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“I don’t ever think about it. If you do, it’ll just make you mad.” So says chef Sara Hauman, one of the Portland culinary scene’s freshest faces. She’s worked at three Michelin-starred restaurants in the Bay Area, was named an Eater “Young Gun” in 2015, and now runs the burners at Arden Wine Bar & Kitchen, the women-owned-and-operated restaurant which recently held a soft opening in the former location of the Pearl’s Coppia (née Vino Paradiso). That comment alone conveys how hard it is for women chefs to work—let alone shine—in an industry mainly built by men.
“It’s harder for women than it is for men, and it always will be,” Hauman says. “And, yes, it has changed—but it’s always going to be harder for women.”
Indeed, she wouldn’t have landed her previous job as lead chef at San Francisco’s Octavia if it weren’t for that double standard. Octavia’s owner, Melissa Perello, was a regular of Hauman’s when she ran the kitchen at Huxley, and was so taken with her style of cooking that she asked Hauman to take the reins at Octavia for a reason that many chefs will instantly recognize: Perello needed time off to plan her wedding, a luxury many women chefs can’t take advantage of, unless they’re owners.
“Most male chefs in San Francisco have a girlfriend or a wife, but most female chefs don’t have partners—I think that says a lot,” she adds. “It’s not conducive to having a family, and if you want a family, just count yourself out.”
In a world in which San Pellegrino offers a listicle of the globe’s best chefs, but also names, separately, the best “female” chef, Hauman says we still have a long way to go. In the meantime, however, she wants her cooking to do the talking, and she’s got a small but impressive team on board: Sous Hannah Johnston (Century) assists in the kitchen while Kelsey Glasser and Alex Marchesini, the power couple who opened Thelonious Wines in the summer of 2016, cover the front of the house.
Needless to say, it’s hard work with long hours.
“If I don’t work a minimum of 12 hours a day, then the food’s not going to be the quality I want. Other chefs might delegate from afar and they probably have a better personal life than I do,” she says, laughing.
Hauman describes her cuisine as “rustic” and influenced by recipes from old cookbooks. She cooks what she likes: “simple foods, classic combos, stuff that’s comforting, relatable.”
And you never really know what you’re going to get, because Arden’s small open kitchen rotates dishes in and out on a daily basis.
Recent dishes have included burrata with sorrel, asparagus, morels, brown butter, and almonds; roasted duck breast with fava greens, pistachio, and rhubarb; smoked Persephone beets with sesame labneh and hazelnut dukkah; and porcini black pudding with black trumpet mushrooms, a fried egg, and stinging nettles. The restaurant’s four-course prix fixe dinners start at 5 pm, and the à la carte lounge menu starts at 4 pm.
Glasser says she suspects that Hauman’s wine-centric prix fixe dinners will earn her a spot in Portland’s pantheon of notable chefs. She was happily convinced after she and Marchesini flew down to San Francisco late last year to dine at Octavia after Hauman applied for the position online.
And while Hauman makes no bones about moving to Portland to eventually start her own restaurant—the start-up costs in San Francisco are, you guessed it, prohibitive—Glasser says she hopes to make her a partner, and plans to one day give all her employees ownership in the business.
“We want people to be happy and to want to stay here,” Glasser says. “With an open kitchen, there’s no real divide between the back and front of the house, because we share the same room.”
The big picture, they say, is to provide the kind of work environment where the staff isn’t there 12 hours a day, six days a week—a frenzied schedule which can lead to cuts and burns, because they’re moving too fast.
Hauman says she also wants to run her kitchen the way her better bosses did: humbly. She’s worked with enough “My way is the right way” chefs to know how unpleasant an experience it is. The opening menu may be solely of her own design, but going forward, she wants the kitchen team to dream up their own dishes, too.
“I want everyone to have a voice,” she says. “It’s a team effort. When you don’t allow yourself to adapt [to others’ input], you’re doing yourself a major disservice.”
Until then, Hauman says she’s going to keep her head down and let her food find its way into Portland’s hearts and mouths. In fact, it’ll be down so low, she won’t even care if you mistake line cook Justin Ramirez as the head chef. (This happened with great frequency at Huxley, where Hauman worked alongside a male sous—which is how she learned to let such slights roll off her back.) Just don’t ask her if she likes her job because she’s not smiling while concentrating on making sure your food is just right—because yes, that’s happened, too.