INTERVIEW : NAOMI POMEROY OF BEAST - JULIA CHILD’S 100TH BIRTHDAY
At this point, neither Julia Child nor Naomi Pomeroy really need an introduction. Naomi’s Beast in Portland, Oregon, and the spectacular food she serves there, have catapulted her to a solid seat among culinary greats from every generation and culture. She is one of the most genuine, hard-working, creative, ambitious and inspiring people we know — a lot like Our Lady of the Ladle herself. On Julia’s 100th birthday, we were privileged to get a few words from Naomi (while prepping for tonight’s prix-fixe) about cucumbers, love and one of her icons.
Did Julia Child have an influence on you as a kid?
Totally. My mom sas raised in a Southern California household with a mom whose idea of dinner was unseasoned turkey and iceberg salad. In 1968, my mom moved to Corvallis to attend OSU. As an 18 year old, finally free from her mom’s weird ideas about food, my mother taught herself to cook. Much of this was achieved through her forays into Mastering the Art of French Cooking. By the time I was born my mom was an avid cook… Thanks Julia!!
How did she bridge the feminized domestic arts with the male-dominated world of culinary arts?
Julia was always unapologetic. I like that. Dudes never apologize for their choices in the kitchen… She didn’t either — But she was soft, and full of heart. And that combo really made her (and her food) shine.
Julia’s romance with Paul Child seemed to be an enormous source of support and inspiration. How do partnerships fuel creativity and productiveness?
As people who cook for a living, we really need the support of people around us. We aren’t saving lives or anything… But sometimes our hours are similar to ER doctors!
I don’t like to call chefs “artists” — but at the same time, we are vulnerable. We make things for people to consume right in front of us. That leaves us unshielded sometimes from what people think — and we are sensitive! I would guess for the majority of us, we really want to take care of people. It’s in our NATURE. So we sometimes take our little failures home with us… We need a listening ear when it comes to that. I recently got married, and my husband Kyle is great for this. I really love that I can talk about new ideas, or little issues, and he listens… Doesn’t advise really — just hears me. It really helps.
One thing about Julia Child is that she so clearly loved life. Do you think chefs are happier people?
I do think chefs are happier…usually. Sometimes we get too caught up in perfection and complexity though. I think that is why Julia makes such a great role model. She really showcased what is best about a GOOD chef. When something doesn’t go right, you just laugh, and turn to something else… It is a kitchen! We are COOKING and if we aren’t happy, we certainly SHOULD be. We are all so lucky to be doing what we love for work.
What’s next for Beast? What should we stay tuned for?
I wait for the right opportunities — I don’t force things. Back in the Spring I thought I was going to move locations, but then a good agreement that was best for the business couldn’t be reached… It’s OK. I always wait for what feels right.
I was just asked by Time magazine to cover a food-related trip for an upcoming piece that runs in September. I had a blast traveling in Corsica and studying the food there… Who knows? Travel writing or travel TV? Or a cookbook?? It’s all up in the air, but it’s all wonderful too.
Any recipes you want to share on this important day?
I say this — if you haven’t tried to sauté cucumbers…do! They are wonderful. I add some onion as well, and finish with a little squeeze of lemon juice or champagne vinegar and a tiny pinch of sugar… It’s like Julia’s, only a little adapted.
Peel or partially peel cucumbers, cut in half lengthwise and then into strips. Toss with vinegar, salt and sugar and let stand anywhere from thirty minutes to several hours. Drain and pat dry, and preheat oven to 375F. Toss in a baking dish with melted butter, pepper and scallions, as well as any fresh herbs like dill and basil that appeal to you and are in season. Set uncovered in the middle level of the oven for about an hour, tossing a few times, until tender, but with a suggestion of crispiness and texture. They will barely color during cooking.
Photos by Alicia Rose