One of the best parts of living in Portland is experiencing the diverse and amazing restaurants that we have in our amazing city. With so many different things to try and explore, as well as so many things that allow everyone to feel like they can do something new, Portland is certainly home to some of the best new restaurants on the scene. This week’s guest on the podcast is no exception — Jenn Louis is a local and national celebrity, and her critically acclaimed skills in the kitchen making her among the very best in the business!
This week, she’s here to talk to me about her new restaurant, Ray. Based on Israeli and Middle Eastern cuisine, Ray is something bold and new on the Portland scene. Together, Jenn and I talk about what kind of food her restaurant offers, some of her favorite dishes, and why Ray is so unique, and inspiring not only for our local area but in the long run as well. Let’s get started!
IN THIS EPISODE YOU WILL LEARN:
- What to expect when you drop into Ray! It’s a casual restaurant that speaks to the experiences Jenn had in Israel. She took a trip there 2 years ago and, at her old restaurant, started making dishes that incorporated her favorite recipes as specials. With how interesting the flavors were, and with a cuisine that isn’t understood very well due to its location, Jenn decided to close her former restaurant, and reopen it in March as Ray!
- Jenn talks to us about how Ray fits into the Portland scene. She’s had several businesses before and has been self-employed for 17 years. As such, she’s very aware of what’s happening in the market, what she wants to be a part of, and what appeals to her. Portlanders eat differently, Jenn explains, and being casual is more important to how we live our lives! The Mediterranean and Middle Eastern way of eating match that sort of flow, therefore Ray is a natural progression in that direction! Portlanders also love big flavors, and these flavors are vibrant, rich, intense, and varied — they compliment the lifestyle we enjoy.
- Jenn talks to us about how her menu is food for everyone! Admittedly, she didn’t think too much about things like dietary restrictions before opening, but the way the menu panned out, it fits in very well with people who are gluten free, dairy free, vegetarian, and vegan! There are options for everyone that give you the same bold and rich flavors that Jenn boasts about in a way that doesn’t complicate your personal needs. It’s not a cuisine for the timid, she says, but there is something for everyone.
- Jenn explains the ambiance of the restaurant, stating that all are welcome! One of the biggest goals in opening Ray was being inclusive, and a place for everyone to visit. With big, round tables that seat 8 – 10, with Lazy Susan’s in the middle to share big dishes between guests, the restaurant is very group friendly. For date night, events, or just a night on the town with people you care about, Ray is the place to be!
- As a local and national celebrity, Jenn talks about her experiences in the media and the world. She doesn’t consider herself much of a celebrity, and is still very much a hard working person with a job she loves, and dedicates much of her time to. Because of her celebrity, however, she’s had amazing opportunities, where she experienced wonderful things! Winning Best New Chef from Food and Wine in 2012 was definitely a good launching pad for her career, and that combined with being on Top Chef Masters definitely gave her chances to travel, and experience food in lots of different cultures.
- Jenn talks to us about the way things work in the kitchen. She’s the head chef, with two people underneath her — she oversees the bigger picture while they cook in the kitchen. There’s also a row of line cooks that work under them, and so on with the way the staff extends. Kitchens are a hierarchy, Jenn says, which works well due to always having someone there to teach you new things, and keep an eye on you as things progress. They all work together as a team for ideas, problem-solving, and doing a better job.
- Jenn goes through some restaurant basics with us, starting with stating that they do catering and event planning for things like weddings, holiday parties, and special events! Additionally, Jenn tells us that every month, Ray hosts a different cultural dinner that highlights a different group from Israel! So far, they’ve covered Syria, and Tunisia, and plan on doing Persia next. Jenn then explains where the name of the restaurant comes from, stating that “ray” comes from “ray of sunshine”—Jenn thinks we all need a little extra love right now, and Israel is often a place that’s misunderstood. As such, they have a sign in the back that says “welcome” in English, Israeli, and Arabic.
- Lastly, Jenn talks to us about her logo! She worked with a local branding team to create something that reflected the “ray of sunshine” motif, as well as used influences from Middle Eastern Culture in their art! As such, mosaic tiles and bright colors are used to give Ray their image.
LINKS MENTIONED IN THIS EPISODE:
Did Jenn not get to answer a burning question on your mind? No problem! You can get ahold of Jenn at here or through any of the social media listed above. You can tell in Jenn’s voice just how much passion she has for the things she does, and Ray means so much to her in terms of the food they create, and the atmosphere they’re successfully providing with warmth, and inclusion towards all!