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Outside at Le Pigeon

Portland’s Culinary Pioneers Both Past and Present

Portland has long cemented its reputation as one of the country’s best food cities and a sort of holy grail destination for those looking to eat well—and often. With this knowledge, it’s important to take a more in-depth look at the culinary pioneers who have paved the way for the long roster of the city’s current outstanding restaurants.

Naomi Pomeroy: Owner and head chef at the restaurant Beast
She opened the restaurant in 2007 with no formal culinary or business training. Pomeroy began cooking at a very young age and continued to closely watch other professionals within the food and hospitality industry. Pomeroy was listed by Food & Wine Magazine in 2009 as one of America’s Top 10 Best New Chefs, recognized in 2010 in an issue of Marie Claire as one of the 10 Most Powerful Women In Business. In 2014, she won the James Beard Foundation Award for Best Chef Northwest. Pomeory also previously appeared and competed on Iron Chef and served as a guest judge in 2014 on the television series Knife Fight. Pomeroy also opened NE cocktail bar Expatriate in 2013 with her husband, Kyle Linden Webster. She published her first cookbook, Taste & Technique: Recipes to Elevate your Home Cooking in 2016. She then opened Colibri, a floral studio and meeting space in NE Portland in 2017.

Cathy Whims: Chef and owner of Nostrana
In 2005 she opened Nostrana with her husband David West. Previously, Whims was the co-owner of Portland’s Italian restaurant, Genoa. She has spent a lot of her life studying, cooking and traveling with food professionals in Italy and remains extremely loyal to all things Italian cuisine. She teaches a hands-on gnocchi class and has helped curate the annual Oregon Maialata—a festival of the pig for the last decade. Whims has been nominated for Best Chef, Northwest by the James Beard Foundation six times and received The Oregonian’s Restaurant of the Year in 2006. Nostrana has been featured in many national magazines such as The New York Times Travel magazine, Sunset, Food & Wine, Gourmet, The Northwest Palate, Esquire, Italian Cooking and Living, and Cosmopolitan.

Vitaly Paley: Owner and Head Chef of Paley’s Place, The Crown by Imperial, Headwaters and Rosa Rosa
He and his wife Kimberly Paley have been pillars of the Portland restaurant scene since 1995, when they first opened Paley’s Place on NW 21st Ave. Vitaly earned the James Beard Foundation’s Best Chef Pacific Northwest award in 2005 and was a James Beard Foundation semifinalist for Outstanding Chef in 2012 and 2013. Vitaly and Kimberly published their first cookbook, The Paley’s Place Cookbook: Recipes and Stories from the Pacific Northwest in 2008. Paley was named the 2011 Portland Rising Stars "Chef Mentor of the Year,” exemplifying his dedication to giving back to the culinary community. He also participated and won while on an episode of the Food Network’s Iron Chef television show. Paley was named Portland Monthly’s Chef of the Year in 2012. Imperial was named one of 2013’s Top 11 Barbecue and Grill Restaurants in the Nation by the Huffington Post and one of Food & Wine’s Best New Bars in America in 2013.

Gabe Rucker: Co-Owner and Executive Chef of Le Pigeon and Canard
He is a two-time James Beard award winner, and is lauded for his original, edgy and often recipe-free masterpieces evocative of French bistro signatures and classic American fare. In 2003, he got a job in the kitchen at Paley’s Place and two years later joined the Gotham Building Tavern as Sous Chef. Then in 2006, Rucker opened his first restaurant, Le Pigeon. It became an instant hot spot destination for those looking for an exceptional dining experience. In 2011, Rucker opened Little Bird Bistro in downtown Portland with his business partner Andrew Fortgang, which went on to win The Oregonian’s 2012 Restaurant of the Year. Then in 2018, Rucker’s newest restaurant, Canard, opened next door to Le Pigeon, offering three different menus for all-day service, French bar food and a wine program. Canard also received a Best New Restaurant James Beard Award nomination and was named Portland Monthly and The Oregonian’s Restaurant of the Year, as well as a mention in both Thrillist and Eater’s 18 Best New Restaurants in 2018 lists. In October of 2019, however, Little Bird closed its doors to the general public, leaving Le Pigeon and Canard as the remaining two ventures for Rucker.

John Gorham: Co-Owner of restaurant and design group Toro Bravo Inc
Executive chef and owner of Toro Bravo, Tasty n Daughters, Tasty n Alder, PLAZA DEL TORO and co-owner of Shalom Y’all, Bless Your Heart Burgers and Mediterranean Exploration Company. Gorham also has two cookbooks, The Toro Bravo Cookbook: Stories. Recipes. No Bull and Hello! My Name Is Tasty: Global Diner Favorites from Portland’s Tasty Restaurants. Gorham celebrates a range of global cuisines at his influential restaurants; each with a unique identity but all embodying the quintessential Portland dining experience of family-style dishes, house-made charcuterie and seasonal sustainably sourced ingredients. Gorham believes that a chef’s cuisine and style is influenced by a trade route composed of travels, past work and cities called home. The Gorham’s restaurant group, Toro Bravo Inc., was formed with the desire to help energize Portland’s restaurant panorama. Each restaurant within the group has its own varying cuisine, character, design and high-quality products. Gorham is responsible for the design of these spaces and has always sought to create original and inviting spaces, which make meals a social act filled with pleasure and meaning.

Other notable Portland chef and restaurant luminaries: