Pitzer grad creates art producing culinary delights

For those with busy schedules, finding time to cook a meal is often the last priority. However, it’s quite the opposite for Webb and Pitzer graduate Jenn Louis. The busier her schedule becomes, the happier she is to find herself in the comforts of her kitchen.

“It provides me with the creative outlet I’ve always wanted,” she says.

Enthralled by the idea of culinary work, Ms. Louis turned cooking into a career. She is now a celebrated chef with not one, but 2 successful restaurants in the Portland area—Lincoln and Sunshine Tavern—and a catering business that started it all, dubbed Culinary Artistry.

While following her passion has paid off—the reputable James Beard Foundation chose her as a semifinalist for best chef in the northwest—of late it has taken her away from her beloved kitchen duty. Instead, she has been kept busy completing work on her latest cookbook, an exploration of Italian dumplings, and wrapping work on the latest installment of Top Chef Masters, where she will duke it out for the top honors and $100,000 towards her charity of choice, City of Hope.

The dedicated chef has also been occupied with cross-country travel as she promotes Got Milk’s “Real and Simple With Milk” campaign this summer. As part of the campaign, Ms. Louis has created a series of simple, summer-friendly recipes that help get other busy bees like herself back into the kitchen.

Taking on so many big projects at once may seem like a whirlwind, but Ms. Louis has always been ambitious. Rigorous workloads at the Webb Schools and Pitzer College—where she graduated with a triple major in environmental, religious and women’s studies—helped foster her tenacity and competitive spirit.

“I was encouraged to explore things that interested me, and a lot interested me,” she recognized. “If there was one thing I learned, it was to never put limits on what is achievable.”

After graduating she took those lessons with her, setting out to continue doing what she does best, exploring new hobbies with unquenched enthusiasm. It first led her on travels through North and South America, Europe and Israel, where she lived for a while on a dairy farm. She then returned to the states to take a job working with kids at the Outward Bound camp in the North Carolina woods, and next to her first cooking post as a chef at Space Camp, a job she fell in love with.

 “I always wanted a job that allowed me to be creative, but I wasn’t very good at painting or drawing,” she said. “[Cooking] turned out to be my creative outlet.”

Ms. Louis had initially assumed her culinary dream was just that, a dream. But with the opportunity to continue in the steps of her newfound culinary career path, her fantasy suddenly became reality. She moved to Portland for culinary school and took a job with a local bakery before starting her catering business.

Providing meals for her customers in the comforts of their home always appealed to Ms. Louis, no stranger to the power of a deliciously-prepared feast around the dinner table. Made-from-scratch meals, courtesy of her mother, were featured heavily in her household growing up—Ms. Louis hardly remembers a cardboard box appearing on her kitchen table. Barbecue and comfort foods were always a favorite, and have remained influential in the food Ms. Louis now prepares for others.

When it comes to her food and her restaurants, she enjoys going back to the basics. Casual atmosphere and simple comforting dishes, like chicken and waffles, define the atmosphere at Sunshine Tavern.

While she understands how difficult it can be to make a meal after a long day at work, not to mention in the summer heat, she encourages others to take her lead. Create an easy, cool cucumber soup, she suggests, by throwing the cucumber in the blender with some almonds, milk, lemon juice, garlic and seasoning. Or save the watermelon rind and chop it up with some feta, almonds, sea salt and lime juice for a refreshing salad with little needed prep time.

“Take advantage of the wonderful seasonal fruits California has,” she noted. “Keep it simple. Food can be so great and require so little.”

She has discovered a little goes a long way, in cooking and in life.

“A lot of people put limits on what is achievable,” Ms. Louis said. “Yes, it takes hard work and a creative approach to figure out how to achieve your goals but if you put your mind to it, and resolve to do it well, then certainly you can accomplish quite a bit.”

Root for the Pitzer grad on Top Chef Masters, airing on Bravo beginning July 24. For more on the Got Milk campaign and Ms. Louis’ “Real and Simple With Milk” recipes, visit  www.gotmilk.com/recipes.

—Beth Hartnett



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