The Essential Ingredient

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Chef Janet O’Connor has created a “freestyle European” bistro called Bethany’s Table, located near Portland, Oregon. It’s a unique place for a number of reasons.

Each person who takes a seat is cared for in a manner more reminiscent of a family dinner than a restaurant experience. Each ingredient is selected for its remedy, rather than its rarity. Each meal satisfies a unique type of hunger, one that seeks fulfillment rather than satiety. At Bethany’s Table, Janet strives to give the community a comfortable space to enjoy food that encourages a sense of camaraderie— the kind of food that makes you want to linger.

Janet’s passion for food began when she was just a child. You could even say she inherited the culinary trade. Her father was a chef who never fell for trends, and refused to trade butter for margarine. A gardener and fisherman, he taught Janet early lessons in living off the land. This education expanded when the family packed up everything in a camper van and drove across the county, to “the middle of nowhere, Oregon.” Here, on 35 acres of the wild Pacific Northwest, they built their life from the ground up, literally. “We built our own house, and I spent the next few years running around lightly clothed, no shoes on my feet,” Janet says.

As this curious, barefoot child ran around the woods, natural interest led her to the garden of her neighbors. There, she cared for livestock and, “learned a lot of my fundamentals.” In this neighbor’s garden, she also learned her most crucial lesson, the one that would inform her actions from that point forward.

“It really taught me the old life, respecting everything,” says Janet. “I think you can have great respect for everything you eat, whether it be plant or animal.”

As she grew up and considered her life’s path, Janet used these childhood lessons to augment her culinary training at a renowned institute where she learned to apply artistry and precision to each ingredient, and every dish.

Take really good ingredients, and do as little with them as possible.

Today, her style is simple. Janet expresses her respect for the fruits of the earth by letting them speak for themselves. While she possesses the skills of decorated celebrity chefs, she doesn’t manipulate ingredients to make them speak to those skills. Instead, she uses her craft to heighten the flavors of meticulously curated ingredients.

“My philosophy is to take really good ingredients, and do as little with them as possible,” Janet says.

But Janet uses her lifelong education to do more than cook. Bethany’s Table serves a purpose, as Janet explains.

“It’s not just about the food I serve; it’s really about creating community,” she says. “It’s the one thing that we really lack nowadays, with everything being so busy and fast. People like a good story, and they like community.”

To this end, Janet fosters a sense of community in Bethany by acting as a caregiver of sorts, with food as the remedy.

“I want each person to leave here happy and feeling fulfilled and feeling like they were taken care of. It’s a respite from the world, and food is my vehicle.”

Each meal satisfies a hunger, one that seeks fulfillment rather than satiety.

At Bethany’s Table, that means food is Janet’s way to get to know her neighbors. Her aim is to get so well acquainted with each person who sits down at one of her tables that, “they become more than customers. They become family.”

In some cases, this means getting her actual family involved. In the case of one older couple that Janet remembers fondly, her stepson would drive to pick them up and bring them to the restaurant, where Janet and the team would make their dinner. The only natural thing to do afterwards was drive them back home.

It all comes back to that one simple idea: community.

We dined with Janet and her team while passing through the Pacific Northwest in the Lincoln MKX. For more information, please visit us here.

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