Matthew Lightner, who was cooking $65 evening-length art exhibits at SE Portland's Castagna in 2011, has earned two (out of three) Michelin stars for his restaurant Atera in New York City. Only seven restaurants in Manhattan currently hold three of Michelin's pretigious stars.

Lightner's shooting trajectory is a rare one indeed, especially for an outsider trying to crack New York's fierce fine-dining world. In less than seven months, in the world's most critically dissected food scene, Lightner's teeny Tribeca restaurant—and mandatory $150 tasting menu—has already raked in three (out of four) stars in the New York Times, a rave review in New York magazine, and high praise from the New Yorker's "Table for Two."

Ten days ago at Feast Portland, Lightner's sold-out dinner at downtown's Le Cordon Bleu left no doubt: he is the real deal, a true artist, with transformative ideas about nature cuisine, a visual acuity that hits you like a stun gun, and technical skills possessed by only a couple dozen chefs in America. And he's barely passed the 30-year-old mark. At the Thursday night dinner, pickled quail eggs in a ravishing "nest" of edible twigs followed by a vision of crackling, coal-black pig's-blood crackers with nesting huckleberry lard (there's no other way to describe the luxurious marriage of soft fat and wild, violet-hued berries) was only the beginning of a epic duet from Lightner and Charleston’s esteemed food rocker Sean Brock. A swooning guest at the next table vaulted the meal into her all-time Top 10. It really was that good.

But Lightner isn't resting on awards. As former Portland followers slapped his back last week, he told me: "You're only as good as your last meal. Doesn't matter what stars I got last week if I don't deliver this week. I need to keep pushing forward."

Read more in the New York Times.