Sustainability Chef Sunny Jin of Jory at The Allison Inn & Spa

Sustainability Chef Sunny Jin of Jory at The Allison Inn & Spa
November 2011

2011 Portland Rising Star Sustainability winner Sunny Jin does an impressive juggling act. He’s responsible for restaurant service at the Allison Inn & Spa’s Jory, banquets, room service, spa menus, and picnic baskets. But he still finds time to visit all his purveyors to compare notes on running an outfit as sustainably as possible. Among his many sustainable efforts are raising bees that produce the restaurant’s honey supply and tending to a small onsite chef’s garden with an ambitious expansion in the works. For this Oregon chef, local product, especially its produce, is why he calls Newberg home.

It’s no wonder that Jin has such an appreciation for Oregon produce. He’s circled the globe, but it was here that he started his culinary career, at Portland’s Western Culinary Institute, where Jin graduated at the top of his class, received the Grand Toque Award, and went on to complete his externship at The French Laundry. He stayed on for three years under Thomas Keller and Corey Lee and had the opportunity to craft and execute daily menus from top-notch product. Jin couldn’t resist the opportunity to work with Tetsuya Wakuda (one of the top Japanese, Australian-based chefs), though, and moved to Sydney, Australia’s Tetsuya’s. While there, Jin traveled throughout Australia, New Zealand, Vietnam, and Thailand, exposing his curious mind and palate to new flavor profiles and ideas. 

Jin came back to the States, only to leave immediately for El Bulli in Catalonia. He worked there for the 2009 season under Ferran Adrià and Oriol Castro. Afterward he traveled to France, Italy, Germany, and the Netherlands before returning home, to Oregon, drawn by a love of produce similar to the European markets he had just left behind. It’s the state’s produce that is at the heart of his cuisine at Jory, executed with the impeccable technique you’d expect from a disciple of Keller, Adria and Wakuda, and hints of the approach of all three. And thanks to that produce and Jin’s efforts, the Allison Inn achieved LEED Gold certification in 2010—an indelible, though sustainable, footprint on the trail of this global traveler.

Interview with Portland Rising Star Sustainability Chef Sunny Jin of Jory at the Allison Inn & Spa - Portland, OR

Francoise Villeneuve: Describe the extent of your F & B operation.
Sunny Jin: I do all of the above and the bar! We cater to the spa and pool area, and offer picnic baskets for our guest to take with them to wineries.

FV: What's in the picnic basket?
SJ: We have a dozen seasonal items in the basket. We harvest things from the garden to go.

FV: What is the relationship between the hotel and dining rooms?
SJ:  A large portion of our dining guests are hotel guests, but we also get local guests from wineries. It’s about 30 percent hotel guests.

FV: What got you on the path to your culinary career?
SJ: It’s something I've always enjoyed doing. It was not exactly my first career choice.

FV: What was your first career choice?
SJ: I started going to school for forestry and management. Didn't like it. I used to cook at a country club for free golf, but wasn't serious about it.

FV:  How did you end up back here?
SJ: My wife and I loved the area when I was here for school. I remembered Oregon, the Willamette Valley—it was somewhere we could call home and establish ourselves.

FV:  Where did you attend culinary school? Do you recommend it?
SJ:  Western Culinary. It can open a lot of doors. For individuals, the best knowledge comes from staging for six months. Some of us care more for the degree and title.

FV: Who are some of your mentors? What did you learn from them?
SJ: Cory Lee and Thomas Keller. I learned everything from them from how to properly fold a towel and hold a spoon to how to baste a fish. They showed me how a professional kitchen operates.

FV: What advice would you offer young chefs just getting started?
SJ: Above all, be passionate. If this isn't it, the fire will fizzle away. You have to find the love in peeling onions or slicing carrots.

FV:  What ingredient do you feel are underappreciated?
SJ: Salad greens. We take them for granted. We take a lot of pride in our greens. We built a relationship with a neighbor who built a cold frame. We looked though a seed catalog and tried all kinds of greens.

FV: Where do you like to go for culinary travel?
SJ: Japan.

FV: What is your philosophy on food and dining?
SJ: Above all, have fun. It ties everything together and llows you to focus more. Having fun opens your eyes to new ideas and a desire to be better. My number one rule for all new cooks is to have fun.

FV: How are you involved in your local culinary community?
SJ: We support our farmers as best we can. For the majority of our partnerships, I visit the facility to check on their philosophy and see how it aligns with ours. I need the piece of mind that I am sourcing the best.

FV:  What’s next? Where will we find you in five years?
SJ: In five years, I will be here. This is it, I've found home. I will be in the Willamette Valley. My ultimate goal is to own my own restaurant in the Valley. My priority now is to make Jory successful. I've been here a year and a half.