Chef Naomi Pomeroy of Beast

Chef Naomi Pomeroy of Beast
November 2011

Naomi Pomeroy was raised by a single, Southern-raised mother who had spent time in France as a child—and passed on her love of simple meals done with love and a dash of technique (think a soufflé and a salad) to Pomeroy. The pair lived in Corvallis, and Pomeroy spent her youth hanging around the stove with her Southern grandmother. It was a culture steeped in hospitality and food, where everyone was expected to do their part. Pomeroy remembers learning to make French toast when she was 5, but “not being treated like a kid.”

From early earnest adventures in French toast, Pomeroy cut her professional teeth at catering companies and privately catered weddings in Oregon. She teamed up with Michael Hebb to open Ripe Catering in 1999. An offshoot of the company, a supper club run from their home, aptly called called Family Supper, came soon afterwards. They would eventually open Gotham Coffee Shop, ClarkLewis Restaurant, and Gotham Tavern.

In 2007 Gotham Coffee Shop and Gotham Tavern closed, and Pomeroy sold ClarkLewis. When she thought about committing to her first solo brick and mortar venture, Pomeroy decided to return to her supper club roots, opening Beast later that year with her sous chef Mika Parades. Pomeroy has since gained national media attention, including a James Beard Award for Best Chef Pacific Northwest and finalist slot on Bravo’s "Top Chef Masters." But Pomeroy’s focus is consumed by her Lilliputian restaurant that hosts set menu, prix-fixe meals at communal tables, for which she butchers whole animals and serves their various parts throughout the week. The result is seductive and comforting cuisine that has customers flocking to the intimate Beast, eager for food as cheeky, sexy, and warm as Pomeroy.

Interview with Portland Rising Star Chef Naomi Pomeroy of Beast - Portland, OR

Francoise Villeneuve: What inspired you to cook professionally?
Naomi Pomeroy: My mom and my grandmother. My father’s mom is from the South, and cooking in the South is a whole different thing. It's a hospitality thing. It's about how you express your love for people, and it was how I was raised. My mom was an Army brat and lived in France for some of her childhood; her mother was a terrible cook, but she was inspired when she came to Oregon to voraciously read cookbooks and had memories of living in France and food they ate there. I spent a lot of my childhood eating simple and really thoughtful meals, like a soufflé and a salad.

FV: Do you recommend culinary school to aspiring chefs?
NP: I didn't go to culinary school, but my sous chef did. I enjoy having a support staff that went to culinary school because I think there is stuff you can learn in culinary school; I’ve learned a lot from them. I'm a self-taught cook, and there are so many tricks you learn over the years from the brigade system; there's something valuable to it and something stifling about it.

FV: Who do you consider to be your most influential mentor?
NP: There's a bunch, they're probably pretty equal. They’re all women: Julia Child, Alice Waters.

FV: How are you involved in your local culinary community?
NP: Too much. I think it's hard, and chefs are always very busy so we don't get to hang out with each other outside of events. But I do tons of charity. I participate in Share our Strength, and I’m also involved in Chefs Collaborative. I'm always doing fundraising dinners here as well; I just raised $3,500 for Japan two weeks ago. The chef community here is really tight, our heart strings are really close, we all worked together to change the scene in Portland, and a lot of us worked at the same places.

FV: What’s your philosophy on food and dining?
NP: For food it's all about balance to me. It's balance on a dish and balance throughout the menu. I'm always thinking about something from the beginning all the way through to the end, like the way you would think of a symphony. The thing I find most disappointing in high-end restaurants is there can be a tendency to be too much about the process and manipulation of the product. I have a lot of passion for the actual ingredients.

FV: What’s the toughest thing you've had to do in your career?
NP: Closing three restaurants. Really only two; I closed one and sold one. Giving up my restaurants was extremely hard, but it was already happening. But it’s alright; it is what it is.

FV: If you could do one thing over again, what would it be?
NP: It sounds so cliché that I wouldn't do anything differently. I think the most important thing I did starting out was to say yes to every opportunity in beginning, not knowing what direction I would go in, and made them all learning experiences. I had really diverse experiences; you don't always know that this is the right way of doing things.

FV: What’s next for you? Where will we find you in five years?
NP: I’ll be the female Tony Bourdain. I would love to have a television show with Mica. We work together so well; we don't have a traditional system. Here I write the menus, and we sit down on Wednesdays and I tell everyone what I'm thinking and I trust them to do what they do. I’m really lucky to have that working dynamic. Our rapport is really awesome. I'm so happy here that I don't want to open another restaurant. I'm never going to say I'm not going to do that, but it's not in my mind right now. I'd like you to be able to come here in 20 years and have it be the same.