Prawn heads. All I see are eyeballs and antennae.
Will Preisch smirks at me, “We like to…challenge our guests.” The next thing Preisch hands over to me is a thin green plant. “It’s a sea bean. We went out and got it from the ocean a few days ago.”
“Amazing! And also, you guys are too polite and nice to be chefs,” I say.
“Ha…I’ve definitely made people cry,” says Stocks.
How do you classify Holdfast Dining? You don’t.
A true Holdfast Dining experience consists of a tasting menu laid out over nine courses and five different wine pairings. With foraged edible plants and ingredients from their own garden, here are Portland’s very own food masters, Will Preisch and Joel Stocks.
These two young gentlemen are living every chef’s dream. They cook what they want, how they want, where they want; no restrictions. They have all of the power, and they will beyond satisfy your taste buds.
They create a new menu every week. There is no single inspiration or cuisine they follow.
“It’s not hard coming up with a new menu every week because we don’t classify ourselves,” says Preisch.
They shop at local markets and always cook with what ingredients are in season.
“We’ve recently been getting seafood from a new distributor. We told them that any strange or rare fish they catch on a line that they weren’t expecting or don’t want with their bunch of salmon or cod—give us a call,” says Stocks.
They forage at the Oregon coast every other week. Yes, that’s right… picture two men with their pants rolled up, searching in the Pacific Ocean and tide pools for plants that will soon be on a plate in front of you. This is one of the many factors that set them apart in the Portland food scene.
They pick fresh ingredients from Stocks’ home garden. These chefs really work for the food they put on the plate and can personally assure the freshness of each ingredient.
A dinner guest knows only three things: a time, a place, and the cost. How do they know? They’ve gotta be on the list, and they’ve got to be quick on the draw. The guys send out a blast email and the first 14 people to reserve a seat are in. Slow to check your email that day? You’re probably sitting this weekend’s dinner out.
Each dinner is a mystery menu. Guests have no idea what they will be served. No food allergies are considered. Oh, and rest assured, these two know their wines. Each wine served at the meal is paired perfectly with the courses being served.
Five years ago, Preisch and Stocks worked together at The Bent Brick in Portland. About one year ago, Preisch started Holdfast Dining. Stocks graduated from the Culinary Institute of America in New York and finished working at Graham Elliot, a 2 Michelin star restaurant in Chicago, Illinois. Stocks returned home to Portland and joined Preisch at Holdfast.
Preisch is 30 years old and Stocks only 26, but don’t be fooled by their age. They’ve both been working in kitchens since they were kids. Preisch grew up around his father’s diner in Cleveland, Ohio—practically born and raised cooking. Stocks has worked in fine dining restaurants since he was 15. There’s no doubt that they’re food savvy.
“Our food is elegant. It’s food with finesse,” declares Stocks.
Essentially, they could be considered a pop-up kitchen, but they haven’t moved yet. Holdfast is part of a kitchen collective at KitchenCru in NW Portland. They share the industrial kitchen with other companies. They like the KitchenCru space because it’s beyond well-equipped, has a chef’s table, and creates the environment that they want their guests to experience.
“We present the food how we’d want it to be served to us,” hollers Preisch over the gangster rap blaring in the background.
“We want to take anything and everything pretentious out of a fine dining experience,” says Stocks. “Oh, it’s definitely going to smell like caramel corn in here.”
There are ups and downs to sharing a space with others. Although the smell of candy is lingering during the dining experience, it adds to the casual, relaxed flow that Preisch and Stocks want.
Sometimes their methodical, precise, clean style can be messed with from sharing with other companies.
“Let’s just say, not everyone who works here is as anal retentive as we are,” says Stocks graciously.
The upside about being in Holdfast Dining is that there are no employees to worry about, no servers to get annoyed with, and no managers breathing down their necks.
“If I’m not at work on my day off, I don’t have to worry about what’s going to happen to my kitchen or if my walk-in is going to shut down,” says Preisch.
Over the past year, Preisch and Stocks have developed a flawless dining experience. Their precision, their pallets for assembling ingredients, the plating presentations, and some mutual particularities for detail are just a few reasons why they work so well together to create the level of cuisine they serve.
“We have the same vision. We also have a very similar style,” says Stocks. “It’s nice working with someone where you don’t have to worry about what the other is doing. At my old job, it was a 12-person kitchen. I felt like I was babysitting all the time.”
As integral a part of the Holdfast Dining experience as the eating, is being audience to the preparation which happens before your eyes.
Watching Preisch and Stocks work together is like watching a ballet. It’s dinner and a show. I’ve never seen chefs flutter with finesse while no words need be exchanged. To watch, drink, eat at Holdfast you’ve got to be quick to respond and open to dining on whatever thoughtfully prepared menu these two young culinary savants have in store for 14 lucky guests at a time.
To be a part of the Holdfast email list and reserve a seat at this chef’s table rubbing elbows with other culinary adventurers like yourself, sign up to get your invites at holdfastdining.com.