Charting the Evolution of Portland’s Food Scene

Take me to the chart!

Even as a non-professional home cook, it’s easy to see why Portland, Oregon is a great place for culinary adventuring: there is access to beautiful, fresh, delicious produce, a burgeoning wine country, and a culture that embraces artisan processing of ingredients.  That being said, one of the things I like most about living here is the cultivation of community.  People associate themselves with their particular neighborhoods, there are meetups for nearly every type of sub-section of society imaginable, and there are even coworking memberships for creatives and entrepreneurs.  I believe this sense of community rings true among the chefs in Portland as well.  The collaboration in this town is second to none, and part of the reason for that is how the food scene evolved.

Conception

In 2012, the Oregonian‘s Michael Russell, along with designer Reed Darmon, editor Danielle Centoni and design director Linda Shankweiler put together a chef family tree of sorts that charted many of the prominent restaurants at the time.  I personally didn’t even know this thing existed until I heard Cort Johnson and Chris Angeles talk about it on their podcast Right at the Fork.  They also suggested the tree getting an update.  I decided to take a look at it.

Process

What the team at the Oregonian/Mix Magazine did was really impressive and no doubt time-consuming.  Considering how much information they packed into a two page PDF, if I wanted to expand on it, I knew I’d have to somewhat reformat the design.

Initially, I started with a force-directed graph that started to look like this:

force-directed graph version

I quickly realized that this was going to balloon into a giant mess that would be incredibly difficult for me to scale and nearly impossible for others to read.  I started looking into ways to visualize the many-to-many relationships I’m trying to model, which led me to chord diagrams, Sankey diagrams, and a few other directions I found didn’t give me what I was looking for.  That’s when I discovered this concept map:

concept map

I knew I had a lot more data than this example had, but I had a good feeling about its scalability.  I also liked that you can click on a concept or person and get a zoomed in view of the relationships.

zoomed-in view

Once I saw this, I knew this was by far the best way for me to visualize this data.  I went to work on disassembling the concept map and adapting it to what I needed.  Because of the work I had done with my aggregate chart graph, I was quite a bit more comfortable with using D3 (data-driven documents) and Javascript.  (Most of my daytime work is done in Python with C++ sprinkled in from time to time.)

Introducing Chefy Graph

After months of work on this, I’m finally ready to release the first version of Chefy Graph, and much like the all-time great tennis pro it’s named after, there are many, many Grand Slams.  Nearly all of the top-rated Portland chefs and restaurants are represented.

Chefy Graph
(click picture to get to the full interactive chart)

How To Use the Graph

Upon loading the graph, the first view is what I call the Macro View.  In this view, you can see every chef and every restaurant represented.  The chef’s names are in the middle in two columns in alphabetical order by last name.  The restaurants are listed alphabetically around the chart.

Macro View

To view relationships between chefs and restaurants, you can mouse-over (or tapping on an iOS device) a chef’s name and the restaurants on the graph he/she worked at get highlighted.

Conversely, mouse-over on a restaurant, and the chefs connected to this restaurant become highlighted.

You might be wondering what’s up with the colors.  Well, if the color of a restaurant’s circle matches a chef’s color, that means the chef is either the owner or a key executive chef who started that restaurant.  This will become even more visible when we go into the zoomed-in micro view. 

Micro View

Clicking on either a chef or a restaurant in macro view brings you to that item’s micro-view.  In the following GIF, we are selecting the restaurant Park Kitchen in the graph.

As you can see, Park Kitchen has a lot of names connected to it, so let’s take a look at what this restaurant’s micro-view is telling us.

Park Kitchen’s Zoomed-In Micro View

As I mentioned before, the colors correspond to the ownership/key figure of the restaurant.  Likewise, because of a suggestion I got from a very smart person, I enlarged the chef/owner circle in the micro-view for this relationship.  After working at Higgins, Pazzo, Paley’s Place, and Zefiro, Scott Dolich opened Park Kitchen in 2003.  Therefore, Chef Dolich’s circle is large on this view and is also the same yellow as PK and his other restaurant The Bent Brick.

Each item in the view can also be interacted with.  A mouse-over highlights it’s direct connections as you can see when I selected Jason Barwikowski.

Clicking on the main circle in the middle will collapse all the second degree connections.

In collapsed mode, clicking on the collapsed group, expands just that group.

Clicking on a chef or another restaurant in the view will show you the micro-view of that item.  For instance, when I click Scott Dolich, he becomes the center and all his primary and secondary connections are displayed.

To get back to the main view, click anywhere on the background or the all data link on the bottom left.

Notes and Caveats

I had to make choices when it came to restaurants with either no owners on the chart or multiple owners on the chart, so I tried to stick to a few guidelines:

  • If the restaurant is/was owned by a husband/wife/partner team, I made the female partner the owner.  (ie. Greg Denton and Gabriella Quinonez of Ox)
  • If one was the chef-owner, I tended to choose them.
  • In other cases, I made an executive decision. 
  • If the circle is black, the owner does not appear in the macro view of the chart.
  • Apologies in advance to the owners chosen as secondary.

Observations

In An Eater’s Guide to Portland, Mattie Bamman wrote this about Vitaly Paley:

Barely known outside of the city, Paley is the glue holding much of the Portland food scene together. The chef community tends to be defined by a truly collaborative, rather than truly competitive, atmosphere, and Paley has been carrying the torch since opening Paley’s Place in the ’90s.

Pulling up Vitaly Paley or Paley’s Place on the chart shows the reach of both the man and his restaurant.  It’s hard to argue the reach and direct influence.  Many of Portland’s great restaurants came directly from chefs that came out of the kitchen of Paley’s Place, including Le Pigeon, Maurice, Ned Ludd, and Park Kitchen.

Paley’s Place
Vitaly Paley

One other note about Paley’s Place… Almost all the other major influencers of the food scene have gone out of business: Genoa, Pazzo, Wildwood, Zefiro, and Heathman.  And yet, Paley’s is still going.  Impressive.

Conclusion

I learned a lot working on this.  It took months of reading, researching, coding, and time-consuming data entry.  Even though I think there is more I can add to it, I’m happy with how this project turned out so far.  I plan to keep it somewhat updated as well.

  My hope is that somehow this chart is thought of as a homage to the over 120 chefs on it.  These hardworking people and their staffs have truly cultivated a restaurant scene that they can be proud of, and one that I personally reap the benefits from on the regular.  🙂


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