Nearly 20 years ago I went to my first ever charity auction in Portland. I took my friend Erin, to the Montgomery Park building in NW Portland not really knowing what to expect. It was a fundraiser for The American Cancer Society, I had a friend who had donated to it, and so to support him I’d agreed to go. I quickly found that I LOVED auctions! Silent ones, live ones, it was all a blast! During the live auction (run by the inimitable Steve Talbot) I bid on and, nearly coming to blows with one other competitive bidder, won a week cooking in the South of France with a local chef – Robert Reynolds. I had no idea who Robert was, and a few weeks later found that he was demonstrating at ‘In Good Taste’ a cooking school in the Pearl. I went to that class and knew I’d found a great teacher. The class in France was a 40th birthday gift to my husband, who knew how to throw a bunch of seemingly disparate items from the pantry into a skillet and come up with something fabulous, but had no idea WHY it worked. This was grand culinary education plan Pt.1. We went to Niort to cook with the group Robert had put together, (they were on a four week diploma course) scouring local markets every morning for whatever was fresh, local and hopefully special to the area (lamb ready salted because it was raised next to the sea for instance) and cooking all afternoon for an evening meal that every single day was extraordinary. We went home 10lbs heavier loaded with recipes, knowledge and in another epic story that I’ll tell another time, a bottle of Armanac that I started referring to as my ‘Commodity’. Robert became a really good friend, often roaring up to the house on his old BMW motorcycle. From the panniers he’d produce a jar of Foie Gras that he’d just made, or a bottle of Pinot de Charentes still perfectly chilled, and we’d all sit and talk for hours. And then came the day that he didn’t want to ride the bike any more. He’d dropped it and although he wouldn’t admit it, given himself a huge scare into the bargain. He wanted to sell it, and we wanted to buy it. I wish I had a before photo. It was faded, the hard cases were worn (one melted in the heat from the exhaust) and it had clearly been on a few adventures. So we sent the bike to one of the best restorers in the state – a man called Steve Prokop, who spent nearly two years painstakingly taking it all apart, replacing the broken, repairing buffing repainting and finally making it all whole and absolutely beautifully immaculate again.
I’ve ridden this bike about 8,000 miles since it was restored and in the main I’ve loved every minute of it. Everything on the bike is stock and original to it’s time. The very few items that needed a replacement were carefully searched for, the clock for instance took a couple of years to source with red hands not the more readily available green. The seat however is absolutely the original seat which means it’s rock hard! Two hours is about the maximum I can sit on it before getting a completely numb bum. Every now and again I think I should sell it, find another loving owner who will floss those spokes and jiggle the floats as needed, because in all honesty I’m not that kind of girl. I jump on my bikes, ride them long and hard, bringing them home with the expectation they’ll do the same all over again next time. I win the occasional award and then after a long rest I bring her out again and decide there’s no way I can sell her! She’s TheRed.
Robert used to run a lovely cooking school in SE Portland in a small kitchen behind Ken’s Artisan Pizza on SE 28th. He’d invite me over to have lunch prepared by his latest batch of students or I’d turn up later in the day to plan our next endeavor together. It was the perfect space for 8 students, whitewashed walls hung with French posters and shelving with stacks of recipe books smushed together with old photo’s and a tea pot cosy that I’d knitted him years before. We’d plan for a weekend in Maupin, where I have a house and he would bring his airstream trailer, parking it in the back yard giving him and his poodle Thomas, a bit of their own space. We’d cook and talk and drink and plan some more. We did dinners in barns, and in the cellars of wineries and waaay back when I was still married he would cater our Winter Solstice Parties. One of the dishes friends still talk about was a huge pan of creamy risotto into which he’d mixed strawberries and paraded through the party before serving. He preceded this with eggs coddled in their shells with a dash of cointreau and a splash of cream, quickly whipped with a silver demitasse spoon and given to you to down in one delicious gulp. His food was always differently imagined, often deconstructed to original elements leaving you to put it back together in your mouth and enjoy from a whole new perspective. He and I collaborated, planned, ate and drank our way through almost 15 years of great friendship. Sadly Robert passed away a few years ago, but before he went we threw him a party. Everyone came.
And finally Le Bleu! When Robert was designing and planning his cooking school kitchen he was absolutely set on a beautiful stove – ‘Cluny’ in pale robins egg blue by LaCanche. It had pride of place and he loved to cook on it. All brass knobs and equipped with two ovens, one gas for baking and one electric for roasting and a large center burner throwing out 18,000 btu’s. After he passed it went to another cooking school and I thought it was gone from my life, but a year or so later I got a call, did I want it? Of course I did! I moved things around in the Maupin house and brought it over there along with some of his Crueset pots and pans. And so that’s where I go to cook for friends, Robert eternally looking over my shoulder, saying ‘it’s your soup Suze, make it how you’d like it’….. I miss that man in my life enormously.
I am both a Realtor and Interior Designer. I have transitioned from simply selling homes to selling what makes homes beautiful.
©Suze Riley 2013