"Food is everything"

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Paul Folkestad '82 is the public face of culinary education

From the Summer 2012 Caller

Paul Folkestad ’82, age 16 and studying abroad, pondered the escargot on the tines of his fork at the Café Beaux Arts in Paris. After all, native Portlanders know all about snails and slugs. Disgusting, right? But this garlic-and-butter-drenched bite was a revelation, an inspiration that would lead, more and less directly, to Paul’s career as a chef and educator in the culinary arts.
 
A second trip to France as a journalism major (and French minor) at the University of Oregon cemented Paul’s fascination with cooking and eating. His homestay mom in Avignon, an astoundingly good cook in her 60s, wowed him with her meals, although he wasn’t allowed in the kitchen.
 
Paul eventually parlayed those inspirations into a life spent in kitchens, but only after a foray into journalism, his supposed career field. Working as an assignment editor in Portland television news, he found himself dreaming of food all the time. After a year of boredom, Paul enrolled at the Western Culinary Institute in Portland.
 
While a student, Paul worked at Portland’s red-hot Zefiro restaurant, and began catering on the side. That business grew into Armadillo Catering, the full-time business he ran for 11 years, catering many events at Catlin Gabel over the years. It got old fast, though, especially when his family was growing. “Catering was demanding. It’s like being an on-call physician, but you carry the hospital on your back,” he says. So when Western Culinary expanded and put out a call for instructors in 2003, Paul joined the faculty.
 
Paul is grateful to Catlin Gabel for setting the stage for his career with “a broad and culturally diverse education that helped open doors for me.” His studies in journalism at the U of O paid off when he taught English and writing at Western Culinary Institute. As Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts, the focus is now strictly culinary, and today he is brand ambassador, teacher, and restaurant manager. “Le Cordon Bleu is diverse culturally and in terms of age and gender, the ultimate cross section. We get to know each student in depth and engage them, and that’s the most fun,” he says.
 
Paul has become visible in Portland’s food scene, doing events such as cooking demos at the Portland Farmer’s Market and speaking about all things culinary on KPAM radio. As part of Chef’s Annex, he also offers private cooking classes, small-scale catering, and teaching dinners. He loves doing community outreach, providing food for fundraisers for P:ear, a service for homeless youth, and leading his school’s Slow Food chapter. He’s also a fine writer (as seen in his blogs) and hopes to publish a cookbook in about five years, a travel diary centered on food.
 
“The most important thing I’ve learned is that there is no more important community connection than food,” says Paul. “The more we learn about food, and how it’s produced, and who’s affected, the better we are. Food influences economics, politics, and health care. Food is history. Food is everything.”