering “A little bit of the dirty south right here in the Northwest” in 2008 and later The Parish, an upscale Cajun and Creole concept in the Pearl District of Portland, Oregon, working direct with small family run farms to source their ingredients. They journey to estuaries from Northern California all the way up to South Western Canada to source oysters with flavor profiles unique to their habitat.
HIC is thrilled to see Ethan and Tobias work with many of our products such as our Porcelain Oyster Plate to display their beautiful dishes and HIC Essentials Silicone Spatulas to appropriately taste and develop their sauces. We’re excited to see them grow and be a part of their experience. If you’re an oyster connoisseur, with an interest in an establishment that values supporting local producers, you just might want to put EaT: An Oyster Bar and The Parish on your bucket list.
The Interview – Getting to Know Ethan and Tobias
Nicole Herman, of HIC: Let me start by thanking you for taking the time to share with me. I think our readers are really going to enjoy meeting you and learning about your experience. Let’s start by learning more about you and how you became involved with cooking.
N: When did you first know you wanted to be a chef?
Tobias: When I was a kid, I used to cook meals for the family and I was always in the kitchen with my Great Grandmother and my Grandmother cooking instead of the den with the rest of the guys watching football. I guess it was always in me I just didn’t realize it until the late ’90’s.
Ethan: I used to cook for my family on Tuesday night in elementary school. It consisted of slice pickles, tomatoes and sliced Kraft cheddar for appetizers, beef stroganoff Hamburger Helper for entree, and angel food cake with Cool whip for dessert. I was 8. I guess about that time.
N: Who or what has been the most influential factor in your life, personally and professionally?
Tobias: I’m always thinking about Nona (Great Grandmother) and my Grandmother when I’m working on new recipes. Professionally my business partner Ethan is very influential.
Ethan: Personally my parents have been the most influential in my life. They gave me every opportunity to do what I wanted to do in my youth. Professionally, Jels Mcauley I worked for in the NYC and in Portland, OR. I worked for him longer than anyone else in my career. He also gave me the opportunity to run the busiest kitchen in the busiest restaurant in Portland at Andina Restaurant. That was a wonderful learning experience.
N: What is your favorite meal to make and to eat?
Ethan: Ceviche for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The Peruvian style and this is important. Take fresh Ono, fresh squeezed key lime juice, habanero, red onion, cilantro, really cold distilled water, and salt. Make the leche de tigre first and it marinates only for a few minutes. Serve with roasted yams and fresh corn.
Tobias: I really enjoy making fresh pasta and sauce when I can carve out the time I bake bread as well. It’s probably the meal that’s most soul satisfying for me and I find myself cooking for most big events in life.
N: Where were you raised? Does that have an impact on your cooking style today?
Ethan: I was raised in Texarkana, Arkansas. It borders Texas, Oklahoma, and Louisiana. I do Southern food so yes it has an effect on my cooking style and my pallet.
Tobias: I grew up in Eugene, Oregon but I don’t feel like that has any impact on my cooking. I feel like the way my mother raised me has more impact on my cooking than where i was raised. She was very good about using raw ingredients in all of our cooking at home and we always had a garden so I’ve always used fresh ingredients because we didn’t have processed food in our household.
N: What is your cooking philosophy?
Tobias: Simple, don’t try to make things too complicated, let the ingredients show through.
Ethan: I believe in big, bold, and balanced flavor and utilization of the entire product. The insides of the animal taste the best.
N: I know that supporting local producers is important for you. Do you find that supporting local growers is catching on in and outside of Portland?
Ethan: I think the Portland area is the leader when it comes to local, organic, and sustainable. There are hundreds of small farms in the Portland metro area alone. I believe this is the direction the country is going. Some areas will be a little slower to catch on however.
Tobias: It certainly is important to us at the restaurant and in Portland overall. When my girlfriend and I are traveling through France and Spain we love to stop at rest stops along the motorways, that’s where you find a lot of cool stuff, regional products. That’s the way I feel we’re heading and it’s great. People are starting to take real pride in their regions around the country. We were just visiting some family in the mid-west and all we heard from the restaurants was about what farm this or that was coming from. I feel the local grower producer thing is really the new trend, and that’s amazing!
N: What do you see are the biggest challenges chefs face when trying to support local growers?
Tobias: Prices. It’s still very difficult to pay some of the prices these local growers are demanding. It’s one thing to load up at the farmer’s market and head home to cook dinner than it is to make something at the restaurant when you still have to make your margins to stay open. There’s price resistance from the consumer who is still getting pummeled by Applebee’s selling “local” or “organic” food for $11 an entree that’s big enough to take home an additional portion. These farmers are growing amazing product and they deserve to be paid for it but the consumer is putting huge pressures on the restaurant for pricing.
Ethan: When using small farms you are working with really small businesses, some of these with only one employee, so they tend to be less efficient than some really large purveyors. They also work on smaller economies of scale so the prices tend to be higher. That being said you are almost always getting a better product. Some do delivery and some don’t which can sometimes be a logistical issue. However, supporting a local small business is a win-win in my book. (Pictures from a trip to Hama Hama Oysters on the Olympic Peninsula.)
N: What ingredients are you enjoying experimenting with right now?
Tobias: Right now Ethan just picked up these tiny Spaghetti squash from a farm in Forest Grove that are fantastic. We’re roasting them and scooping out the meat, and serving it back in the shell with an heirloom tomato sauce, it’s delicious.
Ethan: Chilies. We have been fermented chilies for hot sauce for a while now. They are all given to us by one of our farms. They ferment in salt and get really stinky for 2 months. Then we strain and bottle. When all is done you have a hot sauce with a delicious and unique flavor full of healthy pro-biotics. We give a third back to the farm and they sell them at a farmers market.
N: Are there unique tools that you rely on in the kitchen?
Tobias: Obviously we have a lot of tools in the kitchen but good spoons and tongs are so important and often overlooked. When you have a really good spoon that you can use for saucing a dish it makes a big difference in speed and accuracy.
Ethan: Sharp chefs knife is a must. Also Japanese mandolin and spoons. Tongs are great also.
N: Are there any tasks that you haven’t found a perfect tool for? (If you could invent a perfect kitchen tool, what would it do for you?)
Ethan: An oyster opener. They come in all shapes and sizes so a uniform opener doesn’t exist
Tobias: Wow, that’s a good question. If I could invent the perfect kitchen tool I guess I’d sell it to Harold Import to market. We’re still working on that one; we haven’t found a task that good knife skills can’t handle yet. Tobias Hogan teaches us how to shuck an oyster.
N: Do you have favorite cookbooks or kitchen tool that you would recommend every home cook own and why?
Tobias: I would say that every home cook needs a good Mandolin, it can make things a lot easier. Also, a lot of people just have regular old knives, I think that everyone should invest in a couple of good knives at least, again it make things a lot easier. We have so many cookbooks at home it’s hard to recommend a good one for everyone, some of our favorites are French books we’ve picked up traveling. One of my girlfriends favorite is from the ’70’s and has an entire section on flaming foods, it’s awesome! We’re having a party in January where everyone coming has to cook something from the flaming section!
Ethan: Again a sharp knife and books that teach technique. If you are at home how do you learn technique without studying?
N: What was the last meal you ate?
Tobias: As with many of my colleagues, the last meal I ate was on the couch last night at 10:30 p.m. I took home a new addition to the dinner menu at The Parish, Wild Boar Gumbo with Wild Boar Sausage. It was delicious!
Ethan: House made Chaurice ( a spicy fresh pork sausage) with oven roasted broccoli, kale, brown rice and some fermented hot sauce. It was goood!!!
You can enjoy locally sourced oysters and the Cajun and Creole creations of Ethan Powell and Tobias Hogan at EaT: An Oyster Bar, and The Parish, in Portland, Oregon. If you don’t live in the area, enjoy tuning in to their culinary adventures and local sourcing journeys on their Facebook page.
Ethan and Tobias’ approach and energy is so genuine, and their medium – the freshest Oysters, along side Cajun and Creole cooking – is close to my heart. Raised on the Gulf Coast, fire-roasted oysters on the half shell became my first semi-solid food. Dad would build a barbecue from a metal drum cut in half lengthwise, with wire covering the opening to make a surface to hold the shellfish, spreading buckets of shrimp, crab, and oysters, over the top. Neighborhood friends would gather with us to enjoy this feast; consuming fresh shellfish sitting at papered picnic tables, the sweet juices running down to our elbows.
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Contributed by Nicole Herman, of HIC, Harold Import Co.