I’m doing exactly what I want and hoping that people can feel it.
Naomi Pomeroy, 36
OVER THE PAST DECADE, Portland chefs have rotated through the buffet line of James Beard Award nominations and wins, national food magazine spreads, and New York Times ink. But no local chef has enjoyed more notoriety than Naomi Pomeroy of the Northeast Portland restaurant Beast. Schooled in cooking by her mother and by humble experiences stirring up dormitory meals for her Lewis & Clark College roomies (with ingredients stolen from the commons), Pomeroy has risen to do “truffle battle” with (and narrowly lose to) Iron Chef Jose Garces and cooked her way to a fourth-place finish on this year’s Top Chef Masters.
But celebrity is only one pursuit. Counting among her inspirations both pioneering chef Alice Waters and Burmese pro-democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi, Pomeroy reshaped Portland dining into a total, immersive experience. First came Family Supper, the living-room dinner club she founded in 2001 with then-husband Michael Hebb, and most recently Beast, a 24-seat room in which she and her longtime sous-chef, Mika Paredes, cook each course in the centrally open kitchen.
“There’s something powerful in integrity, a general sort of word I use to describe anybody that’s doing something that speaks true to themselves,” she says. “Whether it’s food or an art show, if it’s speaking to the person that’s creating the project, you can tell—if you’re paying attention.”
With a jeweler and thoracic surgeon for a father and grandfather, respectively, Pomeroy is meticulous and driven. “I don’t feel competitive with other chefs,” she says. “I want to beat myself at my own game.” Her greatest influence on how she shapes her dining experiences comes from her single mom’s ritually relaxed style of cooking and eating learned during her time in Lyon, France: simple ingredients served in three casually prepared meals every day, the final arriving at 9 p.m. with just the two of them savoring the food and talking late into the night. “I have a holistic view of the way that a system works,” she says. “It just translates somehow and leaves you with a feeling of being really taken care of.” That Pomeroy/Beast feeling has drawn diners ranging from former Gourmet editor Ruth Reichl to actress Drew Barrymore. A cigarette filter adorns Beast’s back refrigerator: one of many John Malkovich tore off his Marlboro Lights as he smoked between courses on a recent visit.
“It’s extremely personal,” she says of her food, which most nights includes a foie gras bonbon but can also come in the form of full-vegetarian meals. “It’s what I want to eat.” —Mike Thelin