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A "Top Chef" Tour of the Willamette Valley

By Stacey Gregory

During its run throughout the spring and summer of 2021, "Top Chef: Portland" toured several of Oregon's culinary hotspots-including the Columbia River Gorge, the Oregon Coast, and Portland. Naturally, we were thrilled when the show staged its season finale in the heart of the Willamette Valley.

Not that it came as much of a surprise: After all, the Willamette Valley's fertile soils are ideal for growing more than 150 crops-from wheat and alfalfa to berries, tulips, hazelnuts, and our world-famous wine grapes.

Those grapes got a little shine in the final episode of "Top Chef: Portland," which was filmed at Willamette Valley Vineyards, just outside of Salem. But that wasn't the only Willamette Valley location the show filmed at, so we wanted to take you on a "Top Chef" tour of the region-both to the locations and attractions that showed up in the episode, as well as a few places that were left on the cutting-room floor due to time constraints.

Here's a look at where to have your own "Top Chef" around the Willamette Valley.

Willamette Valley Vineyards

A vineyard in the Willamette Valley
Willamette Valley Vineyards / Photo by Andrea Johnson

Willamette Valley Vineyards got started in 1983, when vintner Jim Bernau cleared an old plum orchard in the Eola Hills just south of Salem and planted some pinot noir grapevines. Since then, the vineyard has become one of the most recognizable forces in the Willamette Valley wine scene-and was even named "One of America's Great Pinot Noir Producers" by Wine Enthusiast.

Willamette Valley Vineyards produces its popular grapes on five vineyards throughout the region, with chardonnay, pinot gris, and-of course-pinot noir accounting for the most dominant varieties.

The winery also stands out for its commitment to stewardship and responsible farming by incorporating biodynamic farming practices, getting certified as Salmon-Safe, protecting the Willamette Valley's remaining oak habitat, and producing several certified vegan wines.

Fitts Seafoods

Since 1901, Fitts Seafoods has sold-you guessed it-seafood from throughout the Pacific Northwest and around the world. And while the storied shop didn't make the final cut of "Top Chef: Portland," Fitts has earned acclaim for its freshness, high-quality catches, and variety of seafood.

Depending on what's fresh and in-season, the Fitts selection may include rockfish from throughout the Pacific Northwest; oysters from Willapa Bay; cod, shrimp, and Dungeness crab from Oregon; halibut from Alaska; and more.

Fitts has expanded beyond seafood over the years to offer free-range beef and pork from Lonely Lane Farms in Mt. Angel, natural cheeses from West Salem's Willamette Valley Cheese, organic chickens from Aurora Valley Organic Farms, and more. Shoppers will also find a curated selection of regional wines, as well.

Bauman's Farm & Garden

Bauman's Farm & Garden, a Willamette Valley staple since 1895, made an appearance in the "Top Chef: Portland" finale-but the family-run farm's attractions and offerings are enough to fill an episode all on their own.

Show up hungry, because Bauman's hosts an on-site deli (serving sandwiches, salads, sweet treats, and other light fare), a bakery (serving cookies, breads, scones, and more than a dozen varieties of pie), and a cidery pouring hard apple cider. Naturally, Bauman's food and drink is made fresh and, whenever possible, features farm-grown ingredients.

Once full, visitors with a green thumb can while away an afternoon in Bauman's 40,000-square-foot garden center, home to annuals, perennials, succulents, flowering and fruit trees, house plants, and the farm's famous hanging baskets. Little ones, meanwhile, love the petting zoo and playground.

Gathering Together Farm

Carrots piled high on sale at a farm
Gathering Together Farm sells its produce at an on-site farm stand, works fresh fruits and veggies into meals at the farm's restaurant, and is a regular at farmers markets throughout the Willamette Valley. Photo by Lainey Dyer

Gathering Together Farm, sitting just outside Philomath along the bucolic banks of Marys River, didn't make the final cut of "Top Chef: Portland."

But for more than 30 years, the farm has grown a variety of organic produce-and has shared that bounty with the wider Willamette Valley through CSAs and farmers markets, as well as an on-site restaurant and farm stand.

Gathering Together Farm's on-site restaurant blends European and Pacific Northwest cuisine, and the staff prides itself on making pasta and baking bread in-house-and using farm-fresh ingredients whenever possible. The farm stand, meanwhile, showcases Gathering Together's output alongside local offerings-so visitors might find a selection of locally brewed beers, fruits and vegetables, free-range eggs, artisan fruit spreads, baked goods, and more.

Mid-Willamette Valley Food Trail

A young man and woman admire the grapevines on a stroll through the vineyards at Tyee Winery.
Tyee Wine Cellars is one of several stops along the Mid-Willamette Valley Food Trail. Photo by Alison Smith

"Top Chef: Portland" shouted out the Mid-Willamette Valley Food Trail, which launched in spring 2020 and showcases more than 50 ag-minded stops in farming communities throughout the region-including Monroe, Albany, Philomath, Corvallis, and Alsea.

In all, the Mid-Willamette Valley Food Trail takes visitors on a self-guided tour of seasonal farms, elegant tasting rooms, markets stocked with fresh produce, renowned eateries, and more. Learn more about the Mid-Willamette Valley Food Trail, and plan your next outing today.

Your adventure begins with the official Willamette Valley Travel Guide. Request your complimentary printed guide or download a digital guide today.

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