F&W Star Chef
Restaurants: Lincoln, Sunshine Tavern (Portland, OR)
Education: Western Culinary Institute of Portland
What recipe are you most famous for?
My octopus. It’s braised and grilled, then it’s tossed with a little bit of sherry vinaigrette with pimentón. There’s always a little bit of salad under it, depending upon the season. What I like best about it is it took some work. The first time I made octopus, it was terrible. I made myself really think about it, read about it a lot, and practice.
What ingredients, techniques or trends are your current food obsessions?
I’ve been really interested in curing egg yolks in salt and sugar, burying them in there, and after a bunch of days, taking them out. You can dry them further or you can use them at that point. They dehydrate to the point of having this really wonderful custard texture. I’ve served them with prosciutto and a little bit of Pecorino over pasta—almost like carbonara.
Do you depend on any store-bought ingredients?
I always have good canned beans in the house. I think it’s a really good fast meal—good protein, good fiber.
What will we always find in your fridge?
Some good hot sauce. I like Portland Pepper Sauce Company’s. I always have Frank’s RedHot. I make pickled red Fresno chiles, so I always have those too.
What’s your favorite snack?
I’ll take a spoonful of almond butter and put some sea salt on top. And we always have a good variety of artisan chocolate bars and truffles. There’s a really cool white chocolate from Seattle called Jcoco, and I would never typically eat white chocolate. It has orange and chile in it. It’s delicious.
What foods do you dislike?
I don’t really have any food hang-ups, but I think many things aren’t food. I once had a yakitori that was intestine, and that’s not delicious—it doesn’t chew very nicely. If something is just used because, “Hey, it’s edible,” that’s my only hang-up.
What are some of your favorite cookbooks?
I love the River Cottage Preserves books. They’re really lovely, and I like being able to pull something like that out seasonally and read about whatever it is that’s in season. I really like the book Pulpo right now. It’s so pretty, and everything in it I want to eat. Marc Vetri’s book Rustic Italian Food is wonderful. And I love the Canal House cooks. I love their food.
What is the most cherished souvenir you’ve brought back from a trip?
I have a really, really beautiful wooden truffle shaver that I got in Alba about eight years ago. The wood is lovely.
Do you have any pre- or post-shift rituals?
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.”
Congratulations to Mei Lin, winner of Top Chef Season 12.