We partnered with with the team at Ned Ludd, a Portland restaurant that feels like home, to bring our Open Kitchen collection to life this season. Its cozy, casual vibe pairs perfectly with its rustic menu, which highlights peak-season produce and handcrafted, locally sourced ingredients. Read our interviews with the owners, chefs and partners behind Ned Ludd and try their original recipes here.
The Ned Ludd team, led by chef and owner Jason French, prides itself on sourcing the best ingredients from the most thoughtful local producers. That’s where Dave and Lori Hoyle come in. As the owners of the organic farm Creative Growers, they supply Ned Ludd with the high-quality vegetables, fruits and herbs that form the foundation of the restaurant’s menu. Here, we talk to Dave and Lori all about their work, their restaurant collaborations, and their favorite places to eat in Portland.
How did you get started farming?
Dave: That’s a long story! It came to us almost accidentally. I worked line cook jobs and found myself in rural Oregon. In between jobs, a neighbor asked me to go out to a farm to pick up weekly vegetables, and ultimately the farmer offered me a job. Seven years later I was running that farm and a neighborhing farmer was ready to transition out, so he offered us a deal: five years sweat equity for 50% ownership in the farm. That’s when Lori came.
We were college sweethearts who went our separate ways. One day I called a mutual friend, and Lori answered; we reconnected and she started coming down to the farm on weekends. She was a natural and we took off from there. We took over the older farmer’s operation in 2000 and grew it from a small market garden and expanded, just as the Portland restaurant scene was taking off. It was a logical and easy transition to expand. We were working with the old guard of restaurant chefs, and as the new guys were spreading out and opening their own places, we went from there and spiralized out of control.
We just closed on a piece of property 30 miles from Ned Ludd. It’s been a long time coming; we’ve been expanding our Portland distribution, so we’ve spent lots of time and money with trucks on the road, which was weighting on us physically and philosophically. We needed to shorten the distance and be in a better place for folks to be able to connect with us and experience what we’re doing. We were working with the best chefs in country and were not able to enjoy what they do. We’ve cut off our Eugene accounts, so now we’re solely about Portland. We have a CSA, and we used to sell at farmers’ markets, but we had to comb that down — we dropped the markets to focus on what we love the most, which is working with chefs. There’s a shared passion for food and an obvious match for who we are and what we do.
Dave: We grow a little of everything. We have 15 acres in production at any given time on a 40-acre farm. We grow 50 different vegetables, and 200 varieties within that. We have 45 varieties of tomatoes alone.
Lori: We are kind of known for our tomatoes. We grow lots of herbs, too.
Dave: We cater what we grow to the people we work with. Everything is custom harvested; we don’t pick anything that’s not sold. We really found a niche with chefs. We grow a lot of European varieties as well; we’re dealing with seed houses right out of Europe that have been doing the same thing since the 1800s. It’s neat to see whats available in the European market: oddball varieties of tomatoes or chicories that can help our customers differentiate themselves in the marketplace.
What are you growing that you’re most excited about?
Dave: Chicories, bitter greens. We’ve been focused on this transition, moving the farm after 15 years, so I’m still catching my breath. I’m bouncing between two locations, playing catch-up on the growing season.
Lori: Right now, we’re growing a lot of peas.
Dave: We are blessed to have a climate that facilitates year-round growing. We are educating ourselves to what will grow here year-round and how we can push the envelope and availability window. We have spring greens, Asian greens, arugula, mizuna. We look at Chez Panisse to see what everyone’s going to be looking for this year.
Dave: It’s the simplest preparation, the one that lets the ingredient speak through. We’re in a luxurious position; we get to walk around the farm and take whatever we want at its peak. We literally go out with the kids into the field and graze. Our life revolves around food: growing it, preparing it, cooking it, eating it.
Lori: I like to make big salads with whatever vegetables are growing. Our kids eat so many vegetables just walking around in the field.
Dave: We are inspired by the movement away from a focus on protein in the restaurant world. We are seeing folks going out to New York, San Francisco or Los Angeles and bringing back this revitalized love for simple, seasonal ingredients prepared with a minimal fuss — highlighting the inherent flavor that the farmer and the crop bring in the back door. They manipulate it by combining it with other flavors, more than messing with it. They create texture and flavor profiles rather than over-seasoning or over-saucing. Just slice it, dice it, and throw it on the plate.
What else do you produce?
Dave: We also raise our own chickens and pigs. We know a lot of protein producers, so we’re in a blessed position. There is a cornucopia of amazing producers on all levels, from seafood and ranchers to duck.
Lori: Our new farm borders a winery, so we can just walk over to the tasting room if we run out of wine.
Dave: Before, we were in a rural logging community, and our farm was nestled in a forest. Here, there’s more of an agricultural community; we feel much more connected to our craft, being surrounded by other purveyors with similar philosophies about land and people and respect for what they do and produce.
How did you meet Jason and start working with him?
Dave: I think I first met Jason when he was on the line at Paley’s Place. Actually, he just sent me a photo of a crop projection list we sent him in 2002. It’s fun for us to see that; we haven’t done that in years. Now, it’s all word of mouth.
We connected early on and hit it off. I followed his path to Ned Ludd through various kitchen doors. The restaurant is such a perfect concept and a perfect fit for who he is and how he looks at food and ingredients. Now that there’s a greater demand for what we produce, we get to pick and choose who we work with. Jason has respect for what we do and what we’re able to bring to him in the kitchen. He’s one of the few Portland chefs who came down and saw our operation. He brought his entire staff down — dishwashers, floor staff, bartenders — everybody came and got to see where everything was coming from. That strengthens the relationship. It’s the epitome of what we want to do and how we want to be in business with people.
What excites you about working with chefs like Jason?
Dave: A shared passion. We really can respect and understand and dig on people who are passionate about what they do, no matter what it is. Our garbage man at the old farm, he loved what he did. Jason is a fine example of that: he’s passionate about food and always wants to be cooking and exploring and tasting and sharing. The sense of community that can be developed around food excites us. We really are passionate about what we do and see a passion in our favorite chefs about what they do. The middle ground between what we do and what they do is food.
We have to run a business. We love what we do, but if we don’t pay the bills at the end of the year then we don’t get to do this. But it’s great that you can exist in an agricultural economy doing things the way we do things and caring as much as we do.
Lori: We do. We love our cheese and meat and bread plate — just kind of snacking. I love opening a bottle of wine earlier in the daytime. I like simple. A galette is my go-to thing. Any kind: a savory cherry tomato galette, plum, apples, berries, anything. My other go-to would be gougeres. I also do lots of grilled fava beans.
Dave: For us, entertaining is an excuse to show off because we have a farm. Summer entertaining is the peak; we eat outside and cook outside with the grill and a wood fire. We have things you can’t get in the grocery store, like squash blossoms. It’s really just playing with what we have in the field and highlighting those ingredients.
Did you grow up in Portland?
Lori: No, I grew up in Florida, and Dave in England. I’ve lived here 15 years; Dave, over 20 years.
What inspires you about living in Portland?
Lori: The food, the funkiness. What’s not to love about Portland?
Dave: It’a city of neighborhoods. It doesn’t feel claustrophobic like a big city; it’s open and free and you can move through the city. Each neighborhood has its own twist on a funky expression of Portland. Little neighborhoods evolve. What happens is not simply gentrification; it’s more like an absorption of cultures and ideas into neighborhoods, rather than 180 transformation.
What do you love about the food scene and community?
Lori: The biggest problem with the food scene is trying to figure out where to go out to eat! There are so many great places, you can get anything you want.
Dave: There’s so much talent, and a focus on seasonal ingredient-based cooking is becoming the norm. It’s exciting for us to know that there are that many chefs out there who can do such diverse menus but still have a similar baseline philosophy about ingredients. We have to be careful not to let it become ubiquitous, to celebrate the relationships between producers and chefs and restaurants.
We’ve got all of these guys who came out of the same school of cooking getting James Beard nominations and putting out amazing food. It speaks to the level of talent and the appreciation of the original old guard. We have to let new guys get out there and spread their wings and do their own things — not feel like they are just more competition. There is competition between chefs, but it’s on a different level. It’s like, I want to put out a dish that blows your mind and customers’ minds. There is very little ruthless competition with farmers. Everybody wants others to succeed, but you still want to one-up your peer. You want to have the best cherry tomato or best-looking melon in the marketplace.
Describe your ideal food day in Portland.
Dave: I’d do happy hour drinks at Clyde Common. I like bubbly and Negronis, but I also tend to mix up my cocktail selection and leave it to the fate of the bartender. For the food, too — a chef or line cook knows what’s coming out at peak on any given night.
Then I’d go to Ken’s Artisan Bakery; he’s a dynamite chef. He makes European-style food. I’d get a plain croissant and double espresso, and a chocolate croissant for the kids.
Lori: We rarely go out without the kids, but for dinner, Ava Gene’s is one of the most memorable meals we’ve had.
Dave: And Pok Pok for lunch!