F&W Star Chef
In Portland, Oregon, Jenn Louis (an F&W Best New Chef 2012) is known for her spectacular cooking at Lincoln and Sunshine Tavern. Here, she shares her favorite holiday ideas, like the best salt to give as a gift, tips for easy entertaining and five incredible cookbooks that every at-home expert should read.
What are a few of your favorite holiday-food gifts?
Great staples—when I give a gift, I want to give something that someone would enjoy but not treat themselves to, something a little special. So I like to give really nice pantry ingredients, like great olive oil, salt or honey. For olive oil, I love Agrumato lemon olive oil. I’m usually not a huge fan of flavored oils, but this company does it really well. It’s nice for finishing fish or vegetables, and is not overly expensive.
As far as salt, I don’t always think you get the flavor from smoked salt, but Jacobsen Salt Co., in Oregon, makes a great big, flaky, delicious salt. Maldon salt is probably my favorite; I like to finish salads with it, as well as meat and fish—places where you can appreciate the flavor and the texture.
One of my favorite honeys is buckwheat honey, I just treated myself to some at the farmers’ market. It’s kind of like the mezcal of honey—mezcal’s got that horsey, intense flavor compared with tequila; buckwheat’s similarly intense but sweet. We are putting it on some roasted plums and peaches with a little bit of house-made ricotta for a dessert.
What are your favorite holiday cocktails?
I am a huge bourbon fan; a great aged Pappy Van Winkle is always a big treat. I typically prefer a distillate (a plain spirit) to a cocktail; cocktails are tasty but a whole glass can be a bit much. I love Negronis—they’re not too sweet, they’ve got a little bitterness, so they wake up the palate nicely. For something a little different, a Negroni on the rocks made with the artichoke liqueur Cynar instead of Campari, is really nice to start a meal.
Can you share a great entertaining tip?
Get as much done ahead so you can relax and enjoy your guests’ company. I work a ton, and have entertained for a long time, since I have a catering business as well as the restaurants. To make sure I can spend time with friends, I want to be able to be present, to relax with them and have a good time. If I’m cooking, then I can’t do that, and it doesn’t let your guests relax as much either. In the wintertime it’s really easy—do something braised that you can throw in the oven; have a big salad that just needs to be dressed. Keep it supersimple. I have no issue with putting a nice big Le Creuset on the table with a big board of bread. Rustic is my shtick.
What are 5 don’t-miss places on a holiday trip to Portland?
- Council Crest Park, on a clear day. It’s in Southwest Portland, and it’s one of the highest points in the city. At the top you walk in circle, and little placards show you which way you’ll see Mount Hood or Mount St. Helens. On a clear day you can see them all, it’s incredible. Most tourists don’t know about it, but it’s a lovely spot.
- Hillsdale Farmers’ Market. It’s one of the only ones open in winter. Portland has a ton of farmers’ markets and they’re all wonderful, but I love this one because it’s very neighborhood-y, and has so many interesting farms. One of my favorites is Ayers’s Creek Farm, they grow frika and all these other unique things, they’re a treat to work with.
- Chen’s Good Taste for dumpling soup, it will warm you up! It’s a really small Chinese restaurant, nothing fancy, just tables and chairs. I’ve never eaten anything there other than soup, and I love it. They’re handmade dumplings, and they come in a light chicken broth with Chinese mushrooms. I usually put bok choy in mine but you can put in whatever you want—bbq pork, duck, noodles. In the wintertime here it’s pretty darn gray and wet, so it’s nice to have something warm like that.
- Ristretto Roasters makes great coffee that is super necessary in the winter. We serve it at the restaurants and the catering business. It’s well roasted, well crafted, and I’m going to have some more later today.
- Spielwerk Toys. I buy toys for my nieces and nephews there, it’s a great little shop. It’s not your typical toy store with all the plastic. They have a lot of unique wooden toys that are solidly made and gender neutral. The biggest hits have been wooden devil sticks and a fairy costume.
What dish are you most known for?
Gnocchi. I’m writing a book right now on gnocchi, it will come out in the fall of 2014 with Chronicle Books. It covers the whole classification of Italian dumplings. People think of gnocchi as potato dumplings, but we do a whole series: malfatti, sorcetti, malloreddus. I don’t speak Italian, I would never consider myself to be an Italian chef by any means, but it’s something I’ve been really interested in and had a really good time researching.
What are your favorite cookbooks of all time?
Not sure about all time, but here are a few I love now:
Tender and Ripe, by Nigel Slater
What I do is very seasonally driven and produce based, so I like to be able to look at books organized by season and produce to get inspired. I think it’s really helpful for people at home, too. These are organized well, they’re well written, the pictures are beautiful and the recipes are really diverse, they’re a great resource.
Lidia Cooks from the Heart of Italy, by Lidia Bastianich
I love when cooks and chefs draw on tradition to celebrate a single style or heritage, and I think she does that really beautifully in this book.
The River Cottage Preserves Handbook, and Preserves: River Cottage Handbook No. 2, by Pam Corbin and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall
I love preserving, it’s another nice thing with fruits and vegetables in season, and I think the authors have done a really nice job cataloging everything while still being a little bit unique. I always have a book in my car and a book in my bag, so these are nice and portable. They’re good reading, and fun to cook with.
What’s a technique everyone should know?
Making great gnocchi! That, and poaching eggs: In a saucepan bring some water acidulated with a little white vinegar to a very gentle simmer. Crack an egg into a teacup, stir the water to make a little whirlpool, then pour the egg into the water and simmer until set.
Won Best New Chef at: Lincoln Restaurant and Sunshine Tavern, Portland, OR.
Born: 1971; Pomona, CA.
Experience: Wildwood Restaurant; Portland, OR.
Side project: Culinary Artistry, a catering company she started after she left Wildwood.
How she got into cooking: “When I was 17, I went on an Outward Bound course. I made a really good friend, who cooked for the staff at the Outward Bound base camp in North Carolina. She was leaving for a season and said, ‘You should take the job.’ I’d never cooked before, but I talked them into letting me do it. I totally loved it.”
Favorite childhood dish: “My Polish grandmother used to make wonderful cottage-cheese pancakes. They’re made with a little flour and cottage cheese, then you roll them into a log and bake them. Then you sprinkle them with a little butter and eat them with sour cream.”
Career detour: Never had one. “When I was a little kid, I always wanted to do something creative. I tried to paint, I tried to draw, but I was so bad at those things. Then I found cooking. Now everything I do is food-related. My husband, David, and I just went to Rome, and all our activities revolved around food. We went to the Vatican just so we could do something that wasn’t food-related.”
Memorable cooking experience: “About five years ago, I went to Greece to meet David’s relatives in Thessaloniki. I asked his older aunts for a cooking class and they agreed. But I do not speak any Greek. Instead, I spoke Spanish and they spoke Ladino [a Spanish-Hebrew hybrid that Mediterranean Jews use], and we communicated perfectly. They taught me a really amazing short-crust pastry called pita de grecia and a semolina pudding using a water glass as a measuring cup. It was a great cooking class.”
Ingredient obsession: “I just brought back some cicerchie, wild chickpeas, from Rome. They’re beautiful; they have great texture. We served them with some pluma ibérica—that’s a cut from the pig’s shoulder blade. We’re just starting to get in uncured fresh cuts of pork in Portland.”
Favorite kitchen tool: Kramer knife. “Bob Kramer lives in Olympia, Washington. He’s one of the only guys in the US who makes handcrafted knives of really high quality. (He has an interest in samurai sword-making and has made a few.) I met him at the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen last year. I told him I’d been wait-listed for years and that it was my birthday, and he made me a workhorse steel knife. He takes many, many layers of metal and puts them in a 2,300-degree kiln. His skill level is just phenomenal.”
Memorable meal: “When I was 21, I was in Kraków, Poland. There was this little restaurant where they started making pierogies early in the morning. They made four kinds: apple, strawberry, cheese and potato. You got a bowl of soup, then you picked a pierogi flavor and a dessert. It cost, like, 25 cents. Being a totally poor backpacker, I went there every day.”
Cheap eat: Dim sum at Ocean City Seafood Restaurant in Portland. “I love these little steamed shrimp balls: They’re like shrimp pâté covered with grains of rice. Somehow it looks like white sea urchin.”
Guilty pleasure: Ice cream sundaes. “At Lincoln, we make hot fudge sundaes with vanilla ice cream, whipped cream and almonds. We make them with three scoops of ice cream, but I have a mini sundae in a ramekin: one scoop with all the toppings.”
Favorite spirit: “I’m notorious for drinking bourbon.”
Favorite cocktails: A Negroni made with Cynar (artichoke liqueur) and a good margarita.
What her next restaurant would be: “I would do something really small and focused. I’d serve just a few courses, like simple gnocchi with simple tomato sauce, so people would understand that simplicity can be so dynamite. But, honestly, asking about a next restaurant is a scary thing to ask someone who already has two restaurants and a catering company going on.”
What she’d be if she weren’t a chef: A professional drummer. “I like playing music as an adult; it’s been phenomenally fun.”
Favorite thing about Portland: “It’s a really eccentric city. The whole notion of the TV show Portlandia is generally true. There’s a lot of freedom for people to do what they like to do. There’s opportunity to be who you are and pursue things that interest you in Portland.”
Food trend she most dislikes: Busy food. “I don’t like too many ingredients or ideas jammed together. You lose the individual ingredients; they can’t be appreciated.”
Favorite cookbook: “I really love Phaidon Press. My favorite book is Vegetables From an Italian Garden. I just bought a copy for April Bloomfield [an F&W Best New Chef 2007 at The Spotted Pig in New York City]. She loved it.”
Favorite app: Eat Rome. “It’s such a solid app. We didn’t have one mediocre meal. It’s Elizabeth Minchilli; she has an Eat Florence app as well. It’s a guide by neighborhood and by type of food. If you’re looking for coffee or pasta or both, you can find them. There are incredible gems on that app.”
- Skillet Biscuits with Berries
- Beet Gnocchi with Walnut-Sage Butter
- Cumin-Braised Swiss Chard
- Honey-Roasted Pineapple
- Chicken Tinga Tacos
- Fried Peppers with Prosciutto