Gene Thiel, 1936-2013
Image: Jai Soots
Gene Thiel, 1936-2013

"You can only work so much and produce so long. But the end result for me is not just succeeding and retiring. It's more a relief and a process of belonging. The practicing is more rewarding than a big blue ribbon and an accolade."

—Gene Thiel

Prairie Creek Farm’s Gene Thiel, the farmers market hero and organic farming pioneer and who passed away last week at age 77 (read my remembrance here), was a quiet man. But his words always pierced like his gangly heirloom carrots spiraling into the earth. 

The “process of belonging” also speaks to Portland’s food community, a tight-knit group and more generous than the Red Cross, ceaselessly donating their sweat and blood sausages to nonprofits, wounded soldiers with decommissioned kitchens, and friends in need. 

When Vitaly Paley (Paley’s Place, Imperial) got word last week that the Thiel family needed help to maintain their iconic farm in Eastern Oregon, Portland’s culinary godfather sprung into action with help from Din Din’s Courtney Sproule. Within days, more than 30 chefs were on board for the Gene Thiel Memorial Dinner, August 20 at Imperial restaurant at Hotel Lucia. The chefs will collaborate on a six-course feast and appetizer buffet to honor Thiel.

All proceeds will be routed to Prairie Creek Farm. Participating chefs and bartenders are set to include:

  • Vitaly Paley (Paley’s PlaceImperialPortland Penny Diner)
  • Ben Bettinger (ImperialPortland Penny Diner)
  • Courtney Sproule (din din)
  • Patrick McKee (Paley’s Place)
  • Greg Denton (OX)
  • Jason French (Ned Ludd)
  • Gabe Rucker (Le PigeonLittle Bird)
  • Naomi Pomeroy (BeastExpatriate)
  • John Taboada (LuceNavarre)
  • Cathy Whims (NostranaOven and Shaker)
  • Jerry Huisinga (Bar Mingo)
  • Kevin Gibson (Evoe)
  • Ken Forkish (Ken’s Artisan)
  • Elias Cairo (Olympic Provisions)
  • Chris Israel and Greg Cantu (GrunerKask)
  • Kristin D. Murray (Maurice)
  • Daniel Mondok (Block + Tackle)
  • Jobie Bailey (DOC)
  • Lucy Brennan (Mint)
  • Brandon Wise (Imperial)
  • Dustin See (Metrovino)
  • Paul Klitsie (Fratelli)
  • Dolan Lane (Bluehour)
  • Mark Hosack (Gracie's)
  • Gavin Ledson (Jamison)
  • Greg Higgins (Higgins Restaurant and Bar)
  • Jin Yang (Bamboo Sushi)
  • Becky Doggett (Detour Cafe)
  • David Gaspar de Alba (Yazuka Lounge)
  • John Wilusz (Papa Hadyn-West)
  • John Mealus (Papa Haydn-East)
  • Paula Markus (Chop)
  • Vito Dilullo (Ciao Vito)
  • Rich Meyer (Trifecta)
  • Jake Martin (Genoa)
  • Kelly Weiss (Farm Cafe)
  • and Michelle Vernier (Paley’s PlaceImperialPortland Penny Diner

Thiel’s son Patrick will continue the family legacy of providing Oregon Tilth Certified Organic products and foraged mushrooms, wild plums, and wild onion blossoms to the PSU Portland Farmers Market (Saturdays) and the Portland restaurant community.

The evening promises to offer a taste of something larger than a night of great feasting. “It’s about more than the food,” says Paley. “We’re coming together to celebrate Gene’s life and to show that our community’s commitment to local farmers is total and resolute. There’s no hierarchy in the menu; everyone is equal. Everyone is putting in so much I’m blown away."

Gene Thiel Memorial Dinner
August 20 at 6:30 pm

Where: Imperial restaurant, Monteroso room, inside the Hotel Lucia, 400 SW Broadway
Tickets: $100–250 (sliding scale)
Includes: Wine, gratuity, cocktail hour, appetizer buffet, six-course (family-style) dinner
Reservations: 503-228-7222
Gene Thiel family fund: If you can’t attend but would like to donate, contact the Imperial, 503-228-7222