PORTLAND – We are taught that moderation, in all things, is a virtue.
So how does one explain Joe Ricchio?
He revels in excess, be it foie gras, a Papa John’s pizza, the finest of Rieslings or Budweiser longnecks.
If appetite were a virtue, then Ricchio may be a saint. That would also explain the tattoo of a cross on his back. An upside-down cross. Made of bacon.
That may be the mark of the beast.
All of which is to say there is no easy way to describe the man behind Portland Food Coma.
“Primarily, I’ve worked in restaurants my whole life. It’s what I do,” Ricchio said.
That’s too easy an explanation.
A new blog is born every minute, but when www.PortlandFoodComa.blogspot.com crashed the food blog party a year ago, there was something different about it. Perhaps it’s Ricchio’s relentless pursuit of food and drink. It could be the tone of the blog, like a crude love affair bordering on the kinky.
It could just be the fact that Ricchio tells it straight, nasty bits and all.
“I believe in this decadent, ridiculous, bacchanalian kind of lifestyle and I try as hard as I can to live it,” he said. “I like to prove you don’t necessarily have to be a movie star or rock star to live this way.”
It is a path that few can walk. Ricchio has cut a swath of debauchery through local restaurants. He and his merry band (because no man can do this alone) don’t browse menus; they assault them, from cocktails to appetizers and entrees.
They’ve ventured to the Thai places, bistros and tiny ethnic joints where others may fear to tread. The adventures and outrageous fortune continues as Ricchio and his friends take to the kitchen to cook for themselves, which, when you count chefs and other restaurant workers among your team, results in deliciousness.
And all of it, somehow, miraculously (or through recording technology) is chronicled on the blog.
On a recent afternoon, Ricchio was enjoying lunch at Pizza Villa, reveling in it almost. Days earlier, he had survived an intense three-day kitchen lockdown to create “Buddha Jumps Over The Wall,” a Chinese meal that involves whole chicken and duck, abalone, quail eggs, bamboo leaves, dueling stocks and a shark’s fin. It was his 31st birthday and the occasion called for unbridled decadence.
Ricchio has spent a lifetime working in and around food, at bars and restaurants of all sizes and star ratings. Whether it was the love of food that came first, or the exposure, Ricchio is now on the hook with the business and treasures it provides.
They go hand-in-hand. As he says, restaurants can be “an easy way to be wildly irresponsible and constantly be able to cover up for your mistakes every day by making the money back immediately you’ve squandered “
Portland Food Coma began as an outlet for Ricchio’s exploits, reactions and schemes. It’s has slowly morphed into more as Ricchio has pulled back the kitchen door to the back of the house with stories of the people, the line cooks, buspeople, bar managers and others who make restaurants work.
Still, excess remains the overall theme. “It’s all in the name of how far I can take things and how excessive one can be,” he says.
But in the name of what?
The experience, Ricchio says, the moment, maybe even that indescribable feeling you get from a sublime meal enjoyed with friends. Some people have a phrase for that. “Chasing the dragon,” Ricchio says.
Excess may not have its limits (well, except the final one), but it can take a toll. Staring from the other side of 30, Ricchio says he knows he has to shift into a lower gear from time to time. He also has to take blood pressure and cholesterol medication to keep on an even keel.
And in a way, he says, the blog is a tithe for the lifestyle. It’s all more than just a madness for consumption if he can tell the tale and make way for more.
“I pretty much spend my entire life planning these experience,” he jokes, “which is why I am going to live to 38.”
Cuisine-related mayhem is a minor speciality, for sport or business, since Ricchio has been one of the organizers behind Deathmatch for the last several years. It may sound akin to Iron Chef or other food competitions, but Deathmatch is more of a challenge to local chefs in their own creativity and the limits of ingredients and will power.
The concept is simple: a full meal service that all hangs together on a theme. One year it was foie gras, another it was venison and most recently it was “last meal on earth.”
If this sounds familiar, some of you may have seen it on the Travel Channel show “Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern.”
“I think of Deathmatch as my band, and the blog as my solo career,” Ricchio said.
And like any spin-off, the future is uncertain at times. Ricchio would like to say he has a plan for Portland Food Coma, that there is a neat outline or chart he’s following for success. But there isn’t, and at the moment he can’t see a problem with that.
People have discovered the blog and he’s getting more feedback on a regular basis. Sometimes it’s random kitchen staffers at other restaurants; other times it’s people’s parents. If he has a rule, for the blog or the pursuits it chronicles, it’s a simple one.
“The key,” he said, “is to make everything you do memorable.”
Staff Writer Justin Ellis can be contacted at 791-6380 or at: