Leslie and Manuel Recio: Farmers

Owners of Viridian Farms

When  Manuel  and  Leslie  Recio  decided  to  purchase Leslie’s parents’ farm, they knew they had a lot to learn. The couple met in 1995 at the University of Seville and had bonded over their mutual love of Spanish food and culture, but neither had any farming experience. So when they decided to leave behind their previous careers in favor of farming, only one thing was clear:  even though Viridian Farms is located in Oregon, the couple’s Spanish roots would never be far behind.

The Recios purchased the farm in 2006 and since then, their small enterprise has grown into one of the most well- respected and  innovative  farms  in  the  region and in the country, providing produce for a variety of local restaurants such as Beast, Salt & Straw, Abby’s Table, Little T American Baker, and Toro Bravo. Viridian Farms  focuses on specialty produce and herbs often  found  in Spanish, French and Italian cuisine, including unique items not readily available in the US like Padrón peppers; oyster leaf, a leaf has the smell and flavor of oyster; and calçots, Catalan onions. “We’re not trying to replicate the items we grow from Spain and France,” Manuel explains. “Their product is definitely different from what we grow. We grow Oregon Padrones, Oregon calçots. This is something that’s from the Willamette Valley. It’s our take on it.”

Every year, Leslie and Manuel return to Spain to study produce and cuisines available in different regions, and to identify new products to bring back to Oregon.  As Leslie explains, “Portland is a small city and I would say the majority of our success has been from being able to introduce prod- ucts into Portland that aren’t traditionally grown in Portland or the US. When we go over there, we want to get a better idea of how the traditional products that we grow are used in both traditional and  avant-garde applications so we can come back and show people what we’ve learned.”

In  fact, Leslie and  Manuel’s  commitment  to  sharing  their discoveries has played a major role in the farm’s success, as local  chefs have come to rely on Viridian Farms for unique ingredients and fresh inspiration. “We got our start marketing primarily to chefs and that’s still our major focus,” Manuel says. “We’ve learned a lot from them, just as, I think, they’ve learned a lot from us. Portland as a food scene has always been very innovative, so that has allowed us to go and bring ideas back.” Leslie adds, “And what’s so great about the food culture here is chefs, mixologists, and bakers grab on to those ideas and they do some really neat things. So in a lot of ways, we’re teaching them how we’ve seen it used and how it’s traditionally used, but the great thing is that they’ll come up with their very own and very different ideas.”

In  addition to researching  specific  products  and  preparations, Leslie and Manuel also use their trips to keep an eye on what’s trending globally in fine dining. Leslie notes that they saw three major trends during their most recent trip last winter. “In food, there has been a focus outside of Europe and the US as far as ingredients,” she divulges. “Chefs are looking to  the  Middle  East  and  Southeast  Asia  as  well  as  South America, where they have a lot of really cool ingredients that chefs haven’t had a lot of access to previously. We have also been seeing a lot more focus on vegetables rather than meat, so I’m interested to see how that plays out in Portland, which is a very meat-focused town. And then as far as the drink scene, there’s been a rebirth of vermouth culture not only in Spain, but also in France and Italy. So start drinking vermouth and eating lots of veggies,” she adds with a laugh.

Fresh Viridian Farms produce is available to the public at the Portland Farmers Market. Viridian Farms also takes part in Plate & Pitchfork’s annual farm dinners. More information about these dinners is available at

plateandpitchfork.com

About The Author: Katie Mitchell