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Best New Chefs 2009: Naomi Pomeroy

Naomi Pomeroy

Beast; Portland, OR


Born: Corvallis, Oregon; 1974.

Education: Lewis & Clark College, Portland, OR.

We loved: Charcuterie plate with foie gras bonbon; steak tartare and quail egg toast; chicken liver mousse with candied bacon.

How she taught herself to cook:
Cookbooks. “I was a vegetarian for seven years, and when I started, I did mostly vegetarian catering. But you have to do what people want. So when I launched my business, everything came from cookbooks. I read those cookbooks like literature. Richard Olney, Larousse, Harold McGee. It can’t be stated enough, the influence of Alice Waters. But the original Joy of Cooking is the book I use the most. I love it because it’s the history and the backbone of why we do what we do.”

How she launched her business:
After working for several local caterers, Pomeroy and her now ex-husband, Michael Hebb, launched their own business by sending letters to the clients of Tracy Savage, the art dealer for renowned glass artist Dale Chihuly. “We were something of a northwest phenomenon. We’d do four weddings on a weekend. We were young and different—I was doing some recipes out of The French Laundry Cookbook, and our servers all dressed in black and had cool tattoos.”

First childhood food memories:
“I wrote my first recipe when I was five. It involved mixing chewed-up almonds with powdered sugar and baking it on the wood stove. I learned to make drip coffee around that time with the Danish glass drip coffee maker we had—it was so ’70s. My whole family, all we ever did was stand around and talk about what we were going to have for lunch.”

Favorite childhood dish:
Her grandparents’ pies. “Every weekend, they’d bake pies with berries they’d picked. My grandfather, who was a surgeon, was the crust person. He’d roll out these lattice tops like you’ve never seen in your life. My grandmother was the filling person. It was so cute to see them bake in their teamwork way.”

Favorite kitchen tool:
Her Chinese spider, the Asian skimmer/strainer accessory. “If the dishwasher puts that back in the wrong place, I’m lost. I use it for my blanched vegetables, for transferring candied nuts from the oven, as a quick small strainer. It’s underappreciated. And it costs, like, $5.”

Favorite cheap eat:
Pho Oregon. “I eat pho twice a week. I just get beef broth with noodles. I don’t really like the meat that’s in pho—I need to know the meat I’m eating is sustainably raised, and at $5 for a bowl of pho, I kind of doubt it.”

Favorite value dish:
“Pork cheeks are the way go to.”

Guilty pleasure:
“I love mayonnaise—I eat it on steamed broccoli. Remember, mayonnaise is a French sauce!“

Favorite spirit:
Amaros, the bitter Italian digestifs. “I love Fernet-Branca. It’s like coffee; it grows on you.”

What her next restaurant would be:
A soup cart. “Soup is so fast and so easy, and doesn’t everybody crave it? In summer you can serve it cold, in winter you can serve it hot; it’s always comforting.”

What she’d be if she weren’t a chef:
A florist or a botanist. “I’m into botanicals. I love the nomenclature of things. I also love biodiversity and its history.”

Advice to future cooks:
Make sure you really love it. “It’s like going into modeling—way more work than you think it is. Not that cooking is like modeling. In fact, I think it’s the opposite. Being with food has to get you up in the morning.”

Dream cooking show:
“I want to go to places and capture their culture before chain restaurants get there—it would be an excuse for me to travel through Burma eating noodle soup.”

Other obsession:
The history of food. “I found a 1913 Portland Women’s Exchange Cookbook on a friend’s shelf. All the contributors now have streets named after them. It inspired me to do a series of dinners with the Oregon Historical Society.”

Favorite cookbooks:
Pork & Sons by Stéphane Reynaud. (“It’s old guys sitting around in aprons drinking wine after they’ve made blood sausage; it captures the reality of it. I’m huge fan of authenticity.“) and Chez Panisse Vegetables by Alice Waters. (“It’s organized by vegetable, so if you buy corn and wonder what to do with it, you just open to that section.”)

Beast, 5425 NE 30th Ave., Portland, OR; 503-841-6968.

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