Matthew Lightner has not only cooked in some of the country’s best restaurants; he’s cooked in some of the world’s. From Mugaritz in Spain to Tribeca’s Atera, Lightner has sliced and seared his way through countless Michelin-starred kitchens, landing a spot on Food & Wine’s Best New Chefs list in 2010. But in Oregon, Lightner is best known as the former chef of Castagna, where he wrapped Chinook salmon in lardo, swiped plates with black garlic, and poached halibut in ricotta whey.
Soon, Lightner will begin cooking in Oregon once again — this time, in wine country. This summer, the Tributary Hotel will open in McMinnville, also home Lightner’s incoming tasting menu restaurant Ōkta.
Those who ate at Castagna during Lightner’s tenure (between 2009 and 2011) will find a familiar style of cooking at Ōkta: Hyper-focused on seasonal ingredients, Lightner will source produce from the 26-seat restaurant’s own farm, seven miles away from the hotel. What doesn’t grow at Ōkta’s farm will come from other Oregon farmers, ranchers, and producers, transformed into fine dining courses. Katie Boeh, the farmer behind the now-closed Fox & Bear on Sauvie Island, will spearhead the restaurant’s farm, but what the team will plant remains under wraps.
“We’re starting from the ground up, in every sense,” he says. “If we want to breed creativity, and really express the area, it has to start with that. ... The food will change, ideas will evolve, but ethos really doesn’t.”
Katie Jackson and Shaun Kajiwara, of large-scale wine company Jackson Family Wines, will partner with Lightner on the project, taking over a 100-year-old building in downtown McMinnville. Ron Acierto — formerly of the gone-too-soon Bar Muselet, the food-and-wine pop-up Pinoy Noir, and wine country behemoth Jory — will be the restaurant’s beverage director. “He has even more passion than I do for the area, which is crazy,” Lightner says.
Jackson, Kajiwara, and Lightner have been working on this project for around two years, but opening a true Willamette Valley restaurant has been a dream of Lightner’s for years. He arrived in Oregon in 1998, after growing up reading Alain Ducasse books in Nebraska. “I thought I’d go live in France,” Lightner says. “But then I found the Pacific Northwest. There was all this Provençal cooking happening here.” He left Oregon to work in New York and California, but also settled down: He now has kids, and hopes to replant his roots in the Pacific Northwest.
“This has always been my home,” he says. “It has this abundance of soul to it. There’s this mystery, and it just — I find it fascinating. I always have.”
The restaurant and hotel will open at 618 NE 3rd Street in the summer of 2022.
Updated Wednesday, April 13, 2022, at 11:15 a.m.: This story has been updated to include comment from Lightner, as well as information regarding the farmer and beverage director for Okta.