Most days, Jason French spends his time butchering pigs or playing with his wood-fired oven at Ned Ludd, the rustic American restaurant on Northeast Martin Luther King Boulevard.
When he's not in the kitchen, he's out burning rubber on two wheels, logging training miles in the cold and rain to raise money for a good cause.
French — along with more than a dozen other Portland chefs and members of the culinary community — is part of a 300-mile bike ride benefiting No Kid Hungry, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that seeks to end childhood hunger.
The team, called Sack Lunch, has raised $21,400 of $55,000 needed before their May 16-18 ride. They're holding a series of benefit dinners and bike rides this month and next to meet their goal. ChefsCycle's overall goal is to raise $2 million.
"I love it because — like anything that you do that requires physical exertion, the more you do it and better you get at it, the better it feels," says French, who fell in love with cycling as a teenager in New York City.
In the late 1980s and '90s he got into mountain biking, and then turned it into a commuter bike, using it mainly for transportation rather than recreation.
Seven years ago, French moved to Portland and caught bike fever.
"My friend had an extra bike, a carbon fiber Canondale," he recalls. "I'd been a huge fan of road racing and road cycling. I love the story and grit behind cycling, what it meant — soul searching. Also I'm a total Europhile."
More and more pieces of his life kept spurring his passion for cycling, including being friends with Chris King, the elite cycling brand based in Portland.
French says in a typical year, he's like most fair-weather riders, laying low in the winter and coming out in the spring and summer. However, he and his teammates started talking about ChefsCycle last fall, and have been trying to push their training miles.
Along with French, other riders include some of Portland's most prolific chefs, such as Rick Gencarelli, chef/owner of Lardo, Grassa and Beer Belly; and John Gorham, of Toro Bravo, Mediterranean Exploration Company, Tasty n' Sons, Tasty n' Alder and Plaza del Toro.
Also on the team is Chris DiMinno, chef at Jackrabbit, the new restaurant in the Hilton Portland set to open this month; Colin Howard, education director at Multnomah Whiskey Library; Matt Christianson, executive chef of Urban Farmer at The Nines; Krista Anderson, merchandiser at New Seasons Market; and Anna Abatzoglou, brewer at Rogue Ales, among others.
Rogue is dedicating a dollar to the cause from every pint of a new brew, Sack Lunch Ale, on tap at bars and restaurants around Portland through next month.
Interest in this year's ride spread from Anderson's ChefsCycle ride last year. French says Sack Lunch is composed of riders of all skill levels who care deeply about the cause.
One in five children in the U.S. faces hunger, a rate that's mirrored in Oregon as well.
ChefsCycle is now in its third year; last year, the 124 participating chefs raised $1 million for No Kid Hungry, which leverages each dollar of funds to feed a child 10 meals.
Locally, you can support the effort by drinking a pint of Sack Lunch Ale, a brew created by Rogue Ales. Proceeds go to support the team; find the beer at Jackrabbit, Urban Farmer, Hop City, Lardo, Beer O Clock, Rogue Hall, Rogue Eastside Pub & Pilot Brewery, and Rogue Public House.
Sack Lunch isn't the only Portland team participating in the ChefsCycle effort.
Another team includes representatives from Stumptown Coffee and Jacobsen Salt.
But French isn't concerned.
"With chefs, it's never a competition, always a competition," he jokes. "We haven't started the full-on smack talk, but engaged in all sorts of friendly jabs ... Everyone's big on talk out of the gate, then we'll all be suffering out on the ride."
Upcoming benefit dinners to support Portland ChefsCycle team Sack Lunch:
April 13 — 6:30 p.m. lamb dinner at Elder Hall (event space at Ned Ludd) for 36 people; five courses, each by a different chef; $125 per person; tickets at www.elderhall.com.
April 20 — Cocktail event at Multnomah Whiskey Library, with $11 Sack Lunch-inspired cocktails.
April 23 — 9 a.m. brunch bike ride to Sauvie Island and back, starting and ending at Elder Hall; brunch at noon; $45 per person; tickets at www.elderhall.com.
For details: www.facebook.com/sacklunchpdxx/
To donate directly: www.tinyurl.com/teamsacklunch