PDX’s Leading Lady
She gained street cred from her placement on Food & Wine’s Best New Chefs list in 2012, a stint on the current season of Top Chef Masters and a couple James Beard nominations, but Jenn Louis’ incredible farmhouse fare need only be tasted to win you over. The chef/owner of two of Portland’s most celebrated eateries, Lincoln and the more casual Sunshine Tavern, Louis dishes on the city’s open-minded food culture, jet boating and the inspiration behind her restaurant concepts.
AndrewZimmern.com: What do you love about cooking?
Jenn Louis: Everything. I love great ingredients and the way they taste on their own. I love combining ingredients into more complex dishes and I love thinking about a singular ingredient and considering six ways to use it. I love feeding guests at the restaurant and at my home. I love learning about different cultures through the foods that they eat.
AZ.com: What made you decide to compete on Top Chef Masters?
JL: I was so intrigued to cook with so many amazing chefs – what talent!
AZ.com: What’s the difference between your concepts at Lincoln and Sunshine Tavern? What’s the story behind the names?
JL: Lincoln is our casual fine-dining restaurant. The menu changes a little bit every day and is based on seasonality. We make everything in house, except for our bread, and we like to think of it as practicing craft. When we get a whole lamb, we prepare each cut differently and utilize the entire animal, same with rabbit, chicken and fish. There are no tablecloths, instead big chunky tables made from reclaimed wood from a tobacco house in Kentucky. The name Lincoln came from a series of conversations and adjectives my husband and business partner, David, considered. We wanted to describe the style of restaurant in the name. We joked about Honesty, then Honest Abe, and then we arrived at Lincoln: a strong, sturdy, American name. All in all, Lincoln is a very American restaurant.
Sunshine is the answer to where David and I wanted to spend our weekends: the casual pub with great environment and food. We use the same quality meats and breads that Lincoln uses, but in a much more casual environment. Pizza, burgers and fried chicken and waffles (overnight yeasted semolina waffles!) are on the menu, as well as pimenton potato chips, a chop salad with French fries and honey soft-serve ice cream with magical shell. There is a shuffleboard table in the middle of the dining room and the video games are always free. Sunshine was the name of my brother’s yellow and green parakeet when we were growing up. And, everyone loves sunshine!
AZ.com: 5 don’t-miss Portland experiences?
- Jet boat tour on the hottest day of the year. Sit in the front of the boat. If the front is taken, wait for the next boat.
- Double-decker bicycles.
- Portland Farmers Market, Saturday downtown
- Sauvie Island
- Forest Park
AZ.com: What makes Portland’s food scene so great?
JL: There’s a real ferocity and independence within Portland’s food community. If you really want to cook and do it well, there is a place for you. Portlanders are open-minded and they really enjoy trying new foods/dishes, which makes for a great place to be creative and feel supported.
AZ.com: What’s in your fridge?
JL: Dates, sparkling water, a bunch of hot sauce, mustard, olives, anchovies, capers, pickled nectarines, pickled figs, hot fudge, caramel, Greek yogurt, milk, eggs, Champagne, lemons, limes, cat food, nocino, almond butter, strawberry jam, and orange bitters.
Get Jenn’s recipe for Braised Chicken with Tomatoes, Chipotle Chilies & Crema.
Consistent, simple and purposeful. This is the philosophy and approach that has propelled Chef Jenn Louis 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 kabut. 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.
In 2000, Louis’ entrepreneurial spirit led her to open Culinary Artistry, a full-service catering company, providing everything from valet service to floral arrangements to an array of menu styles. Today, it is considered one of the top event planning companies in Portland.
Eight years later, rooted by the myriad inspirations of their home, Louis and husband David Welch opened their first brick-and-mortar concept, Lincoln Restaurant. Lincoln is a balance between old and new, modern and classic, rustic and refined. Louis’ menu takes its cue from the seasons, harvesting locally-grown Pacific Northwest ingredients and transforming them into sophisticated yet honest fare. Her mix of fortitude and finesse immediately made Lincoln a standout on the Portland restaurant scene. Just a few short months after opening, the restaurant 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.” The success of Lincoln was overwhelming, but it sparked an idea for her next venture.
In the spring of 2011, Louis and Welch launched their second restaurant, Sunshine Tavern, in the Southeast Division district of Portland. Louis and Welch sought to create a haven for both food enthusiasts and beverage connoisseurs, serving up soul-satisfying food, playful cocktails and an impressive selection of craft beers. For this quintessential tavern, Louis created dishes that are comforting and unfussy, while using the highest quality ingredients available – a philosophy she has felt passionate about throughout her culinary career. 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.
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.