2018 Portland Rising Stars: Why They Shine

2018 Portland Rising Stars: Why They Shine

Since July of last year, the StarChefs team has eaten in restaurants built inside a home, an apartment, and a wine shop. We were awed by tasting menus, demolished a platter of pork sliders, and grabbed sandwiches from an all-torta restaurant. We’ve seen a dining room with a DJ booth and breweries with children’s play areas. We’ve eaten Appalachian, Filipino, Korean, Thai, Indian, and Russian. We’ve sat sipping icy vodka surrounded by people sipping icy vodka. Portland continues to write its own story—a choose your own adventure. The pop-up city remains a hotbed of industry experimentation and a fantastically fertile ground for creative chefs and entrepreneurs to build their brands.

We were last in Portland in 2011, and the city has changed in some ways, but its idiosyncratic character remains intact. You know you’re in a Portland restaurant when the entrance is a garage door and the entire kitchen is electric and modular. You might have to access the bathroom by going out the door, around Pioneer Courthouse Square, through an underground passage, and punching in a code. Have you ever dined in a pop-up inside a pop-up inside a pop-up?  

The influx of people, jobs, and money has changed the city, though. Fortune 500 companies like Nike have moved to town, and Portland is no longer the place where 20-somethings go to retire. It’s where they go to start careers, to be close to nature, and to go out and eat and drink. In 2017, 130 restaurants opened, but the flip side of that growth is that more than 70 closed. The market is at best thrilling and at its worst volatile. 

But Portland is still the land of opportunity. Even Naomi Pomeroy has found a second act as a florist. And in the tradition of strong woman leaders like Pomeroy, Kathy Whims, and Kristen Murray, the chef category in this class of Rising Stars is half women. There are also immigrants and first-generation Americans represented. And what separates many of these winners from the pack is their own personal mission. Here are the 20 restaurant professionals with the most clearly defined voices, exciting concepts, most delicious dishes and beverages, and the leadership to shape the city’s future.            


Chef: Maya Lovelace, Yonder

Maya Lovelace brings downhome decadence to everything she touches—from chicken fried in chicken fat, bacon fat, and lard to sorghum molasses-apple butter sandwich cookies. As proven by her blockbuster pop-up Mae, Lovelace’s food stays with you, like a childhood crush. The infatuation is such that you’re blind to the technical mastery behind it. Lovelace embodies a type of regional cooking full of passed down secrets and family tricks. Hers is the kind of food that makes you ask, “How’d she do that?” In Lovelace’s hands, everything somehow comes out fresher, richer, tangy-er. When Yonder opens this spring, she’ll be sharing even more of her roots and expertise, introducing Portland to Carolina dipped chicken and diving deeper into often neglected and misrepresented Appalachian cuisine. Lovelace is unstoppable.

Dishes that clinched it:

  • Western Carolina Dipped Chicken and Fixins
  • Cornmeal Fried Eggplant, Black Garlic-Cherry Tomato Relish, Lemon Basil, Shishito, Whipped Fromage Blanc, and Sungold Tomato Emulsion
Chef: Katy Millard, Coquine

On an unassuming corner way out in Southeast Portland is Coquine, a powerhouse restaurant where outstanding service, wine, cocktails, pastry, and savory cooking have aligned in an all-day, everyday operation helmed by Chef Katy Millard. Millard draws from her Zimbabwean/South African/Gulf Coast American upbringing for inspiration, along with Michelin-star training under Guy Savoy, Michel Troisgros, and Daniel Patterson. She is cooking the food of her life, confidently at the intersection of comfort and fine dining. A roast chicken dinner hints at her childhood—with Cajun spice surreptitiously rubbed under the crisp skin, and she’s just as comfortable cooking out of context, as with cucumbers and Tokyo turnips paired with black garlic, togarashi-nori dusted rice crisps, and mustard greens. Coquine is what happens when a single-minded chef summons all her powers and assembles a team who believes in her vision.

Dishes that clinched it:

  • Orecchiette, Shelling Peas, Smoked Almonds, Parmesan Broth, Fiore Sardo, and Lemony Breadcrumbs
  • Cajun Spiced Roast Chicken, Carolina Dirty Rice, Charred Padrón Peppers, and Pole Beans
Chef: Sam Smith, Tusk

Chef Sam Smith is intense without pretention. He preaches the gospel of sustainability but doesn’t put product above people. He’s a storyteller and a leader—not because his voice is the loudest but because his energy is infectious. Tusk maybe the bright and breezy house that hummus built, but the chickpea is merely a springboard into Smith’s nourishing Pacific Northwest-meets-Middle Eastern cuisine. He hasn’t just forged strong relationships with farmers, he’s a friend and part of their lives. Products that he seeks out (like green wheat from Ayers Creek) and puts on his menu, start to appear in restaurants across the city. Tusk is only the first project to come from Smith, who’s working on a fast-casual concept for Portland and beyond. He’s the next chef-restaurateur primed to grow along with his city.

Dishes that clinched it:

  • Kibbe Naya: Green Wheat, Raw Lamb, Celtuce, Turmeric Yogurt, Chips, and Romaine
  • Crispy Bread: Oxtail, Jalapeños, Herbs, Fermented Kohlrabi, Lime
Chef: Justin Woodward, Castagna

Firmly in the driver’s seat of the classic car that is Castagna, Chef Justin Woodward carries the mantle of fine dining for an entire city. After 19 years, the industry still looks to Castagna for inspiration. And Woodward is responsible for that freshness. His kitchen has been a proving ground for young cooks, and a cornerstone for diners. For 20 courses, 30 covers, four nights a week, Woodward’s flavors, technique, and presentation are on show. He's a tinkerer whose dishes are edited, precise, and packed with flavor (think: Dungeness crab, charred Diva cucumbers, and finger lime). The restaurant’s legacy is in more than capable hands, and with the reinvention of its attached café, a whole new generation of diners will get to know Castagna.         

Dishes that clinched it:

  • Sugar Snap Peas, Ginger-Mint Oil, Bay Cream, Sorrel, Petite Pea Greens, Salt, and Lime
  • Wagyu zabuton, pickled garlic scapes, kale, smoked beef fat, truffle-oxtail reduction
Community: Carlo Lamagna, Magna

From his post at beloved Clyde Common, Carlo Lamagna became an integral part of the chef community in Portland in three short years. But it’s as a leader in the nationwide community of Filipino chefs that he’s having a larger impact. Lamagna life’s work is to make Filipino cuisine mainstream. He’s using his fine dining training, experience, travels, and work with chef comrades to create and promote a modern take on the food he grew up with. He’s presented at Feast Portland, The James Beard House, and at the StarChefs Congress. When Magna opens this spring—with a fire pit out front and a chef’s counter and dining room inside—it will be the first restaurant of its kind in Portland and a progressive moment for Filipino food in America. Lamagna is just getting started.                      

Dishes that clinched it:

  • Dad’s Adobo: Pork Adobo, Spinach, Coconut Milk, Garlic, Chile Flake, Fish Sauce, and Milagrosa Rice
  • Mom's Crab Noodles: House Egg Noodles, Dungeness Crab Meat, Crab Sauce, Padrón Peppers, Corn, Spring Onion, Salmon Roe, and Serrano Peppers
Pastry Chef: Lauren Breneman, Coquine

Lauren Breneman is in pursuit of perfection—the perfect quenelle, the perfect flavor profile with the perfect surprise. Her style is like an elegant, versatile dress, one that could get you to the Beard Awards but also easy enough to stop off for a nightcap at the Sandy Hut. Breneman came to Portland from Paul Virant’s Perennial in Chicago and landed at Naomi Pomeroy’s Beast, where her modern, seductive, worldly flavors stood out. Now at Coquine, Breneman has joined Rising Stars Katy Millard and Ksandek Podbielski, completing a veritable dream team. She also is the pastry half of the pop-up Astral with her partner John Boissey, perfecting melon-tajin paletas, guava creamsicles, and alfajores at one rendition. Breneman will be a pastry chef to watch for years to come, constantly moving, evolving, and elevating her craft wherever she goes.

Dishes that clinched it:

  • Golden Milk Sorbet, Pistachio-Matcha Powder, Jackfruit, Shiso, Pandan Rice Pudding, and Quinoa Crunch 
  • Pink Peppercorn Pavlova
Brewer: Conrad Andrus, Culmination Brewing

At 26-year-old Conrad Andrus took over as head brewer of Tomas Sluiter’s Culmination Brewing, the brewery has released around 250 beers, with Andrus influencing almost all of them. He’s also beginning to directly impact other brewers as he starts to travel and teach the craft. Andrus loves German lagers, sour beers, “food beer,” and he collaborates with chefs around town. Known for his eclecticism, he also oversees a barrel-aging program, and his Kriek Mythology Flanders red ale (aged in Pinot Noir barrels and racked on cherries) is already in its second vintage. Culmination has quickly become a beer pilgrim mecca with 90 percent of its beer consumed in Portland (they’re also big in Japan). And with cans joining the line-up and overall production ramping up to 3,000 barrels for 2018, Andrus has so much more beer left to brew.

Beers that clinched it:

  • Kriek Mythology: Flanders-style Red Ale
  • Life Gives You Lemons Hazy IPA
Artisan: Sebastian Cisneros, Cloudforest Chocolate

More than 4,000 miles away from his hometown of Quito, Ecuador, chocolate is the intimate link to Sebastian Cisneros’ childhood and family. As a Portland bean-to-bar chocolate maker who’s sourcing cacao from Ecuador (Bolivia, Madagascar, Trinidad, Peru, and Mexico, too), he’s sharing that connection through Cloudforest Chocolate, a retail space, café, and production facility opening this fall. Cisneros lives in two worlds of chocolate: purist (cacao and cane sugar) and experimental. In the latter, he challenges what we think of as chocolate, playing around with sweeteners like maple, experimenting with white chocolate, incorporating sesame and cardamom, and infusing bars with palo santo wood. With the beauty of his original chocolate and the unusualness of his experiments, Cisneros is poised to make an impact.

Chocolate that clinched it:

  • Palo Santo-infused Chocolate Bar
  • Cloudforest Chocolate Bar (Ecuadorian Cacao and Cane Sugar)
Artisan: George Kaden, Grand Army Tavern

Grand Army Tavern is Chef George Kaden’s pork passion project, born of his entrepreneurial mindset and a skillset he nurtured in New York, first under Dan Kluger at Core Club and then with Marco Canora at Hearth, where he developed the charcuterie program. With the opening of Grand Army Tavern in Portland, Kaden gets in one pig a week and designs his menu based on that hog. The centerpiece is always a pork slider platter featuring pork products made in-house: smoked bierwurst, grilled baloney, maple glazed ham, schnitzel, spiced butt roast, Cuban-style roast, hock ham, smoked belly. Kaden only needs to sell 100 platters a week to be in the black, setting an example for aspiring chef-butcher-artisan-entrepreneurs everywhere.

Dishes that clinched it:

  • Pork Slider Platter: Smoked Brerwurst, Schnitzel, Spiced Butt Roast, Grilled Baloney, Maple Glazed Ham, Cuban-style Roast Pork, Lettuce, Bread and Butter Pickles, Aioli, and Potato Buns
Roaster: Angel Medina, Smalltime Roasters

It all grew from a love of coffee, hospitality, and a grassroots effort to raise money for immigrant, youth-led United We Dream. Smalltime Roasters launched as a fundraising project in 2016, and the response was so enthusiastic, that by 2017, Roaster Angel Medina and his partner Lucy Alvarez had opened coffee shop Kiosko. They’ll add at least two more outlets in 2018 and plan to franchise Kiosko across the country, integrating the shops into communities with Smalltime Roasters supplying the beans. They focus on fair-trade Mexican coffee and are introducing Mexican and Cuban coffee drinking traditions to Portland. Medina and Alvarez are first-generation Americans with a simple goal: to be the largest and most recognized Latino-owned craft coffee roaster in America.     

Coffees that clinched it:

  • Mexican Cafe de Olla
  • True Mexican Mocha with Freeze-dried Raspberries and Cacao Nibs 
Sommelier: Brent Braun, Castagna

As the sommelier of Castagna, Portland’s fine-dining standard bearer, Brent Braun takes guests on an odyssey from Japan to Austria, Italy, France, and Spain and back again. While keeping up with Chef Justin Woodward’s 20-dish tasting menu, Braun pours fresh, fun selections and takes some unexpected detours. He playfully pairs early evening eggplant with sake and then a late evening sake-infused dessert with Petit Manseng from Southwest France. Unafraid to break rules, Braun pours vermouth on the rocks with a splash a Topo Chico to accompany a foie and fruit dish. As he joins Woodward to reinvent the more casual café adjoined to Castagna, he’ll introduce a new generation of drinkers to wine. Braun is leading the market and helping build his city’s burgeoning somm community in one of the New World’s most famed regions.  

Pairings that clinched it:

  • Garnacha, Bodegas Curii, Giró, Alicante, Valencia, Spain paired with Beef zabuton, pickled garlic scapes, kale, smoked beef fat, truffle-oxtail reduction
  • Denshin Natsu, Junmai Ginjo Nama Sake, Fukui, Japan paired with Grilled Eggpant Terrine, Sheep's Milk Cheese, Lemon Thyme, Shiso, Anise Hyssop, Sorrel, Opal Basil, Mitsuba, and Lemon Basil
Sommelier: Ksandek Podbielski, Coquine

When he was 23, Ksandek Podbielski visited the Willamette Valley, sent out his résumé to 50 vineyards and never looked back. He has scrubbed tanks. He knows how to drive a forklift. He once fit two full barrels of wine into his Ford Focus. As co-owner and somm at Coquine, Oregon wine doesn’t quite dominate his 450-bottle list, but it is the only region represented in every category and varietal. With Chef Katy Millard’s confident, elegant cooking, Podbielski often takes the subtle route, making the ingredients taste more like themselves, as with an Italian Verduzzo Friulano paired with orecchiette and peas. Podbielski loves to get behind biodynamic, conscientious wines from a new generation of vintners in the Valley. In Portland’s growing somm community, Podbielski is training the new guard, imbuing them with his matter of fact manner, story-telling style, and fighting spirit for Oregon wine.

Pairings that clinched it:

  • Verduzzo, i Clivi, Colli Orientali del Friuli, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Italy, 2015 paired with Orecchiette, Shelling Peas, Smoked Almonds, Parmesan Broth, Fiore Sardo, and Lemony Breadcrumbs 
  • Chardonnay, Johan Vineyard, Statera, Willamette Valley, Oregon, 2014 paired with Cajun Spiced Roast Chicken, Carolina Dirty Rice, Charred Padrón Peppers, and Pole Beans
Bartender: Adam Robinson, Deadshot

Adam Robinson is a vet of Momofuku Ssam Bar in New York and of Bent Brick, Rum Club, and Expatriate in Portland. He also helped opened and run a PDT-style bar in Taiwan for two years. Robinson considers himself a Dave Arnold disciple with a centrifuge to prove it. When his pop-up bar Deadshot opens in its permanent location this spring, it’s bound to be a juggernaut. Robinson’s partners are Chefs William Preisch and Joel Stocks of the hugely successful, long-running pop-up Holdfast, where Robinson started his Mondays-only pop-up. Deadshot will share its new space with Holdfast in a dual concept. From there, Robinson will spread his brand of bold, complex cocktails where split bases—think smoky mezcal and grassy rum—rum blends, and unexpected flavors like bitter melon are his signature. Robinson is a bartender whose time has come.
Drinks that clinched it:

  • Fist of the North Star: George Dickel Rye Whiskey, Clear Creek Apple Brandy, Sherry, Celery, and Bitters
  • Casper’s Ghost: Rhum, Mezcal, Bitter Melon, Citrus, Pineapple, and Tarragon
Bartender: Angel Teta, Ataula

Some bartenders excel at culinary cocktails, some have a deft hand creating modern classics, others win competitions, some are high-volume masters of efficiency and movement, still, others know everything whiskey. Bartender Angel Teta defies labels because for this BAR 5-Day grad, the term well rounded falls short. At tapas temple Ataula, Teta has found a home and taken a deep dive into vermouths, Sherries, and amari. She has studied vermouth in Spain, Cognac in France, whiskey in Ireland, vodka in Sweden, and rum in Jamaica. The two-time Miss Speed Rack Northwest mixes mezcal with Yzaguirre, Zucca Rabarbaro, Campari, and Aveze for her La Moreneta. But when it comes to the packed bar at Ataula, it all starts with you, Teta, and a bottle of vermouth.

Drinks that clinched it:

  • La Moreneta: Mezcal Alipus, Yzaguirre Rojo Reserva Vermouth, Amaro Zucca Rabarbaro, Campari, Aveze, and Flamed Orange
  • Gaudi: Angel's Envy Bourbon, Amaro Nonino, Yzaguirre Rojo Reserva Vermouth, Moscatel, and Angostura Bitters
Concept: Alan Akwai and Earl Ninsom, Hat Yai

It’s the phrase on everyone’s lips in Portland: Hat Yai. The Thai concept has both the industry and the dining public all hot and bothered—and not just because of all those chiles. Hat Yai is the brainchild of Chef-Restaurateur hero Earl Ninsom and his business partner Alan Akwai. The idea is pretty straightforward: trust that the largely white population of Portland can handle the heat and hedonism of authentic southern Thai cuisine. And oh, give it to them quickly and at a reasonable price, always with fresh roti. Akwai and Ninsom will open their second Portland location shortly with plans to expand outside the city in the future, focusing on their addictive fried chicken. Hat Yai is a sensation in the making, and Portland is ground zero.

Dishes that clinched it:

  • Turmeric Curry, Mussels, Betel Leaf, Thai Chiles
  • Southern Thai Ground Pork: Turmeric, Kaffir, Lemongrass, Thai Chiles
Restaurateurs: Luke Dirks and Joshua McFadden, Submarine Hospitality

Luke Dirks and Joshua McFadden have built a network of professionals across the country. So, when they’re looking to attract talent, a pipeline is already in place. And when talent is moving to Portland, they’re first to hear and scoop ’em up. They’re not only building the most talented group in Portland; they’re enhancing restaurant culture and quality for the entire city. Beyond talent, Submarine also invests in design, equipment, education, product, and the people behind the product. In addition to Ava Gene’s and Tusk, more concepts will come, but they’re not growing just for the sake of it. Dirks and McFadden are continuing to tell their story, promoting excellence and intentionality, and creating opportunities for their 100-strong staff. Submarine isn’t a restaurant group, it’s a fresh hospitality brand building the careers and concepts of the future.

Dishes that clinched it:

  • Giardini: Raw Cavolo Nero, Sarvecchio, and Bread Crumbs; Cucumbers, Purslane, Sprouted Barley, Apricot, Pisatchios, and Chiles; and Radish, Tonnato, Fiore Sardo, Lemon, and Bread Crumbs
  • Primi: Spaghetti, Cherry Tomatoes, Basil, and Chile; and Cavatelli, Prosciutto, Zucchini, and Mint