Chef Jenn Louis is consistent, simple and purposeful. This is the philosophy and approach that has propelled her to a culinary career spanning nearly two decades. After graduating from Pitzer College in Claremont, CA, Louis traveled throughout Europe and North and South America, even settling in Southern Israel for several months to work on a dairy kibbutz. Upon her return to California, she learned of a job opening from a close friend cooking for an Outward Bound base camp deep in the North Carolina woods. Louis landed the job and after a few short weeks at the camp, she had an epiphany that cooking was her passion and could lead to a successful and fulfilling life-long career – something she had never considered before. Louis followed this dream all the way to the Western Culinary Institute of Portland, and shortly after began working as a line cook at the prominent Portland restaurant, Wildwood.
She successfully runs 3 businesses in Portland, Oregon: a full service catering company called Culinary Artistry, Lincoln Restaurant and Sunshine Tavern. Just a few short months after opening Lincoln Restaurant, it was recognized as one of Condé Nast Traveler’s “Hot List” of 50 top new restaurants in North America, while Louis was recognized as a semifinalist for the 2010 and 2011 James Beard Foundation’s “Best Chef Northwest.” In 2012, the popularity of Lincoln Restaurant and Sunshine Tavern catapulted Louis’ presence on a national scale and she was named one of Food & Wine’s prestigious Best New Chefs. The following year, Jenn was selected as a cast member of season five of the hit Bravo TV show, “Top Chef Masters.” When not in the kitchen or planning events, Louis can be found traveling the globe with her husband, teaching cooking classes, playing the drums or spending time with her three cats, White Cat, Orange Cat and Wasco and sipping her favorite drink, Bourbon!
Congratulations Chef Jenn Louis on being our Chef of the Month for April and sharing with us your sunny personality!
1. What is the name of the Restaurant you work with and where are you based?
Lincoln Restaurant, Portland, Oregon
2. What is your birthplace?
3. What made you decide to become a chef?
I did not have a passion for cooking but after taking a job at Outward Bound base camp, I found my love for it.
4. What do you enjoy doing outside of being a chef?
I love movies (documentaries, action movies, period films to name a few), working out, spending time at home as I am at the restaurant most of the time and travelling
5. What is your favorite social media platforms?
Instagram and Twitter
6. What is your Must Have Kitchen Tool?
A really good knife – Bob Kramer’s 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 in 2011. 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.”
7. Do you enjoy dining out on your free time? What is your favorite type of cuisine?
I do! I love to try different foods other than what I normally cook. I am pretty open-minded and like all types such as Asian, Italian, Indian to name a few.
8. What fabric and style of chef uniform do you enjoy wearing the most?
I normally wear a t-shirt, black dickies pants with clogs and a nice Blunt Roll apron.
9. Chef Jenn Louis’ Eggs and Beans Recipe with tomatoes, chipotle chilies and black beans
This is one of David’s and my favorite late night dinners. I can make it from start to finish in about 20 minutes, just enough time to drink a bourbon before dinner is served!
1T vegetable oil
1/8 small yellow onion
1 small clove garlic, peeled
1/2 c whole peeled tomatoes
¼ c chicken stock
½-1 chipotle chili in adobo
2 t cumin, ground
Cotija, crumbled or grated
Avocado, peeled and sliced
Cilantro leaves, roughly chopped
Jalapeno, chopped finely
White onion, chopped finely
In a blender, finely puree onion, garlic, tomatoes, stock, chilies and cumin.
Heat oil in a 7 or 8-inch non-stick pan over medium high heat. Pour contents of blender into hot oil, season sauce lightly with salt and reduce sauce by half, about 3 minutes. Stir beans, un-drained, into sauce. Cook for 2 minutes to thicken sauce. Crack eggs into 4 corners of pan, not touching the sides of the pan, reduce heat to medium low and cover pan to bake eggs. Continue gently cooking until whites are set and yolks are runny. Serve with warm tortillas and garnishes.
~Her experience and advice~
10. How long have you been a chef and where did you study?
20 years. I studied at the Western Culinary Institute of Portland.
11. What education or experience would you recommend for aspiring chefs?
Go to college and also culinary school. Learn what you need to know to be good at what you do and then get hands on learning.
12. What would you recommend as far as on-the-job training?
Commit to working at a restaurant no less than a year to see what the cyclical calendar looks like.
13. Can you offer some advice for aspiring chefs?
Be open-minded. New cooks form opinions before they get experience and exposure to learning new techniques and styles.
14. What is your greatest challenge in getting the ingredients you need?
I am lucky in this area. I have easy access to high quality meats and ingredients in Portland. Regarding seasonal ones, I purchase all over the country and there are so many more products from overseas available in the US, it is much easier to get them without any problems.
15. Do you try to experience your competitors’ food? Do you ever get ideas from them?
I travel a lot within the U.S. and outside of the U.S and get exposed to many ideas. I also use social media as well to see what people are sharing and talking about.
16. Do you think it is important to visit the markets rather than just have standard orders?
Yes and no. As I work 60 – 70 hours a week, my time is very valuable and I can’t always visit. Our local farmers in Portland send me emails letting me know what they have available and there is no need for me to go to the markets. Email is so great because I place my orders with them depending on what I want.
17. How do you test a new recipe without putting it on the permanent menu?
We change our menus every day and make little changes but if we have a lot of produce from farms, we continue to make dishes with those ingredients.
18. How do chefs use technology in their day to day operations?
My iPhone is such a great tool because I use it to stay active on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. I am able to show people what I am doing and what we offer. We also use a Point of Sale system to track reservations and sales.
~2014 and The Future~
19. What dining trends do you see taking place for 2014?
People are becoming more open minded to eating foods that used to be served in the 1920s – 1950s like liver and heart. People are eating more off cuts because they are accepting it and enjoying it more now.
20. How has the revolution to eat healthy influenced you as a Chef?
My typical lifestyle has always been healthy and I believe in eating everything and in moderation. I don’t eat fast foods.
21. How does Social Media play a role for Chefs today?
It allows us to show what we are doing and see what other people are doing.