Our scene opens on a bustling eatery. People are piling up, a line spilling out the door, growing restless. A coffee cup smashes on the ground. A child is crying. Suddenly, our heroine flies into action! Plate after plate comes pouring out of the kitchen, rapid fire! Patrons find their seats and appetites are sated, lickety-split! The food and drink are manna from heaven! Thanks to our intrepid heroine, THE DAY IS SAVED!
It doesn’t take an epic saga or backstory to tell you that women have been slaying in the service industry since long before the restaurant was invented. Here are the all-stars who make Portland go SHAZAM.
Bonnie Morales, “The Iron Curtain”
Super Dish: Herring Under a Fur Coat, the zakuski that started it all.
Motivation: My mom. Almost every dish starts with a phone call to her to talk about how she would do it. Sometimes I’ll do the exact opposite of what she says, but still, she’s always in my head. More broadly, my cooking is inspired by a deep desire to preserve and pay respect to the food I grew up eating.
Superpower: Juggling. Managing a restaurant, opening two new concepts this year, a vodka, a cookbook, and two kids.
Nemesis: Plating tweezers.
Megan Sanchez, “The Toreadora”
Super Dish: Refrito torta.
Motivation: I work really closely with two other superheroes: my partner Alec, and the ultimate superheroine, our manager Audrey. They keep me sane and make me think running two businesses is possible, even fun. They are passionate and have just ridiculous work ethics that I will forever aspire to.
Superpower: You would not believe what I can do with Saran Wrap. I could wrap loose soup wrinkle-free and airtight.
Nemesis: The “Motivation Team” from my gym. They keep leaving pep talks on my answering machine and calling to see if I’m still alive.
Kristen Murray, “The Power Luncheonette Lady”
Super Dish: Black pepper cheesecake.
Motivation: Context inspires me—the people in my life, my travels, farmers, the history of a tradition of a dish and the culture it celebrates; to create something new, to reinvent something better, and to understand something tried and true.
Superpower: My ability to embrace a task, a challenge, or an assembly out of the box. I have always had more of a creative architectural or engineering talent versus a wealth of resources.
Nemesis: Those that lack imagination, faith, and embrace negativity. In the words of Emily Dickinson: “I dwell in possibility.”
Naomi Pomeroy, “The Beast”
Super Dish: Foie gras bonbon.
Motivation: The weather, the season, in particular the produce itself, the farmers. EARTH.
Superpower: Volume estimation. I can guess how big a container just about anything will fit in! Maybe I should enter one of those “How many jellybeans are in this jar?” contests!
Nemesis: The sound of a metal scrubby scratching on a metal pan. I have to ask the dishwashers to do it outside!
Gabrielle Quinonez Denton, “The Meat Maven”
Ox and Superbite
Super Dish: Asado Argentino (platter with grilled skirt steak, short ribs, sweetbreads, and house morcilla and chorizo sausages with chimichurri).
Motivation: My inspiration usually comes in the form of an ingredient and a memory.
Superpower: My keen sense of smell.
Nemesis: Rancid nuts, oils, flours. They’ll ruin an otherwise perfect dish.
Maya Lovelace, “The Southern (Bar)Belle”
Super Dish: Chicken, fried in three kinds of fats.
Motivation: My cooking is inspired equally by history and nature. A very inspiring day looks like a walk through the farmers market in the morning and an afternoon buried in books.
Superpower: I feel a little like a medium sometimes. I pull stories from the past, channel them into an experience, and invite people into it.
Nemesis: The industrial food complex. I can’t face this nemesis alone, and I’m lucky to be part of a giant network of chefs who are all are fighting the good fight with me.
Ha Luu, “Auntie Depressant”
Rose VL Deli and HA VL Sandwich
Super Dish: Soup. (All are sublime, we like the chicken curry and the turmeric noodles best.)
Superpower: Bringing soul-quenching homestyle Vietnamese cooking to the masses.
Motivation: To live up to the exacting standards of her 107-year-old mother-in-law, who taught her to cook.
Nemesis: People who leave the bathroom messy. (Her husband has to clean up that shit, you know.)
Cathy Whims, “Invincible Italian”
Nostrana, Oven and Shaker, and Hamlet
Super Dish: Insalata Nostrana.
What inspires your cooking? Discovering and eating authentic unique dishes in non-touristy towns in Italy.
Superpower: My drive to travel. I continue to find inspiration in Italian cuisine no matter how busy or overworked I feel.
Nemesis: Unhealthy fast food.
Katy Millard, “The Amazing Auteur”
Super Dish: Roast chicken for sharing.
Motivation: The seasons. Fruits and vegetables tell us when they want to be eaten, because they are most delicious when they are in season. Then I look to my food memories or travels, or things I’ve seen or read to make it all make sense.
Superpower: I’m still hoping to discover one!
Nemesis: Mediocrity... and the industrial food system that peddles it.
Lisa Schroeder, “The Godmother”
Power Symbol: Chicken and dumplings.
Superpower: EFFICIENCY—no wasted movements!
Motivation: I want to feed as many people as I can in my lifetime.
Nemesis: People who don’t own their shit.
Nong Poonsukwattana, “Captain Kind-Heart”
Nong’s Khao Man Gai
Super Dish: Chicken and rice. (What else?)
Superpower: Gratitude and kindness.
Motivation: Michonne from The Walking Dead.
Nemesis: Bad people.
Kate Bolton, “The Magnetic Mixologist”
Power Symbol: Hummingbird.
Superpower: Telepathy. I usually always know what people are thinking and what they want.
Motivation: I feel a great responsibility to strive to be a leader, a role model, and a source of strength for my family, my mentors, and especially for the amazing people I have worked with along the way. The people who drive me to be a superheroine are the people who already believe I am one.
Nemesis: Bar olives. And dirty martinis. Without a doubt.
Sarah Hart, “Chocolate Reign”
Super Dish: Thai peanut butter cup.
Superpower: Chocolate telepathy. The chocolate tells me the interesting flavors it wants to be combined with.
Motivation: Honoring the food of the gods. People live and die over cacao, so I want to make the best possible version of whatever it is we make by using great ingredients and the best chocolate we can get.
Nemesis: Waxy, googly-eyed chocolate Easter bunnies.