By Bruce Pokarney – February 3, 2016… For the first time in history, Miss Oregon is headed overseas as part of her official duty. The reason? To promote a wide variety of the state’s food and agricultural products. The destination is Japan, Oregon agriculture’s top export customer.
Over the next week, the reigning Miss Oregon, Ali Wallace of Portland, will be busy attending numerous events and putting in a good word for colossal onions, chocolates, and high end beverage products among other Oregon offerings expected to make a splash in Japan. Her appearance will help enhance the state’s image in Japan and will hopefully lead to more sales of Oregon food products.
“I’m really excited,” says Wallace. “I’ve never left the country before. So this is not only going to be a unique opportunity to promote Oregon and Portland products in Japan, but also, for me personally, it’s an opportunity to experience a foreign country.”
First stop for Miss Oregon will be Osaka, area population 19 million, where she will join, in progress, an event called the Portland Fair taking place at the Hanshin Department Store. Like many other upscale Asian department stores, Hanshin offers high-end food items for sale. The two-week promotion of Portland includes food and beverage products from the City of Roses. Those include artisan chocolate, craft beer, and cider. Miss Oregon will be at the store speaking about Oregon in general, and offering specifics about Portland and its food scene.
Before she was Miss Oregon, Wallace was Miss Portland.
“If you know just a little bit about Portland, you know it’s definitely what everyone says– it’s weird, it’s cool, it’s crazy, it’s fun, it’s up and coming,” says Wallace. “I think that the products that we will show and display are going to speak to what Oregon is and people will enjoy those products.”
The whirlwind tour moves from Osaka to Tokyo– the site of the United Tastes of America Asian Chef Challenge, a competition sponsored by the US Embassy in Japan. Teams of Japanese chefs will have a limited number of American ingredients to put into their recipes as they prepare dishes that aspire to win top prize. Oregon was invited to provide one of those ingredients and the Oregon Department of Agriculture helped select the super colossal onion from Eastern Oregon and Idaho.
“The chef competition is mostly about gaining media attention for US ingredients,” says ODA International Trade Manager Theresa Yoshioka, who will be alongside Miss Oregon over the next couple of weeks. “In Japan, they create healthy and exquisitely presented foods, but we have wonderful, high quality ingredients coming from Oregon and other parts of the US. This event will build awareness among Japanese food writers. Having a celebrity from Oregon show up helps capture the attention.”
Miss Oregon will not only help promote Oregon’s super colossal onion– which, by definition, needs to be at least 4.25 inches in diameter– she will serve the winning two-chef team an invitation to come to Oregon as international culinary ambassadors later this year to attend Feast Portland, a major food and drink festival that attracts national and international attention.
“The goal in this is to build awareness in the Japanese food service industry,” says Yoshioka. “I’m hoping that restaurants will look for this onion and that chefs will be inspired to make very creative dishes that highlight its unique trait.”
Before heading back home, Miss Oregon will participate in a major retail food and beverage show, the Supermarket Trade Show, also taking place in Tokyo. With a number of booths featuring Oregon products and companies, Miss Oregon will make the rounds promoting and speaking about the products. In particular, Kombucha Wonder Drink of Portland is co-sponsoring Miss Oregon’s travels to Japan and will have a booth set up to feature its array of unique fermented teas. A product new to Japan is craft cider– an emerging sector of Oregon’s food scene. Miss Oregon will promote Oregon craft ciders at the retail food and beverage show.
“Oregon is an amazing region for new and innovative food products,” says Yoshioka. “Japan is a market that appreciates new food trends and follows those trends, especially if they include healthy, quality products. That’s a nice fit for what we produce in Oregon.”
Plans for taking Miss Oregon to Japan came together last year and Wallace immediately got her passport. To set the stage for the trip, Wallace paid a visit to the Japanese Consular Office of Japan in Portland, where she proudly presented a gift basket of Oregon products to Consul General Hiroshi Furusawa.
Despite the long history of trade with Japan, Oregon is not resting on its laurels. In presenting Miss Oregon overseas, the Japanese are being given the chance to see a celebrity face of a state that is extremely motivated to strengthen export activities.
“For the first time that a sitting Miss Oregon has traveled abroad, it’s very fitting that she is visiting our number one agricultural trade partner,” says Yoshioka.
While the jam-packed itinerary suggests it’s a lot of work and not so much play, Miss Oregon is grateful for the opportunity to learn more about Oregon food and agriculture as well as a chance to promote it.
“The crown definitely does help catch people’s attention,” says Wallace. “If I go to Japan just as Ali, people will be asking who is this girl? But when they see Miss Oregon, it gives me a little bit more credibility. I definitely think it will help a lot of Oregon and Portland products.”
For Ali Wallace, the next week involves more than a sightseeing tour. Miss Oregon will be going to work. But she embraces the opportunity to see a new country and a new culture that appreciates good food.
Follow Miss Oregon’s activities in Japan on the Oregon Department of Agriculture’s Facebook page at <http://www.facebook.com/ORAgriculture>.
For more information, contact Bruce Pokarney at (503) 986-4559.
For an audio recap of this story, please go to http://wp.me/p52oQB-a8 and scroll down.