Hotel Chef Andy Arndt of Aquariva at River's Edge Hotel & Spa Portland

Hotel Chef Andy Arndt of Aquariva at River's Edge Hotel & Spa Portland
November 2011

While attending the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco, Chef Andy Arndt had the opportunity to work at one of San Francisco’s best restaurants, Boulevard, with Chef Nancy Oakes, whose mentorship would shape his career. Oakes taught him the importance of focusing on the seasonal ingredients abundant in the Bay area. In 1998, Arndt chose to broaden his culinary horizons and accepted a position at San Francisco’s award-winning Mc2 with Chef Yoshi Kojima. He spent the following two years helping Kojima develop and execute his French-Californian cuisine inflected with subtle Japanese elements.

Eager to expand his repertoire, Arndt left the West Coast for New York City, where he embarked on a series of stages with the city's leading chefs. His first stop was at Union Pacific where he worked with Chef Rocco Dispirito. The next stop was at March with Chef Wayne Nish. Soon after, Arndt was lured to Gramercy Tavern by Chef Tom Colicchio. There, Arndt spent the next year absorbing Colicchio’s culinary vision and expanding his knowledge of East Coast ingredients. Arndt was then hired as chef de cuisine at Halcyon Restaurant at the Rihga Royal Hotel. While at Halcyon, he managed a kitchen staff of 40. Under his tenure, Halcyon received some of its best critical reviews since its opening. Arndt leapt on the opportunity to stage under iconic chef Thomas Keller at The French Laundry. He also worked at The Village Pub in Woodside, California, with Chef Mark Sullivan.

At Ojai Valley Inn and Spa, where Arndt was executive chef for four years, he was responsible for the food program at all restaurants and banquets with a large focus on seasonality and farm-to-table mentality. During his tenure, the resort acquired a Five Diamond AAA Rating. Today he lives in Portland as the chef at Italian restaurant Aquariva. And while he took his lessons in seasonal cooking under Oakes to heart, his own Portland-friendly brand of inventive Northwest cuisine is all his own. From comfort-driven dishes like short ribs, to wildly inventive fare like gin and tonic gelée-topped salmon, Arndt's inventiveness is obvious and continues to astound.

Interview with Portland Rising Star Hotel Chef Andy Arndt of Aquariva at Avalon Hotel & Spa - Portland, OR

Francoise Villeneuve: When did you start your culinary career?
Andy Arndt: I started with the whole dishwashing thing. My parents forced me to get a job at country club by my house, and I got the regular kitchen mentality. I got pushed around, but camaraderie and love for food, including baking during the holidays, was something that started then, too.

FV: Would you recommend culinary school to aspiring chefs?
AA: For each student I'm on the fence, it depends on the person. Realize that it takes you 20 years to do move up from dishwasher to chef, and to get to that level, it takes drive.

FV: Who are some of your mentors?
AA: I think the big thing with Nancy Oakes was seasonality, making it taste good, and having no restrictions.

FV: What advice would you offer young chefs just getting started?
AA: It’s a cliché thing but think like a sponge; if you find a good chef to work for, just absorb and suck it up. With the television shows out there, everyone thinks you can be a chef right away, but it's a long-term process. Be a sponge, work a year or two years, then go to the next spot.

FV: How are you involved in your local culinary community?
AA: So for me, this is something we just started doing. Being new, I’ve been trying to embrace everything. We just joined the Cordon Blue Culinary School program and will be getting externs here. And farmers’ markets are a driving source on our menu. I have to physically be there to pick the food and to meet the vendor.

FV: What does success mean for you?
AA: I like it in Portland; eventually I want to get my own place here. From what I’ve seen, I have the experience, and it'd be great to do a small boutique hotel with a restaurant that's dinner only.