Notes from the Provender Conference


7 of the past 9 years, the Provender Alliance annual conference has been held at the Hood River Inn. We’ve developed a unique relationship with Provender whose mission to nourish, educate and inspire while promoting community in the natural products trade, aligns with my values as a chef, and is practiced in Riverside’s  kitchen.

What makes this conference so unusual is that Provender sources donations for 90% of ingredients used in meal preparation, and over the course of the conference, Riverside creates and serves nine meals.

Provender 2014

“Every other place we’ve held the conference, we’ve had to reestablish our needs each year. At the Hood River Inn, we’ve enjoyed working with the same people year after year, so we haven’t had to reinvent the wheel, “ says Susan Schechter. Executive Director of Provender Alliance. “They’ve learned the ins and outs of our event, and strive to make it better each year. That’s priceless.”

We have seemed to develop a good system with a cooperative team that’s always working to improve. Initially, Provender set up menus and asked us to create a shopping list that they could source as much as possible with donations. Now we create the menu and give Provender the shopping list. Then Susan and Mellissa Elkins (who sources ingredients and helps at the conference) go over menus together to ensure every dietary need can be met. Provender conference attendees run the gamut for dietary restrictions — for example, raw vegans, soy-free, dairy-free, egg-free, gluten-free, grain-free — and we attempt to meet them all with selections in each meal.

Susan and Melissa usually suggest some menu tweaks, then Riverside prepares the final shopping list. Melissa, who works at Bellingham’s Community Food Co-op, (a gigantic supporter of Provender) solicits donations from members and supporters of the organization, gaining assistance from Susan if she runs into challenges. With Melissa’s magic, only 10% of ingredients are actually purchased.

14337032879_66ed119d34_kIf Provender is significantly about food, we always want to know, how is the food? “The Hood River Inn’s meals have been excellent–exceptional,” Susan explains. “We are a food organization, and the meals get better every year. We receive a lot of evaluations rating conference meals 4s, 5s and 5+s on 1-5 scale. And so they should!”

Meet your maker

Provender Alliance , founded in Oregon in 1977, is composed of over 150 members, primarily from the Northwest, but with national and international members making up about 15% of the alliance.

Members represent retailers, manufacturers, brokers, distributors, consultants, and individuals, all under the categories of food, supplements and body care products in a wide range of business models, from sole proprietors or mom & pop operations, to national and international brands.

Last month, more than 260 people attended the Provender Alliance conference,  which features keynote speakers, panels covering current issues, educational sessions, a “Meet Your Maker” event, and social functions.


If our banquet staff receives questions from prospective meeting attendants about specific dietary needs, Susan has volunteered to be used as a reference. “They totally have it down. They’ve been able to ace every limitation,” Susan promises. “Ask and they will provide!”

Susan reflects on the 2014 event: “At the conference, I am always amazed and humbled at the level of integrity our members have. Some have been in business over 50 years, and still value their Provender membership.”

Provender 2014Provender 2014Susan emphasizes that it comes down to basics.  “It’s all about food.  It has to be great and Hood River Inn and Chef Mark have made that possible, year after year.”

East Coast West Update

East Coast West made its debut with at May St. Elementary School’s Extravaganza fundraising event in early June. It was a fitting event to give back to all the kids involved in painting East Coast West’s design during the Artist-in-Residence project in April (see earlier blog post below for the complete story).


Thanks to Kris Kendall for the May Street Extravaganza photos 

East Coast West provided Lobster Rolls, Hot Dogs, Fruit Cups, and other goodies. We served over 400 people in 2.5 hours, and raised $1400 for the school PTO. The kids really enjoyed seeing the food cart serving food in its finished state. The next planned event for Riverside’s food cart, East Coast West will be the Gorge Kids Triathlon September 21. Come on out and support the kids!


Riverside creates new Food Cart — with lots of help!

We have a fun new project brewing. When we purchased the Food Cart last year, we brainstormed ideas for its use, but we didn’t realize it would also be part of a cool community project. Last week, students from May Street Elementary helped create “East Coast West” through the Arts in Education of the Gorge  program.

East Coast West design spearheaded by teachers and lots of little artists

Do you think the kids had fun?!

East Coast West food cart was designed and spearheaded by Allison Bell Fox, with assistance from Camille Hinman and Shelley Toon Lindberg. Arts in Education strives to enhance the education of all K-12 school children in four Gorge counties.

Designer Allison (left) spearheaded the project with assistance from Camille (center) and Shelley.

It was exciting to work with Allison on this creation. Once I decided on the branding for “East Coast West,” combining my culinary roots using foods from the Northeast (lobster, hot dogs) with specialties from the Pacific Northwest (salmon, huckleberries, crab), Allison created this cool design. Her compass and monogram logo achieved the geographic connection we were looking for. Allison chose simple line drawings that would enable students of all ages to maintain professional quality with their own versions of foods from both coasts.

Read on as Allison shares a little about the project…

Allison’s design incorporates East Coast and Pacific Northwest culinary specialties.

The process of creating art with children:

“Kids’ raw creativity and enthusiasm for art generates such fun and unique results. My role is to share core art elements with the kids along with the tips and tricks needed to create the desired result. The kids seem to eat up the information and then head off in a direction I may have never considered before.”

Allison gives instruction to enthusiastic artists.

The final outcome of East Coast West:

“These large ‘mural’ projects involve so many layers, that there are definite moments of ‘Oh no, what did they do?’ However by the time the final layer is complete, the transformation from chaos to finished product is such a relief. For example, layers of handprints always add a harsh whirlwind effect. But after I apply a layer of translucent glaze over the handprints, the end effect is a calm, hazy pool of color and design. The final outcome really came together, and I couldn’t have asked for more from the students who participated in this project.”

Many hands make light work!

Allison’s favorite part of the project:

“My favorite element of student projects such as this is the pride each student has for their part. It’s an overwhelming environment of teamwork and collaboration. Students are proud of their exceptionally artistic classmates. They are proud of their own part once I show them how to achieve the end result. And they are tickled pink to share the project with their friends and family. What more can you ask for?”

A job well done!

We want to thank all the students who helped create East Coast West. Plus a huge thanks to Allison, Shelley and Camille for all their help. Be on the lookout for East Coast West around the community.

Upcoming events where we’ll be included:

         • End of Year Field Day, June 7 at May Street School.

Until then, cheers!

Mark (and Georgia)

Ramping up for Spring and Summer at Riverside

Hello friends

I apologize for being away for a while. For our “slower” time of year, it’s amazing how much has been going on this winter. Here’s a
glimpse of what’s going on…

New Happy Hour items

We have a few new Happy Hour items on the menu at Cebu for
the end of winter. We have a Certified Angus Natural Top Sirloin with fries,
Meatball Sub, Linguini Meatballs, Polenta with Organic Mushroom Ragout, and
some Roasted Eggplant ‘Hummus’ served with Flatbread, Mama Lil’s Sweet and
spicy Peppers and Castelvetrano Olives. Come on down and check it out, served
Monday thru Friday, 4-6 pm.

10 Speed Coffee

If you haven’t heard, we now pour 10 Speed Coffee at Riverside. We have had lots of great feedback and I have heard from the folks at 10 Speed that they have had quite a few of our hotel guests stop by to pick up a pound or two before they hit the road. What’s cool about 10 Speed is that Brian is roasting the beans as we place the orders so you are always drinking coffee that is freshly roasted, just like when you stop at Starbuck’s…Not!

CharBurger in Cascade Locks

CharBurger…now serving downstairs, with amazing views, while we remodel.

Some more late breaking news if you haven’t heard, our owners purchased the Best Western Plus Columbia River Inn and Charburger in Cascade Locks. We are currently in the process of completely renovating the main dining room and have gutted the kitchen. While under construction, we’ve been serving in the downstairs banquet room (formerly Sam Hills Den). We’re getting some great comments about that space, and the views. Next time you hear about CharBurger, we might even be finished! We’re sticking with cafeteria-style, full Salad Bar, and a whole lot of upgrades. We may even have a new name, so stay tuned. We’re also pouring 10 Speed Coffee at Charburger – a great reason for locals to stop on your way to Portland or before your bike ride.

Views of Bridge of the Gods with your meal.

Riverside Food Cart to debut soon

The final bit of news is that we’re overhauling our Food Cart — something we purchased last year for a private event. This is a really fun project as it will be creatively painted by May Street Elementary students through Columbia Gorge Arts in Education. The newly painted Riverside Food Cart — again, stay tuned for the new name — will debut at the Rotary Pear and Wine Fest (May 17-18). We’ll also be scheduling it for some upcoming community events, and will feature it in our next blog post.

Newly painted food cart to debut in May.

Until then, cheers!


Riverside blends another one…

We started offering Riverside blend wines four-and-a-half years ago as an effort to offer affordable house wine we could pour into carafes, or serve by the glass, while saving lots of bottles from recycling.

This program really belongs to Riverside’s in-house oenophile and Catering Manager, Jan McCartan. Jan, who selects the wines featured on Riverside’s extensive wine list, suggested we work with Rich Cushman for this program. Rich is the local “go to guy” for winemaking. He not only makes wine for his own winery, Viento, he also blends wines for several outstanding wineries in the Columbia Gorge appellation (AVA). The Oregon Wine Press has dubbed Rich a “Master Blender,” not to mention “the wizardly winemaker of the Columbia Gorge.”

Rich was enthusiastic about working on the Riverside project. I was involved in the first blending, which turned out to be an amazing process with great results. Since that time I’ve left it up to Jan and Rich.

Rich and Jan get together a couple times a year to create new Riverside blends, both white and red. In April, Jan and Rich created the most recent red blend that will debut in late May, 2013.

Here is a little Photo Essay of the process…

Rich sets up for the tasting by setting out six bottles of what he considers quality red varieties that could potentially create a palatable blend for the type of food Riverside serves. The ultimate outcome should be an Italian medium varietal-based red wine. They also use an existing Riverside Blend as a control.
Rich also has some beakers out, which make the setting look oddly like a chemistry experiment, as well as some spittoons.
Rich pours tastes of the six wines in six glasses.
The pair begins by smelling each one before tasting.
If it doesn’t smell good that’s a negative. They also take color into consideration.

Jan and Rich take notes independently, then come together to discuss qualities they
favor in each variety—aroma, taste, and color.
Believe it or not, they end up spitting a lot of the tastes out. “If you tasted too much,
they all start tasting good,” Jan says.
Typically they’ll eliminate a few, and in this case they liked four of the six. From there,
Rich plays with measurements. That’s where the beakers come in.
After over an hour of tasting, mixing a few different formulas of their favorite tastes, they’ve selected a the new Riverside Blend Red that’s 60% Barbera, 20% Sangiovese, 10% Merlot, and 10% Dolcetto.
“The sources of grapes for these various wines are all from local vineyards, no more than
33 miles from Hood River,” Rich says. “You don’t need to go further than that, we now have a
broad variety of good grapes in the Gorge.”
The flavor of the new blend fits the whole concept as I presented it to offer a great glass or carafe of wine to go with Italian food at a reasonable price. “We’ll fine tune it a little from here,” Rich reveals.
“Rich always has the final say,” explains Jan. I know what I like, and what we need for the restaurant, but I give him the final say because he’s the master at this.”

Riverside’s house wine program saves about 1,700 bottles from recycling a year at Riverside and Cebu Lounge, and has saved over 7,500 bottles since the program started a little over four years ago.

Although Riverside has a tasty red blend and a tasty white blend, we still sell a variety of all types of wine off Riverside’s wine menu, and stock around 1500 bottles of wine at any given time. Again, Jan works really hard (if you can call tasting wine hard work!) to find new additions to feature on our wine list. Her efforts have earned Riverside wine list awards from Oregon Wine Press, Wine Press Northwest, and Wine Spectator for multiple years running.

For more info about Riverside’s program, check out the Wine Press Northwest article from two years ago.

Riverside has also added half bottles to its wine list for diners wanting different varieties.  

Next time you’re in Riverside, feel free to ask our servers for tastes of our Riverside Blends, and any wine we offer by the glass.




Deciding on a Valentine’s Day Dinner

After over-thinking Riverside’s Valentine’s Menu for more than a week, I came across a survey today on people’s preferences for this special occasion. It’s nice to see that what we’ve lined up matches what many couples are looking for.

Here’s the piece on the survey provided by Open Table, as reported on

When I develop a Valentine’s menu, I think about various types of eaters, and attempt to have choices on there for “him” and for “her.” The survey does show different things appeal to different people. Sixty-seven percent of diners would rather not be locked into fixed price meal, while 33% prefer prix fixe. I know my wife would look at desserts first and plan her meal accordingly.

steaklobsterThere are a couple highlights I would like to mention on Riverside’s Valentine’s Menu. Obviously the lobster, which will be flown in live from Maine, is very special. I plan different preparations for each of the parts. We par-cook the crustaceans just the point of releasing the meat from shell, a method I picked up from Thomas Keller of The French Laundry. Then we take out the raw lobster meat and poach it slowly in emulsified butter. This makes the meat even richer than it already is. We save the tails for the Steak & Lobster entrée, the claws and knuckle for the Seafood Salad, and use the shells and the rest of the meat for Lobster Bisque.

This is a more refined, cleaner way to eat lobster on Valentine’s with your loved one, as opposed to big plastic bibs, a hammer and goggles… Basically, we do the dirty work in the kitchen, and you reap the rewards in the dining room.

 lobroll lighthouse
The sign says it all On a pilgrimage back to Rhode Island last summer.

For me what is more impressive on Riverside’s menu than the lobster is the Burrata cheese. Burrata is a hand-formed fresh mozzarella where the actual cooked cheese curd is stuffed with an unfinished curd and cream — completely over the top creamy DELICIOUSNESS. We’ll get it from an Italian cheese maker, Gioia, in California. (

For Valentine’s Day the cheese will be made for us on Monday, flown to Portland on Tuesday, and delivered to us on Wednesday. I’ve been eyeing this Burrata for a long time, and it’s something we’ll hope to have on the menu this summer. For Valentine’s we’ll serve the Burrata with olive oil, salt, and Italian semi-sundried tomatoes, known as pomodoraccio.

over the top creamy DELICIOUSNESS Vito Girardi, President Gioia Cheese, Inc.

A tricky thing about ordering premium specialty items is figuring out how many of these delicacies we’ll go through. I tried to plan enough for February 14th and 15th, and we’ll have to see.

Fortunately, there are other great choices on Riverside’s Valentine’s Menu, like the Mountain Shadow Ranch tenderloin, fresh from Dufur, Oregon. I pre-ordered these a couple weeks ago to be sure I could get enough.  We are also bringing in some King Chinook Salmon from Newman’s Fish Company ( They are well-known for being very selective and only bring in the best. We’ve had these for a couple private parties lately and they were fantastic.

For the Love of Lobster

Valentine’s holiday is all about relationships, whether new or long-standing. I’ve had a long relationship with lobster, and sometimes wonder if there’s anyone in the state of Oregon who’s eaten more lobster in their life than I have. During my college years in Rhode Island, I cooked fish at a restaurant called The Captain’s Table, known for fresh local fish and lobster in the Port of Galilee (photo at left is Point Judith light house…just outside the Port of Galilee). The restaurant had a live lobster tank, and, in my checkered pants, I’d grab them to order for customers. (That was last time I ever wore checkered pants!). When the fishing boats came in after days at sea, overloaded, I would indulge in lobster for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I was not your typical starving college student. I considered myself very lucky. 

So serving up lobster will bring back many memories. And it’s nice to know when we serve them next Thursday night, they will be just as fresh here at Riverside as they were at Narragansett. 

Happy Valentine’s Day!


Nice work, Ryan!

I wanted to skip the food-based blog for this post to give a
shout out to Ryan Huntington. Ryan is Front Desk Manager at the Hood River Inn and
has worked here eight years. A couple of years ago he took over our music
program and has done an unbelievable job.

Our entire team down here at the Hood River Inn works hard everyday to make sure we truly are a destination hotel. From restaurant to
banquets, rooms and amenities, it is a never-ending work in progress.

One of the biggest challenges presented to me four years ago
was to make Riverside a top choice for locals. My team in the kitchen works
tirelessly each day to achieve that goal.

What Ryan has done in Cebu Lounge is exactly the same with
the music program, and he’s made Cebu the premier music venue in Hood River. This past
year he brought in some really big shows such as Nicki Bluhm, the Shook Twins,
and Austin Heat, just to name a few. Ryan says he gets calls weekly from
popular Northwest bands who have heard about us and want to play here.

If you want to keep current with Ryan’s upcoming shows you
can check them out on the entertainment page on Riverside’s website, or even move it to your
smartphone homescreen so you never miss a show.

Ryan has lined up some great music already this year. Although he’s stoked about many upcoming shows, he’s especially looking forward to:

Feb. 1 – Chris Otepka

Feb. 16 – James Apollo & His Sweet Unknown

March 1 – Two Man Gentlemen Band

April 6- Taarka



My recipes for Lemon Breadcrumb Baked Cod & Handmade Gnocchi with Semi-Sundried Tomato Sauce

Sauce Base

This is an incredibly simple sauce based on excellent
quality ingredients. This base is truly a vinaigrette and could be used in many
ways. Here we are going to mix it with a little heavy cream. It would also work
well on a plate with Roasted Chicken, tossed with some romaine leaves, pasta, or with some seared local Salmon or Halibut in the summer. 

In a blender add about a 1/4 cup of aged sherry vinegar, and a
couple shots of Dijon mustard. Add about 1-1/2 cups semi-sundried tomatoes with a little of their oil. Blend,
and emulsify by adding some extra virgin olive oil, maybe 1 cup or a little
more depending on how tangy you would like it. Season with salt and pepper.
It’s that easy!

Chop some Marcona almonds and reserve, to sprinkle later on
the gnocchi. This will add a salty crunch to the tangy sundried tomato sauce.


Products: I use a high quality aged sherry vinegar, and pomodoraccio (Italian semi-sundried tomatoes), and Marcona almonds. Fine ingredients like these are available at FarmStand
or Ovino’s.



In a blender add aged sherry vinegar, and a couple shots of Dijon mustard, semi-sundried tomatoes with a little of their oil. Blend, and emulsify by adding some extra virgin olive oil.

Making Gnocchi

It’s impossible to have a go-to recipe for gnocchi because
every potato is different and the balance of dry ingredients depends on the
moisture of the potato.

We usually use Yukon gold potatoes, but russets can work.
After baking the potatoes, “rice” or finely grate them. A box grater or a food
processer with a grater attachment works well.


After baking the potatoes, “rice” or finely grate them. 

Once you have fine potato rice, add flour. Start with a
ratio of 3 parts potato to one part flour (i.e., if I start with three pounds
of potatoes, I use less than one pound of flour to start with. Some potatoes
are so dry, we only add a little flour.) The goal here is to add as little
flour as possible. You want to add
the flour and work it through your fingers until crumbly, like making
shortbread. You don’t want the mixture too wet, or too dry. Again, it’s all
based on the moisture content of the potato.

Now it’s time to add some beaten egg. Again, depending on
the moisture, I decide how many eggs to use. If I started with 3 lbs. of
potatoes, I would probably start with 2-3 eggs, beaten. Pour the egg in center,
and with your hands start forming into a ball of dough. The key here is to work
the mixture just to the point of a ball
of dough and not further
. By not overworking, your gnocchi will be very
light and fluffy. The more you work, the denser it will be.

Next, roll the dough into long snakes. Then cut the gnocchi
with a dough blade. Simmer a pot of water and throw small batches of the
dumplings into the simmering water until they float. Then drain the gnocchi and
shock them into an ice bath. 
Remove from ice bath, and roll in some olive oil. Your gnocchi is now
ready to use or store in the fridge for a few days.


Roll the dough into long snakes and cut the gnocchi with a dough blade 


A small batch of the dumplings ready for the simmering water 


You know they are done when they float! 


After draining the gnocchi, shock them into an ice bath.  Remove from ice bath, and roll in some olive oil. Your gnocchi is now ready to use or store in the fridge for a few days.

Lemon Bread Crumb Baked Cod

This cod preparation is really simple. A good breading
starts with homemade breadcrumbs. Grind some stale/toasted bread and mix with a
little olive oil and lemon zest. Prepare a baking tray with a light rub of oil.
Place a layer of breadcrumbs on the baking tray to keep the fish from sticking.
Drizzle the cod with a little olive oil, season w/ salt and pepper, then add
more breadcrumbs to the top of the cod. Heat the oven to 400 degrees or
so.  We keep our ovens at 500 so
our times will vary. With fresh cod, you’ll know it’s done when you see its
edges start to flake apart.

While the cod is baking, finish
the gnocchi.


Prepare a baking tray with a light rub of oil. Place a layer of breadcrumbs on the baking tray.


Drizzle the cod with a little olive oil, season w/ salt and pepper, then add more breadcrumbs to the top of the cod.

Serving Gnocchi in Semi-Sundried Tomato Sauce

Gnocchi is so versatile. You can make whatever you want with
them—as simple as mixing with a good store-bought tomato sauce, or serving with
a fine sauce like the one I shared.

To complete our recipe, I like to put a little crust on the
gnocchi first. Put some oil and butter in pan, and let the butter start to
brown a little. Brown the gnocchi for a minute or so. Then, add a couple shots of heavy cream. Add a tablespoon of
the sun-dried tomato sauce into the cream, stir, and it’s ready. (If you put
the sauce in the pan without a little cream, the oils would separate, and you’d
have a broken sauce). Place the gnocchi on a plate and top with chopped

Add your baked cod to the plate, and serve with any other
accompaniments you like. This baked cod is so versatile, you can do a number
things with it. I love breadcrumbs falling on everything else you serve with
it. It’s great with a Caesar salad, or green beans, or broccoli, with the added
benefit of crunchy breadcrumbs. 

Fish buying tip:

Don’t buy tilapia from Vietnam. Know where your fish comes
from. I recommend you have a rapport with your vendors. Ask them where the fish
was caught. Ask them when fresh fish is delivered. If it’s  delivered Tuesday and Friday, I wouldn’t
buy it on Monday. 



Chef Mark blogs begin. New menus, and new Thanksgiving plans.


What an incredible summer and early fall we’ve had! It was great to see so many regulars and so many new faces enjoying the deck. I keep waiting for things to slow down so I can focus on new plans. It continues to be busy, and with fall events, and holiday parties looming, I don’t expect it to slow down for some time. In any case, I’ve committed to “try” a blog as a way to let Riverside fans know what’s coming up.



First of all we have a new breakfast menu that I’m really excited about, with many seasonal items — lots of fresh fruit, including apples, blueberries, huckleberries, and pears. So far the Autumn Vegetable Hash is the most popular thing on the menu. Pretty much all the veggies in this come from Hood River Organic . Take a look at the Breakfast Menu, and let me know
what you think.


Our Dinner Menu is fairly new, too, and
I hope to change it up again soon. My plan is to pare it down a bit, although I
always have a hard time doing that…my menus seem to constantly grow. My goal
is to get back to my Abruzzo model where I was able to change the menu more
frequently with a smaller menu, inserting old favorites easily. My hope is that
you’ll try something new, and love it, knowing your favorite item will back soon. Let’s
try this, and see how it works. If you have a past fall or winter favorite
from Abruzzo or Riverside, post it on our Facebook
page, and I’ll consider adding it! Please give your feedback to the servers, too. And
always ask if you a have a special request…we want to hear from you, and we
try our best to accommodate.


A big change this season is planned for Thanksgiving at Riverside. We’ve traditionally created extensive holiday buffets. It turns out Thanksgiving and Christmas buffets have maller turn out than Easter and Mother’s Day. And as you can imagine, they take days of planning, preparation, and staff time on precious holidays. So this year we’ll serve plated Thanksgiving Dinner. We think this will be a smarter way to serve the best quality holiday food, and give people affordable choices. There will be Small Plates, Soups, Salads, Main Dishes and Desserts. Our Turkey Dinner or Vegetarian Thanksgiving Dinner will be $15. There will be other options, too, such as Prime Rib or Seafood. People can opt to share a dessert, or eat a light meal and go for the Dessert Buffet! I feel we’ll be able to build more value into our menu items, and allow people to control their eating an spending. It will also allow us to extend our serving hours to 9 p.m., with reservations starting at noon. We will see how this goes for Thanksgiving and decide on Christmas. Easter and Mother’s Day, we will continue with our traditional buffets. Check out our Thanksgiving Menu , and please give me your feedback!