As we’ve noted before, being a chef means being a member of a world that prides itself on collaboration, the free sharing of ideas and tips, and the sheer joy its members feel when they create dishes that are admired and appreciated by those who they respect. Many chefs have no problem expressing their admiration for another chef’s work, because the community is so tightly-knit. But when all is said and done, most chefs tend to focus on their own creations without much outside help; Sarah Pliner, however, is the exception to the rule.
Along with her partners Jasper Shen and Katherine Whitehead, Sarah is one third of the culinary minds behind Aviary, one of the most well-respected and awarded restaurants in Portland, and her work earned her a nomination for a James Beard Foundation award for “Best Chef: Northwest” in 2015. Given Sarah’s unorthodox approach to creating dishes in a collaborative environment, it should come as no surprise that she entered the culinary world in a similarly unorthodox manner: Sarah taught herself how to cook. Drawing on the advice of her mentors Philippe Boulot and Michael Clancy, Sarah worked in a variety of kitchens to hone her craft, including at Alain Ducasse at the Essex House, Aquavit and Aldea in New York City (where she met Jasper and Katherine), and The Heathman in Portland.
Specialties & Resources
Given Sarah’s extensive training in French kitchens, you might expect the menu at Aviary to consist largely of traditional French cuisine. However, Sarah and her partners have combined their unique backgrounds to create a New American menu that draws in their individual culinary influences, and the offerings are much more well-rounded as a result.
Menu items include shigoku oysters with tomato granite and horseradish; Japanese eggplant with tomato miso, aji Amarillo and dill; prawn salad with snap peas, coconut, cara cara oranges, jalapeno and taro root crisp; roasted cauliflower & haricots verts with yuzukosho vinaigrette, shiso, salted duck egg and hazelnuts; fried chicken skin salad with watermelon, bitter greens and baba ganoush; crispy amaranth-crusted sweetbreads with lychees, lime, summer squash, and black olive oil; slow-roasted goose with smoke maitakes, green papaya, thai chile vinaigrette and chocolate mint; sticky rice cakes with spicy chile glaze, asparagus, morels, buffalo mozzarella and black sesame; charred octopus with molten ricotta pudding, broccoli rabe and red curry jus, and braised beef brisket with buckwheat soba noodles, daikon, fermented black beans, watermelon radish and peanuts.
It’s no surprise that Aviary has been so well-received, and it’s a sure bet that we’ll be hearing more from Sarah and her partners for a long time to come.