The Nightwood Society: Portland’s women-run food and design collective

This all-women team of Portlanders offers public pop-up dinners, butchery lessons and more.

_74A7885-cropThe Nightwood Society's Kati Reardon (left) and Michelle Battista.
Ashley Anderson

An adventurous culinary hub on Northeast Broadway, The Nightwood Society is an event space and dining hall where one-of-a-kind experiences are created around food. The seating is upholstered in blush velvet, the chandelier is made of flowers and a powerhouse collective of women brings each event to life.

A Women-run Collective

Opened in October 2017, The Nightwood is the brainchild of creative consultant Michelle Battista. Wanting to create a physical space for her dual passions of food and design, she started reaching out to likeminded people. “At first it was about, ‘How do I want my life to look?’” she says. “And then I realized I want to be surrounded by women.”

That impulse led to the assemblage of a tribe of female designers, food makers, artists, farmers and other creatives, each contributing their skills in unique ways. Along with Battista (who also owns a creative agency), the day-to-day team includes co-owner and proprietress Kati Reardon, Let Um Eat co-founder Leah Scafe and former Renata chef Sarah Schneider. The full collective is composed of a dozen core members.

As Battista notes, the food industry has often lacked leadership opportunities for women. The Nightwood seeks to change that by serving as a creative incubator for women and providing support for their ideas to flourish. “We’re creating a space for women to grow, learn and develop,” Battista says. “There are all of these new ways to work in food and love food. We can be a new vehicle to feed people. We can be this change that we want to see.”

The Nightwood’s aesthetic is loosely inspired by Alice in Wonderland. Photo by Ashley Anderson.

Events & Classes at The Nightwood

For guests, The Nightwood’s offerings fall into two categories: experience and education. On the experience side, the 3,000-square-foot (280 sq m) venue hosts public and private events, including dinners, pop-up markets and afternoon tea parties. Its first season featured beer-and-seafood event “The Feast of Seven Fishes” with Migration Brewing; fundraiser “PDX Feeds Puerto Rico,” starring Puerto Rican chefs and baristas; a holiday market showcasing the wares of women makers; and the inaugural “Farm 2 Turntable,” a dinner-turned-dance party with beats by DJ Sanju.

At the heart of The Nightwood’s approach is collaboration: Guest chefs and makers can let their visions shine. “We don’t want to impose rigid rules on collaborators,” says Battista. “This is a space where people can come and explore their own creativity.”

Camas Davis, founder of the Portland Meat Collective , curates The Nightwood’s evolving series of culinary classes. Instruction in whole-animal butchery is on the roster, as are as sessions on fermentation, preservation and inventive ways to use a single ingredient. (Can it be pickled? Can it be confit-ed?)

Though both Davis and Schneider are butchers, the venue is primarily vegetable-focused. Davis, whose culinary ethos was influenced through studying the art of butchery and charcuterie in southwest France, says, “My goal is getting people to rethink the role of meat in their everyday lives, eat better meat, eat less of it and use it as an accent.”

It’s a notion that ties in with The Nightwood’s mission to shake up the status quo. “Why is meat always masculine and vegetables feminine?” muses Battista. “We want to change that perception. When we do meat, it’s an accompaniment. It’s beauty on top. The way things are presented — that’s where the magic is.”

Revelers toast at a Nightwood Society event.

Revelers toast at a Nightwood Society event. Photo by Cheryl Juetten.

The Future of The Nightwood Society

Part of the organization’s focus on vegetables stems from its goal to partner with female food suppliers like Vibrant Valley Farm. Located on Sauvie Island, the farm was founded by Kara Marie Gilbert and Elaine Elizabeth Walker and provides most of The Nightwood’s vegetables and flowers, as well as a peaceful reprieve for the collective’s members. The collaboration also produces other projects: indigo grown on the farm will be used for dyeing aprons, and a “floral tornado” installation is in the works. (And yes, there are plans to offer floral and maker classes at The Nightwood as well.)

With so many different skillsets at play, The Nightwood is able to continually transform, with no real limits on what takes place there. (The collective also curates off-site events.) Installations and artwork by visual artist Jess Ford and floral designs by Rosemary Stafford rotate seasonally. In summer, the patio opens, offering a verdant space Battista envisions becoming “like a greenhouse.”

While The Nightwood’s internal community is made up of women, the external community, Battista emphasizes, is for everyone. “There have been so many people cheering us on every step of the way,” she says. “They can’t wait to keep experiencing these different events because they are all unique. Everyone’s excited to see what happens next.”

To learn more about upcoming events and classes, visit thenightwoodsociety.com.


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