McMinnville’s Okta to Bring Michelin-Starred Chefs for Mini Food Festival in June


Acclaimed chef Matthew Lightner spends his days sweating through the details of Oregon’s most artsy restaurant, McMinnville’s Okta, which opened last summer with a hotel, fermentation lab, and farm tow. He lives to develop ideas about how and what we eat in the heart of Oregon’s wine country. Now she’s wearing another hat: Oregon food ambassador.

On June 24 and 25, Okta will bring a host of international and local talent to the heart of wine country. A weekend of insightful eating and friendship promises to get a taste of where food is going right now and remind you that Oregon is one of the best places on the planet for raw ingredients and a welcoming spirit.

Limited tickets for the weekend’s two events go on sale Friday, March 31 at 9am at Okta’s. missing page. Ticket prices are $650 for dinner, including tip and wine, and $200 for Solstice in the Fields.

Saturday will feature an intimate tasting menu at Okta featuring five chefs with two to three Michelin stars and their unique culinary philosophies (Lightner himself has a double star). On Sunday, a casual event called Solstice in the Fields will bring forward-thinking chefs from Portland, Columbia Gorge, and McMinnville together to cook at Okta’s one-acre farm, seven miles from the kitchen gate on Ribbon Ridge.

Expect wood-fired pizza, barbecues, and more in the farm’s outdoor oven, as well as a serious smoker’s will to Lightner, Texas barbecue legend Aaron Franklin. Next up are Portland native Taylor Manning of the hugely popular Café Olli, influential Thai chef-restaurant operator Akkapong “Earl” Ninsom, and chef Lauro Romero, whose new restaurant Clandestino is so hot right now. Also in the mix: Carlton’s modernist chef Will Preisch (Abbey Road Farm) and Jason Baranowski of Hood River’s experimental wine destination Hiyu Farm.

His dinner flair is pretty breathtaking. Remember the excitement of Feast Portland cooking, bringing together chefs from around the world to create unforgettable experiences in our backyard? Okta keeps the legacy alive for one night, with each chef showcasing an idea or direction, two dishes per chef, plus pairings they choose from the restaurant’s deep cellar. “I invited chefs with unique philosophies,” Lightner says. “These are people I’m deeply inspired by.”

Here’s Lightner telling who and why he’s cooking at Okta.

Aitor Zabala: Acclaimed Spanish chef blends cerebral and cheeky at Los Angeles’ two-Michelin-starred Sommi. “He worked at El Bulli (in Spain). One of those avant-garde Spanish chefs dying from that family tree. Aitor is dedicated to the craft, one of the best in the world.”

Aisha Ibrahim: The first woman to direct Seattle’s renowned fine-dining venue Canlis, the menu is inspired by her Filipino heritage.

“I’ve been watching since Canlis took the reins. It’s really nice to see your comments on Pacific Northwest cuisine. Oregon and Washington have many similarities but expand our territory. What he’s doing there is the future of the region. For me, that made it perfect for tonight.

Leandro Carriera: The famous Portuguese chef cooks seriously creative dishes at The Sea, The Sea in London. “I worked with him at (the famous Spanish restaurant) Mugaritz. There’s this beautiful 12 seater counter that’s 100 percent seafood oriented. He is currently one of the most creative seafood chefs in the world, with a focus on sustainability.”

Christopher Kostow: Restaurant chef in Napa Valley’s Meadowood has won more medals than a four-star general. “He has become one of the most influential American chefs at the highest level, from farm to fork. Very harmonious with the seasons, very poetic in its presentation. It inspired me and many others.”

Of course, Lightner will cook, too. He is one of the nation’s greatest food thinkers for his ideas and techniques, earning two Michelin stars for his cutting-edge restaurant Atera in New York in 2012. I call their best food Mad Matt Fury Road. She digs deep into materials to find her inner beauty, then transforms them into something more.

Saturday aims to be a casual, farm-to-run event. “I want to bring awareness to Ribbon Ridge and beyond,” Lightner says. “There’s a magic bubble here. We want to keep it fun.”

He closes his eyes as he speaks and describes his local live fire dream team, which he now calls a snapshot of the area. “Café Olli’s minimalist approach and focus on details is impressive,” she says. “It’s an honor for Taylor to have pizza here. I also want Earl Ninsom from Eem to play in our smoking room. I want to show with Lauro Romero (Clandestino) that there is this seasonally inspired bad Mexican food movement in Portland.” She’s also excited to introduce Kari Kihara, the chef of MAC Market in McMinnville, to more customers. “It’s a thriving talent in wine country,” Lightner says. “They have fresh ideas about materials that have their roots in the here and now. Reminds me a bit of Coquine’s Katy Millard.

The seed of an imagined idea in the hope that it will grow into something much greater. Lightner perhaps brings a new awareness to all the beautiful products, chefs and producers out there. Or perhaps it leads to future relationships that inspire future generations to move to our area. Wouldn’t that be great?

Okta is located at 618 NE Thi.rd St, McMinnville, Oregon.