Early Saturday mornings, Ramona White pulls into the Hollywood Farmers Market location on NE Hancock St. A beehive of activity, Ramona and her dedicated team prepare for the next five hours of constant orders, breakfast burritos, chilaquiles & bowls. The nourishing, healthy, and delicious food fills the transformed street with an aroma that is hard to pass up, and a steady stream of customers are soon yelling out their orders. This continues until 1:00 p.m. when one of the volunteers runs through the market ringing a loud bell sounding the end of the market and interrupting the flow until the next week.
Ramona has been involved with food preparation or the food business since she was 15. Born in Washington D.C., she was sent to high school in Maine. To help pay for schooling, she worked in the school’s kitchen and found it made her very happy. It was the beginning of a life dedicated to serving her customers. She first started cleaning the pots and pans before learning how to fill the pots and pans with tasty ingredients. One of her favorite foods is the amazingly sweet Maine lobster, and the variations she learned to prepare.
After high school, Ramona supported herself through college in upstate New York by cooking and waiting tables. While she worked toward her degree in Anthropology, in addition to working in the restaurant business, she also taught cross-country skiing. Quite an eclectic start for someone destined to live and breathe cooking.
For the last 23 years, Portland has been Ramona’s home. She first came to Eugene, Oregon with her boyfriend. But after he died in an accident, she had to find a retreat. It appeared in Vail, Colorado at the Johnson and Wales Culinary School. But Oregon continued to call to her. Returning to Eugene, she soon discovered that there were too many memories and too few opportunities. Portland always appealed to her and offered so much more.
For a few years, she found a home at Montage, a well-known bistro in SE Portland. She also helped open other restaurants including her own called Nourishment on 22nd and Division. The location only lasted around a year, and her passion for teaching found a good home at Le Cordon Bleu. This was followed by ten years at the Oregon Culinary Institute. The school became Ramona’s kitchen for about 10 years. During this time Nourishment took shape.
Looking for a different type of venue for her particular style of cooking, a friend suggested that Portland’s farmers markets might be a good channel for her cooking. Having worked at farmers markets before teaching at the Institute, the markets were a natural outlet for her red beans, collards, and small pot pies. She covered PSU, People’s Coop, Milwaukee, and others until Hollywood Farmers Market became her home (in addition to her full-time job). Fifteen years later she still loves it. She loves meeting people and their children and watching the children grow up. For her customers, Nourishment is a destination at the market.
While the small pot pies she started with were delicious, they were difficult for people to carry around and eat. Since the Hollywood Farmers Market didn’t have any breakfast burritos, when introduced they became an instant hit, especially with the setup crew. And for the gluten-free crowd like me, chilaquiles became a favorite of the market.
Her food offerings are very ingredient-driven, and she tries to source locally as much as possible. The meat used is often from local farms, including recent specials like pork sausage from Naked Acres Farm and smoked turkey from Happy Harvest Farm. . Local berries are used for the lemonade. Her hot sauce uses peppers from vendors at the market such as Deep Roots Farm.
When she was looking for vegetables, a farmer mentioned that collard greens never sold very well, so Ramona jumped at the chance to use this under-appreciated, yet excellent source of vitamin K (over 1000 % of DV). Ramona turned the collards into an essential ingredient and a great reason to feast on her delicious burritos, chilaquiles, and bowls.
Who would have thought of offering lamb chorizo, but it is one of the unique ingredients in the burritos. Originally working with a lamb rancher, she developed this version of chorizo that is uncommon yet spectacular. However, the ranch was sold and Ramona was looking for a new source when Pony, a former Hollywood Farmers Market employees and one of Ramona’s students moved to southern Oregon to raise sheep. Now he supplies the lamb used in her recipes.
Ramona’s eyes truly sparkle with love when she talks about her team. Edwin (sometimes known as Eggwin) is Ramona’s best friend and the master when it comes to eggs. Brianna with her bright smile and fabulous red hair is the burrito roller extraordinaire. And Johnny covers everything from A to Z.
In addition to the Hollywood Farmers Market, Ramona is busy at her cafe (and kitchen) called Nourishment at Moonflower Cafe, located inside the Pacific Northwest College of Art. This is where she does it all, prepping food, cooking, serving her customers, and keeping it running as well as prepping for the Hollywood Farmers Market. With the help of a student that comes in part-time, the cafe is open from 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. during school hours.
Commissary space used to be readily available and reasonably priced. However, the explosion of food carts and chefs needing a certified kitchen have made a kitchen space a premium. So having her own refrigeration, kitchen, and storage has been a highlight in this chef’s career.
Ramona has two tiny companions in the form of Chihuahuas who keep her hopping. When she isn’t creating in the kitchen, she might just don her leathers and hop on one of her three motorcycles which include a vintage BMW, a 98 BMW, and a Ural Patrol with sidecar just to feel the wind rushing past her. But if anyone is looking for a vintage BMW be sure to stop by the Farmers Market to find out more:-). Her passion and gratitude are evident when she talks about her life and the people who have become part of her life’s ingredients: her friends, employees, the Hollywood Farmers Market staff, the customers, and the volunteers. Generous and loving, Ramona has made Nourishment into a top destination at the market every Saturday the market is open.
by Susan Gibson, HFM volunteer