The 2010 James Beard finalists were announced today in New Orleans, and Portland fared extremely well, dominating the Best Chef Northwest category. Portland chefs Cathy Whims, (Nostrana) Naomi Pomeroy (Beast), and Andy Ricker (Pok Pok, Ping, Whiskey Soda Lounge, Foster Burger) comprised three of the five spots while our own Gabe Rucker of Le Pigeon snagged a coveted spot on the short list of the national category for Rising Star Chef. Other Northwest nominees include prolific and talented Seattle-ite Ethan Stowell (Union, How to Cook a Wolf, Tavolata, and his newest Anchovies and Olives) and Crush Chef Jason Wilson, also of Seattle. I’m proud to see three nominees from my home city. And while I would be happy if any of these fine people were to win, I strongly believe that a victory to our own Cathy Whims is far overdue.
Whims has been cooking in Portland kitchens for three decades, and between her legendary tenure as owner and chef of Genoa and as the head honcho at her current restaurant Nostrana, chefs who have worked under Cathy include the city’s best: Jerry Huisinga of Bar Mingo, Kevin Gibson of EVOE (founding chef at Castagna), Tommy Habetz of Bunk Sandwiches, Alton Garcia formerly of Broder, John Taboada of Navarre, Adam Berger of Ten 01 and Tabla plus many, many more. While Portlanders are right to talk about Zefiro as a harbinger for Portland’s rise as a food town, I will argue that Genoa’s under Whims was the most influential kitchen in the history of the city. Zefiro’s success represented a changing city with increasingly sophisticated tastes while Genoa was the incubator for the honest, rustic, and regionally devoted-style of cooking for which Portland has become renowned.
Whims’ current project Nostrana is a different animal compared with Genoa, but it is equally adored by many. Karen Brooks was right to name Nostrana the Oregonian’s Restaurant of the Year back in 2006. In that article, Brooks rightly states; "Nobody has done more to bring authentic Italian cooking to Portland than Whims," and, "it’s rare to find food this accomplished and this affordable."
There you have it. Congrats to everyone.