In Memory of the Wild Gourmet

The Wild Gourmet

By Jan Jackson

Lee Gray, manager of Wine 101, is a gourmet chef, artist and musician.

Gourmet chef, artist and musician, the late Lee Gray stands by one of his sculptures on display at Wine 101 in Lincoln City; photo by Jan Jackson

LINCOLN CITY, Ore. – After the late Chef Lee Gray was given the opportunity to manage the Wine 101 wine shop in November 2010, he asked for two weeks to think about it, got into his pickup and headed out on a regular run into the Coast Range to gather wild mushrooms. As it started to snow, ideas of what he could do with Wine 101 suddenly began to flow. When he returned to town, he accepted the offer.

Wine 101 came the place to taste and buy the best local wines, dine on fresh baked bread, appetizers, salads and gourmet dinners, discover local art and listen to and/or participate in live jazz, blues or folk music. Just a bit south of D River Wayside on the east side of Highway 101, it still is the place to be Thursdays through Sundays year round.

Lee Gray, as manager of Wine 101, was a gourmet chef, artist and musician. Though Chef Gray ‘s grandmother started teaching him to cook at the age of 5, his cooking experience really began when he was 9 and started cooking in his parents restaurant.

“My folks owned a little restaurant near Sutter Creek, California, but since neither of them could cook very well, I could see that if they were going to make it they were going to need help, “ Chef Gray said. “I would go to the restaurant and make the special before I went home to do my school work. My first big money making venture came about the same time.

“We were walking along the wooden planks in Sutter Creek, when I saw an advertisement for frog legs in the window of a fancy laced-curtained French restaurant. I knew how to catch frogs, so I went around to the back door and asked how much they paid and how many they needed. They paid a dollar a piece and they needed a gross. I said OK, and was shocked when I went home and looked up the fact that a gross was 144. As I caught them, I put them in the freezer and when I got enough I hitchhiked them the four miles back to Sutter Creek. I made $300 to $400 that summer – a lot of money for a 9-year-old kid. Soon after that we moved to Texas.”

Not long after his move to Texas, the still young Gray read a newspaper story about a mother and daughter who survived an airplane crash but starved to death because even though there was food all around them they didn’t know what they could and couldn’t eat. The story stayed in the young boys mind. He returned to California for college, stayed on and worked in the Beverly Hills restaurants and then followed his haunts about the importance of knowing how to live off the land.

“It was the winter of 1982 that I packed up my books, came to Oregon and moved into a cave to prove that you could easily live off the land,” Chef Gray said. “In 1988, I started the Wild Gourmet Catering Company. He continued to harvest sea weed, mushrooms, wild greens, crawdads, crabs and mussels to serve in the restaurant and for special catering occasions.”

Mornings found Chef Gray up early enjoying a cup of coffee and watching his ducks and chickens roaming around his garden wiping out his lettuces. After that, he sometimes painted, sculpted or practiced the saxophone he finally learned to play at 36.

“I always wanted to play the sax but since I was the biggest kid in band, I always got stuck playing the tuba,” said Gray, who also performed regularly with bands both along the coast and in the Portland area. “One of the things he loved about Wine Shop 101 is that four days a week I can prepare everything from appetizers to full blown dinners, promote local artists work including my own, tend the wine bar and sing, play piano, guitar and sax in the music corner along with other musicians who are after the same experience. It was a great place for him to be in Lincoln City.”

Rest in Peace Lee Gray – May 5, 1949 – October 18, 2016

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