A new pop-up from alumni of Portland vegan institutions wants to dive into the broader world of what seasonal and foraged foods can be. Feral, a pop-up from chefs Ryan Koger and August Winningham, will focus on wild and foraged foods, with an emphasis on spontaneity and creativity in their approach — whether that means picking elderberries off the side of the highway or foraging for mushrooms in the forest.
Up until fairly recently, both chefs worked at Southeast Portland vegan deli Fermenter. Prior to that, Koger worked at Ichiza Kitchen and Homegrown Smoker, while Winningham worked at Farm Spirit, Folklore, Blossoming Lotus, and Harvest at the Bindery. Winningham is also the chef behind Tear Gas Ted’s Hot Sauce, in response to the tear-gassing of protesters under police commissioner and Mayor Ted Wheeler.
Although Winningham has worked in several vegetable-centric restaurants, the chef names Sean Sigmon’s pop-up Folklore, which specialized in brunch fare like spelt waffles with farro sausage and maitake mushrooms with abenaki grits, as a major inspiration — not just the agrarian focus, but more specifically Sigmon’s free-form, make-it-work attitude, which has stuck with him. Winningham hopes to fill the void in Portland’s vegan food scene since Sigmon relocated to North Carolina two years ago.
Koger and Winningham chose the name Feral as an allusion to the freedom of foraging and gathering food from the land, as well as the freedom from the structure of the restaurant industry, where both chefs have spent significant time. Burnt out from slogging away in kitchens, Koger and Winningham wanted room for more creative freedom, as well as less of the pressure the restaurant industry has been criticized for. “It’s kind of just accepted that a restaurant has to be a monotonous grind of making the same five dishes every day,” Koger says. While Winningham is proud of what he helped build at Fermenter, he admits that the creative limitations, in order to make the restaurant accessible and meet the bottom line, became stifling after some time.
“It’s a big motivator to step aside to do our own thing and cook whatever the fuck we want,” says Winningham. “It’s reactionary toward the restaurant industry.”
Launching at Bye and Bye on October 2, Feral will kick off with a cookout featuring grilled dishes and sides made with a variety of late summer produce. The menu includes agedashi tofu with smoked garlic aioli and basil-parsley salad, sweet corn with lobster mushroom compound butter, scratch-made durum cavatelli with cherry tomato, and salt-brined zucchini with charred chanterelles, tomatillo salsa, and tofu misozuke. Beverages can be purchased from Bye and Bye.
That said, the chefs anticipate a fast-paced changing of menus, as seasonality and quality ingredients go hand in hand — it’s also how they like to cook. That spontaneity and flexibility aligns with the nature of foraging, as well: You never know what’s available until you’re out there in the forest. For the first pop-up, Koger and Winningham will forage for lobster mushrooms and chanterelles. As the seasons change and the chefs become more experienced foragers, the menu will evolve. Feral will source its produce from Oregon farms, such as Groundworks Farms, Gathering Together Farms, and Sauvie Island Organics.
While the concept will focus mainly on local agriculture and foraged foods, Feral will not be limited to organic produce sourced from a single farm or making everything from scratch. For example, the chefs will be buying a bag of barbecue potato chips to use as a topping on kombu and beer braised yellow potatoes, instead of making potato chips from scratch. “I hope our food has more irreverence and challenges versions of cooking where everything has to be perfect,” Koger says.
The chefs also plan to use old-school vegan staples, like Ota Tofu and Follow Your Heart Vegenaise. Koger says he’s been eating hippie foods like Vegenaise since the age of seven; in his mind, there’s a certain nostalgia surrounding the classic vegan mayo — the same nostalgia that non-vegans have for kewpie and Duke’s. “We’re at a point in veganism where these things have a place in our brains,” Koger says.
When the rainy season arrives, Feral will pivot to what Winningham describes as “fancy wine bar food for date night.” Grilled foods will remain on the menu, alongside winter salads of kohlrabi, citrus, and smoked nuts. The chef plans to introduce dishes like chanterelles and sourdough dumplings, similar to the specials he offered at Fermenter, during his time as a sous chef there. Coming from restaurants where dishes are thoughtfully plated, the chefs want to continue serving dishes on plates, not takeout containers. The pop-up is currently looking for a host venue for the winter months.
With Feral, the long-term goal is a restaurant. However, both Koger and Winningham acknowledge that their vision of a restaurant — that doesn’t succumb to the monotony that takes a toll on physical and mental health — is ambitious. “We’re really naive in thinking we can create a restaurant we want to work in,” Koger says. “I don’t think we can do it, but I want to prove myself wrong.”
Feral’s first pop-up will take place on Sunday, October 2 starting at 4 p.m. at Bye and Bye on Alberta Street. Follow Feral on Instagram for updates.