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She Glows: A Q/A with Chef Jenn Louis

Recognized by Food & Wine Magazine as one of the Best New Chefs of 2012 and author of new cookbook, Pasta By Hand (with a glowing forward by the one and only Mario Batali), our conversation touched on the necessary evolution of feminism, what it’s like to be a female chef, and the value of lifelong learning and positivity. Jenn is an outstanding example of a successful and thoughtful human actualizing her dreams. Read on, and be inspired!

Updated July 10, 2015 by Erika Damboise

She Glows: A Q/A with Chef Jenn Louis

Be it in the arts, music, food, beauty, or somewhere in-between, our She Glows features celebrate women who are carving out a niche for themselves, and doing it fearlessly. We caught up with the bad-ass and amazingly humble Jenn Louis, owner of two Portland hot-spots, Lincoln Restaurant and Sunshine Tavern. Recognized by Food & Wine Magazine as one of the Best New Chefs of 2012 and author of new cookbook, Pasta By Hand (with a glowing forward by the one and only Mario Batali), our conversation touched on the necessary evolution of feminism, what it’s like to be a female chef, and the value of lifelong learning and positivity. Jenn is an outstanding example of a successful and thoughtful human actualizing her dreams. Read on, and be inspired!


What does it take to be a successful entrepreneur, especially when first starting out?

You have to be fearless, take chances, and you can’t live within a box. You have to be willing to listen to other people, look at other ideas, and know that you have to continually have to because you can’t do the same thing forever. It’s really important to be open to being flexible.


What is your #1 mentoring tip for female entrepreneurs, young girls in school or women graduating from high school?

I think every girl is very different. I had many challenges coming up as a female chef, growing through my earlier years for sure. I’d say, get the best education you can. If you have the opportunity for college, do it. You can push yourself to make that happen for you. Also, don’t feel limited. I grew up in a very conservative family, and there were certain things that were considered acceptable and unacceptable to pursue for a career. But, there aren’t those limits. Yes, it’s harder for girls...we’re not taught a lot of confidence growing, you have to decide you’re going to work through it, and if you want to do something, you have to just do it—no one is going to do it for you. Build your confidence, go for it...and be sure to surround yourself with people who are really great.



What's your superpower as a boss?

I’m a good teacher. I really like to teach and I also believe that every person who comes through my door, no matter what level they’re at as a chef, they have something to teach me. I really like to learn. And I like to provide learning opportunities for my staff. We all get to become more talented as we learn every day.



Creativity / Innovation / Philosophy / Respect 


Do you think the culinary arts and the foodie scene is male dominated? For women going for a career in the culinary arts, and really, for women in general, how does one succeed in a male dominated field? What skillsets and perspectives are needed to succeed in a male dominated industry? 

Absolutely I do. Yes, it’s male dominated. There are many more male chefs than female chefs. It’s a big question and debate. And I’ve seen more men come through my door who are more qualified as applicants than female. I’ve seen more women who come out of culinary school go the route of catering, personal chefs or bakers and you’d have to ask them their reasoning for this. What I can say is: it’s a hard job as a female chef for many, many reasons. I love my professional male counterparts...and it does change a lot as you grow up the professional ladder as far as being a woman in the field. 


You have a new book out, Pasta By Hand. Tell us - why focus on this sole ingredient and the act/art of making hand-shaped traditional pastas and dumplings?

It was totally on accident. When I opened my first restaurant, Lincoln, with my husband, I wanted to make everything by scratch and by hand. We started hand making making pasta—fettuccine, rigatoni, stuffed ravioli, gnocchi. I really like to learn. So, I started to research all pasta. I researched pasta that was similar to gnocchi, but was not gnocchi...and what I discovered was there was a category that I defined as dumpling, but there’s no word for dumpling in Italian, and their cuisine is very regional. So, this book is an investigation of this form of pasta in Italy. #DumplingsAreNotJustChineseFood is a hashtag I use in relation to this knowledge I gained while making this book. The book launch has been amazing. In two months I’ve sold over 12,000 copies. It’s a book that provides simple and clear tips and also dives deeper into the history of making pasta by hand, and provides information about the people I encountered who taught me their techniques.



Mario Batali wrote the forward to your book. We recently saw this quote on your Facebook and your website. “In all my years of traveling similar roads doing similar-minded research to Jenn’s, I have never encountered such a magnificent single-topic cookbook as Pasta by Hand.”“For me, Pasta by Hand will be a marker, a moment in time, from which I will forever measure a renewal of my passion as a chef. It has given new breath to my life's project and my search for deliciousness and authentic foods that are expressions of joy and love in a pot or on a plate."

He’s a great colleague and has been really, really supportive. It was a crazy wonderful feeling to read what he wrote; I melted, it was one the greatest compliments I’ve ever received. 


How has art and nature influenced you as a person and as your career as a chef? We’d love to learn more about how the idea of fun, the PNW ethos, and the seasons influence your cooking. 

I studied at Pitzer College with a triple major in Environmental Studies, Religious Studies, and Women’s Studies. In Oregon we have access to fresh meat, vegetables and fruit. I think it’s really important to think about eating local or eating farm direct produce and it really comes down to eating food that travels the least amount of miles, and eating food that’s harvested within the seasons. What’s important is that it tastes good, is good for you, and that you are supporting your community. 



Sweet Success. We’d love to learn more about what it was like to gain pretty epic success so early as your career as a chef. In 2012 you were recognized by Food & Wine Magazine as one of the best Best New Chefs of 2012.  What was going through your mind when you found out about this nomination, and how did this recognition impact your career?

It was awesome and a total surprise. I got a wonderful phone call from Dana Cowin, Food & Wine Magazine’s Editor in Chief.  When she told me that I was selected to be one of the Best New Chefs of 2012, I didn’t know what it was, or the depth of what this was going to do for my career. It has given me the ability meet and be influenced by a lot of people and a lot well traveled people, the opportunity to travel extensively and learn, taste things I wouldn’t have normally have tasted, and cook with many talented and accomplished people. I told Dana recently, “you have given me a great opportunity and I wouldn’t have had this opportunity otherwise and it’s shaping the rest of my career.” Before the award, I had a successful restaurant and was cooking in my kitchen in NE Portland. She gave me the opportunity to think a lot bigger. It opened up a whole new world for me. 




If you could have a dinner party with 3 female artists, icons, politicians, authors, wellness aficionados, spiritual leaders, or any person alive today or not, who would they be and why?

That’s a tough one. That’s a hard question for me because I try hard to gain value out of everybody. Everyone that crosses your have something to learn from, whether it be someone who is delivering something to you to one of your customers. Cooking for people is wonderful, but I learn from people literally everywhere. I try to make a habit of being aware enough that all the people that I come across have value other whether they’re famous or not. 


How do you define beauty? What’s your “beauty philosophy?”  

I love this question. I just wrote an article, it’s not published yet, but it included a Ted Talk by author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, called “We should all be feminists.” Beyonce quotes Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in her song Flawless and it’s a cool and beautiful talk. Absolutely watch it! 

I didn’t start wearing makeup until I was 40. Through writing this article and watching the Ted Talk...and in thinking about your earlier question about being female in a professional kitchen...I would like to think of feminism as humanism, not see it as applied to women or men, but as a topic that’s relevant to all of us. 

To me, being feminine means: wearing makeup if that makes you feel good, being strong in your body and your mind, being a thoughtful person, and taking care of your body inside and out.  I would like people to see those things as feminine, and for women to not to be afraid of those things. It’s about having physical and emotional strength as well as success—this, too is feminine—feminimity is not just dress and makeup. 

It’s an important time to continue developing the concept of feminism in a positive light and including everyone; it’s not a female issue, it’s a human issue. 


What are the 5 life rituals you do daily to stay happy and healthy?

- I work out 6 days a week—cardio and work with a trainer.

- I eat a balanced diet and don’t rule anything out (like food restrictions, etc).

- Humor is a big part of my life. I’ll watch late night comedy before I go to bed so I can end my day with something positive and funny. 

- I try to stay positive. I think that positivity breeds more success than negativity. I think if you look around you’ll see that successful people are really positive. I would say that the glass isn’t just half full, it’s always full! 

- Sometimes times are tough and it’s important to see the other side of that. We all go through tough times, and we forget that even during that tough times, there are always good things happening. The tough times and bad will be there, but it’s important to not to overlook the good, because then you’ll miss out on it.



Who’s on your playlist right now?

Nicki Minaj is on my Pandora right now and in my car I listen to Beachhouse, it’s really beautiful music. 


What blog, Instagram account or Tumblr inspires you the most?

I like to follow chefs on instagram, I learn alot from them. I love using instagram. It’s a positive platform where people are posting things that make them happy and people post things they are passionate about. 


We see a recurring feline on your instagram account. Tell us about your fabulous feline. 

I have three really, really cool cats we got from the Humane Society!



The Future


What’s next for Jenn Louis?

I’m doing my book tour, and I just started my second book. I have some really cool international trips and collaborations coming in Vietnam and one in Italy. There’s some good learning ahead of me. BTW: Thanks for this lovely interview. Your questions were very thoughtful and really complete.


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