Chef Sarah Schafer is easing into her new life in Portland — if by "easing" you mean working her tail off at Irving Street Kitchen, the much-buzzed about, recently-opened restaurant located smack dab in the middle of the Pearl District.
So is Schafer, 36, up for the challenge that comes along with opening a new eatery?
"I am not afraid to jump in and just do it," said Schafer, already sounding like a native on Friday following a shift serving BBQ lunches to Pearl dwellers and some media folk.
And, according to her bio, she shouldn't be. Schafer attended the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. After graduating, Sarah went west to Napa Valley, only to soon return Boston (her hometown) where she worked under chef Ken Oringer (Clio, Toro, Uni). In 1998, Schafer went to work for Top Chef's Tom Colicchio at Gramercy Tavern, where within six months, at the age of 24, she was promoted to sous chef. In 2000, Schafer left Gramercy Tavern to become the executive sous chef at Eleven Madison Park, Danny Meyer's newest restaurant — making herself the first female executive sous chef at any Danny Meyer establishment.
Her last gig before heading to Portland was as chef du cuisine at San Francisco's Anchor & Hope; owned by the same company (helmed by restaurateurs Doug Washington, Steven Rosenthal, and Mitchell Rosenthal) that just so happens to own Irving Street Kitchen. Schafer jumped at the chance to come to PDX to open ISK. "My brother lives here," said Schafer. "And I've always liked visiting."
As for the city, Schafer says Portland has a comfortable "Brooklyn-meets-Boston" vibe that she identifies with. She says although it was not hard to leave San Francisco, it was hard to leave Anchor & Hope (to that end, she brought along three folks from that kitchen to help make her meat-centric meals in Portland). And even though she's busy in the kitchen, Schafer has wandered around town to the farmers markets ("amazing," she says) as well as Pok Pok, Gruner, and Navarre.
And as for any surprises she might be hiding up her chef's sleeve? "I am not here to win awards, I just want to make really good food," Schafer said. "I've been doing this for so long that I am relishing the simple style of cooking [ISK] gives me. I can always bring the foam out later."
· Irving Street Kitchen [Official site]
· All Previous Irving Street Kitchen Coverage [Eater PDX]