The legendary rodeo wines and dines feet from the bronc buckin’ action.
The Indian relay racers rode too hard and fast for my smartphone’s video setting. Their mounts’ hooves sent the rodeo arena’s track dirt into fits and poofs under the metal bars separating guests of the Pendleton Round-Up’s 1910 Room, a gourmet experience, from the thrilling action. Those of us in the 1910 Room were powering through our own feat of athletic prowess: a multi-course meal that paired dishes with an Oregon craft beer, a signature cocktail featuring Pendleton Whisky (the official whiskey of the rodeo), and a local wine with a round of rodeo events — all of the events. It’s a five-hour trackside meal with state- and Western-inspired dishes such as Oregon smoked salmon, silky but substantial, during the tie-down roping and saddle bronc contests.
The chef behind this rodeo mettle-testing feast was Max Germano of Portland. Assisting him were Pendleton High School culinary arts program teacher Kristin Swaggart as sous-chef and a team of Swaggart’s culinary arts students. The results included a caprese salad of golden heirloom tomatoes and pillowy mozzarella capped with ribbons of basil bound by rivulets of balsamic vinegar served during the bareback riding competition. And for the Indian relay racing: a smoked pork chop given a brilliant wash of Pendleton Whisky blackberry-barbecue sauce. This test of our endurance was well-rewarded with a spin on a classic fireside treat, s’mores. In the case of Germano and team, it arrived at our tables composed of house-made graham crackers with a dark chocolate and chile torte, brûléed fresh marshmallow, and a chocolate wine sauce. We savored our victory just as the rodeo cowboys celebrated theirs.
This year’s Pendleton Round-Up, running September 13 – 16, will once again host the 1910 Room with Germano returning alongside Swaggart and her students. When asked how 2017’s menu will differ from last year’s offerings, Germano says, “Last year we did a five-course meal through the rodeo. This year we are moving more toward doing some fun hors d’oeuvres, an appetizer, a main course, and a dessert. All of the dishes we will be serving will be completely different from last year, so anyone who will be there for a second year will be in for an entirely new and unique experience.”
What else can we expect? “This year I am inspired by Western culture being kind of a melting pot of different cultures and ethnicities,” Germano explains. “The dish I am most excited for this year is one of the main course plates: crispy pork spare ribs, a sweet and tangy whiskey-barbecue sauce, braised kale, pickled chiles, and creamy grits.” The meal will be capped with a whiskey and honey cake with a lavender crème anglaise and candied orange.
“Oregon culture definitely plays a part in all of the dishes,” he says. “Being able to get amazing seafood and fish from the coast while bringing in fresh seasonal and local produce is inspiring,” Germano says. And if you haven’t noticed by now, there will be whiskey. Lots of whiskey. In nearly everything.
For more information on The Pendleton Round-Up’s 1910 Room Gourmet Experience and to make reservations, visit the rodeo’s website. Subscribe to the forthcoming monthly Taste of the West e-newsletter below.