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The Gearboat Chronicles

Plate & Pitchfork in Hells Canyon

2013 Plate & Pitchfork Road & Raft Trip – August 26-30, 2013

The lunch menu on the gearboat traditionally involves your choice of several things out of a Ziploc, arranged artfully in smashed wads. They’re high-grade leftovers, to be sure. But still leftovers, seasoned with the knowledge that back there on the river somewhere, relaxing on a picturesque beach, the rest of the party is enjoying a fancy-pants lunch.

Life on the gearboat involves floating ahead to set up headquarters for the night. There’s no time for checkered tablecloths or other fancy dining things like, say, a fork. You eat from a plastic bag, heave on the oars and sing river chanties. That’s gearboating.

I’ve always enjoyed these gearboat lunches. They beat PBJs at home. But this Plate & Pitchfork trip we just did in Hells Canyon has ruined Ziploc cuisine for me.

I ‘ve tasted a better way. It involves fancy cheese and I want more. More, I say.

Plate and Pitchfork highlights locally grown food prepared by chefs who’ve never heard of a Hot Pocket. We ate well. Very, very well. Leftovers from this trip were gold standard. I was delighted.

But as I started to pull the gearboat away from the beach on this tour, Chef Leather Storrs asked where I thought I was going. Heading downriver, I says. What about lunch, he says. I says I’ve got leftovers.

I can’t print exactly what he says next, but it translates loosely as, “Forget that.”

Then he proceeded to redefine eating on the gearboat. For lack of a better word, he made a sandwich. It was really more of a symphony between pieces of bread. Trumpets sounded as I bit into the thing. A sunbeam appeared and melted the fancy cheese to exactly the right consistency. I wept softly as I ate, gently accentuating the cured meat with drops of joy.

Here’s a closeup of what we’re talking about. Mostly you see Leather’s grandwich, but above that you can glimpse the Ziploc bag and tinfoil holding the leftover breakfast sausage and corn tortillas that are normally a gearboat lunch favorite. Now focus your attention back down to the sandwich and you see what I want for lunch every day for the rest of my life.

That photo doesn’t even reveal all the goodness involved. Here we see chef Joseph Hickey choreographing a giant pan full of roasted dancing peppers that closed the deal.

Photo: Matt King. Pan skills: all Joe.

And that was just a sandwich. Winding Waters has always gone the extra river mile for great food on the river, using local meat, veggies, farm-fresh eggs, coffee roasted in Joseph. So this cooperative trip with Plate & Pitchfork and their focus on great local eats made all sorts of sense.

But, man. I wasn’t prepared for how fast these chefs prepare stuff. I knew it would be good, I just didn’t realize it was humanly possible to crank out delicious quite that quick. Watching these guys do their thing was instructive.

So you cook it. Interesting.

This trip ranked right up there for me on the river trip meter and I’ve got more to say about it so we’ll be trotting out more Plate & Pitchfork photos here next week.

We might even talk about this one guy that went on the trip, Rick something . . . he seemed a little bit unsure about the whole traveling thing. Not sure he’s been away from home much. But he seemed to be getting the hang of travel there toward the end.

Some guy, Rick Steves, Cowboy Craig Nichols, rafting godfather Paul Arentsen.

Steves. Just came to me. Rick Steves. Nice guy. Needs to get out more maybe, but a great guy. Try Europe, Steves, they’ve got some nice cathedrals and stuff over there. You might like it.

Meantime, you hungry? In Portland? Go visit Leather and Joe at Noble Rot. Ask for the Hells Canyon Gearboat Sandwich. They won’t know what you’re talking about, but ask anyway.

Still hungry, plus curious about what you’re eating? Plate & Pitchfork hosts summertime farm dinners where you meet the folks behind the ingredients right where it’s grown and get a look at the process. Then you sit down to appreciate the results of quality food put in the hands of chefs who know which end of the knife to hold.

There’s even a wintertime spinoff, with dining experiences indoors that are still informative, still exceptional, just not, you know, cold. That one is called Forklift.

Thanks to local makers of fine ingredients in the pantry on this trip: 6 Ranch Corriente beef, Carman Ranch grassfed goodness, Happy Chick Farms in Lostine for the premium huevos, Backyard Gardens for the primo veggies and Red Horse Coffee Traders in Joseph for the great joe.