Chef Kari Kihara developed an interest in food at a young age. The Massachusetts native got her first job in the industry at 14 and never looked back, but it was a move to San Francisco at age 21 that really opened her eyes to the importance of working with the best ingredients available. Working in some of the best kitchens on the west coast, including stints at Bay Area institutions Frances, Sons & Daughters, and Marla Bakery, Kari immersed herself in the cycles of local seasonality, getting to know small farmers, ranchers, and fisherpeople. She honed her skills with vegetables, taking notes from mentors like Frances’ Melissa Parello, and challenged herself to learn the ins and outs of whole animal butchery.
After a detour to Maine to help her dad raise some cattle, with a stop making the best lobster rolls in (the other) Portland at Eventide, she moved to Oregon to head up the kitchen at McMinnville’s Mac Market. The pandemic shut down indoor dining just 3 weeks after they opened, and the Mac Market team scrambled to reinvent the dining program they’d just spent so much time and care developing.
Kari admits those early days were fraught with uncertainty, but looking back on it now she says it forced her to really examine who she is as a chef and find her style. She cooks how she eats, which is to say that no matter what’s on the plate, expect it to contain layers of textures and unexpected flavors set off against bright hits of acid and a shower of fresh herbs. As difficult as the pandemic closures were, they helped her to find her footing in a new town, and Kari now takes full advantage of her location in the heart of the Willamette Valley, creating seasonal menus bursting with creative takes on local veg. We’re thrilled to have her as a guest recipe contributor.