When Kin restaurant opened in the former Holden's Bistro space earlier this spring, it did so with little fanfare, despite the accolades (including a Food & Wine Best New Chef nod) once showered on its owner/head chef Kevin Shikami, a recent transplant from Chicago.
And that's totally how Shikami wanted it. "I wanted to open quietly," he laughs. "If you start big, it doesn't feel right... You have to grow into your space. It takes me a while to figure out the feel of the kitchen, and the feeling of all the purveyors. And I have to learn and be focused and get an idea of what the restaurant can do."
So what brought you from Chicago to Portland?
I had been in Chicago for many years, and we took a year off — my wife and I backpacked through Southeast Asia, then went out to South America, to Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia. And then you come back to Chicago and you realize, 'I just can't be here.' So, we were looking for someplace that had more nature to it. And we were thinking of either the big island or Portland. And we came here to Portland last April, and people here — people are so nice out here. We decided on the first day we were moving here. It's like anything — when you feel it, not to go for that feeling is wrong. We love it here. We love the hiking, the farms, everything.
What was your take on the food scene, when you first visited?
I love the fact that everything — people want, and pretty much demand organic food, farm-to-table stuff. They want better quality ingredients in their food... [The demand for organic] is a different kind in Chicago. You're in the city, and there's no connection to a farm in the city. Your window of farmer's markets is so much shorter in Chicago than in Portland, not to mention the fact that your fishermen are right here, you can just go and collect mushrooms everywhere [in Portland]. It's crazy.
So had Portland's organic scene influenced the way you cook? What's your approach to Kin's menu? It looks sorta Asian fusion meets seafood.
Basically we're serving — we change the menu all the time — it's kind of half-and-half. Basically it all depends on what I have in-house. And that's the way I like to cook: What I can find, what I can bring in, and then figure out ways to make each item stand out. It is a lot of Asian — my training is French and Asian, so I have a lot of French technique. And I mix that with Asian because I love the way that Asian is so clean and so crisp, and I love French technique. I hardly ever use cream at all, unless it's desserts, and I don't use much in the way of butter. Just a lot of natural, clean flavors with a little spice here, herbs, that's the way I like to cook.
And are Portland's foodies as nice as the folks you met on your first visit?
People have been really happy for the most part. It's interesting in Portland. It seems like — I've never had so many people take pictures of my food. [laughs]
· Kin [Official site]