Chef John Denison Has Worked in High-Profile Restaurants Across Europe. The Pandemic Brought Him Back to Portland and Into the Kitchen at La Moule.

Going from Paris to Portland may seem an odd career move for a chef. But for John Denison, it made perfect sense.

After all, this is where his career first took off. In 2014, Denison moved from Colorado to work as a line cook at Kachka. He soon met French-inspired restaurateur Aaron Barnett, and the two bonded over their mutual love for the hearty, rustic cuisine of the Lyonnaise bouchons. That led to Denison’s first stint working for Barnett at St. Jack. But in 2015, the owners of Camont, a highly regarded restaurant and cooking school on a farm south of Lyon, came to Portland to teach a butchery and charcuterie class. Denison “begged his way” into a position as the restaurant’s butcher, farmhand and, eventually, chef-in-residence.

He then bounced around European kitchens most young cooks can only dream about: working for the Adria brothers at Tickets in Barcelona; at Michelin three-star Les Prés d’Eugénie midway between Toulouse and French Basque Country; then to Paris, where he debuted as head chef at newly opened Ellsworth. When COVID-19 hit, shuttering his restaurant, Denison had a choice: extend his visa and wait out the pandemic in his tiny Parisian apartment or come back home. He chose the latter, reconnecting with Barnett and taking a spot as head chef at La Moule, which Barnett opened on Southeast Clinton Street the year Denison left for Europe.

Originally Barnett’s ode to a Belgian moules frites brasserie, La Moule has gradually moved toward a more Gallic orientation since opening in 2015, and it’s gone even more in that direction under Denison. One mussel presentation remains: moule marinière flavored with white wine, garlic, Dijon mustard and chile flake ($22), along with the best-in-town bacon and brie burger with fries ($17). But the current menu highlights Denison’s French background.

The comté gougères ($11)—two cheesy rounds of baked choux pastry topped with guanciale, more cheese and a chunk of chicharron then sprinkled with espelette powder—are pure bliss. Though it may wander over the stoner food line, a brandade and potato chip-coated variation on the lowbrow scotch egg ($13) is also a small-plate pleasure. And an ever-so-seasonal salad of runner beans, peach slices and hazelnuts in an elderflower vinaigrette ($12) emphasizes the French tradition, adopted enthusiastically here, featuring local produce at its peak.

La Moule is only offering a few large plates these days in its roomy outdoor setup, so check the specials. On my first visit, the albacore collar in a brown butter sauce with capers, olives and pine nuts ($26) was delicious if petite. On the dessert slate, the “peaches ‘n’ cream” pavlova ($10) is as artistic as it is toothsome, a photogenic assemblage of soft-centered meringue, sliced peaches, dustings of hibiscus powder and black pepper and a scattering of golden flower petals.

But if I had to recommend one dish that best showcases Denison’s hard-earned expertise, it would be his ultra-rustic pâté en croûte ($14), a mixture of ground pork—forcemeat or farce in charcutier’s vernacular—and other ingredients

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High-profile first-term House member Abigail Spanberger faces tough fight against Republican Nick Freitas

Virginia’s 7th Congressional District, currently represented by first-term Democrat Rep. Abigail Spanberger, was a longtime Republican stronghold until it went Democratic in 2018. The GOP aims to take it back in November.

The suburban Richmond district is located in the center of the commonwealth and includes municipalities like Culpeper, Orange, Goochland, Nottoway, Amelia, and Powhatan counties, as well as regions of Chesterfield and Henrico counties.

In 2016, voters in the district preferred President Trump, 50% to 44%, over Hillary Clinton. But the region has been trending more Democratic in the last few years. Former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, a Republican, previously represented the district. Yet in 2014, Cantor was defeated in an upset by college professor Dave Brat in the GOP primary.

Brat, a tea party activist and later a House Freedom Caucus member, lasted only two terms in Congress, as Spanberger, a former CIA officer, in 2018, defeated him 50% to 48%.

Spanberger currently serves on the House Committee on Agriculture and the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, where she is the chairwoman of the Conservation & Forestry Subcommittee and a member of the Commodity Exchanges, Energy, & Credit Subcommittee.

The Virginia Democrat is also on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, where she serves as vice chairwoman of the Europe, Eurasia, Energy, & the Environment Subcommittee and is a member of the Asia, the Pacific, & Nonproliferation Subcommittee.

Her background as an intelligence officer has made her a sought-out cable news guest, and in the early months of her first term, she could be found on many interview shows.

She now faces Republican Nick Freitas, a two-tour Army veteran and member of the Green Berets who currently represents the 30th District in Virginia’s House of Delegates.

Following high school, Freitas joined the Army and served with the 82nd Airborne Division and 25th Light Infantry Division as an Infantryman. After the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, the Virginia Republican volunteered for U.S. Army Special Forces (Green Berets) and eventually served two tours in Iraq as a Special Forces Weapons SGT and Special Forces Intelligence SGT.

Following his honorable discharge in 2009, Freitas involved himself in leading local Republican campaigns in the commonwealth for several years thereafter, including the campaign of a successful GOP state Senate candidate who beat a 28-year Democratic incumbent in Culpeper.

Spanberger started the race with a 12-1 cash-on-hand advantage over Freitas, as well as an endorsement from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Freitas, though, touted the endorsement from the National Federation of Independent Business and is among a group of candidates receiving money from the House Republicans’ campaign arm as a member of their Young Guns program.

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