Bravo's 'Top Chef Masters' cooks up show on various food

by: COURTESY OF BRAVO TV - Jenn Louis says being part of Top Chef Masters helped her learn from other top-level chefs, and it also pushed her to be better. And, she says, its a good way to publicize my business.Jenn Louis considers herself a competitive person, and her creative cooking chops get a workout in the “Top Chef Masters,” a Bravo network reality show that premieres July 24.

“I own businesses. I’ve been self-employed since I was 28. Yeah, I’m competitive,” she says. “I don’t like when competition comes between people. A lot more comes from collaborating. As a chef and business owner, it’s important to be competitive with yourself. We’re pretty hard on ourselves.”

The 41-year-old Louis reigns as executive chef and co-owner at Lincoln and Sunshine Tavern in Portland, and runs Culinary Artistry catering company. She has gained much notoriety, as a James Beard Foundation regional semifinalist and as “Best New Chef” for the Northwest region by Food & Wine in 2012. Conde Nast Traveler named Lincoln, which opened in 2008, to its “Hot List” for top 50 new restaurants in North America.

Louis has been working on a book about gnocchi that morphed into a book about Italian dumplings, due out in fall 2014.

Never a big fan of reality shows, she says that “Top Chef Masters” intrigued her, although she initially declined an offer to appear on it.

“It was something different, working with colleagues who are out of the market and have different ways of thinking,” Louis says. “And, it’s a good way to publicize my business.”

By contract, she couldn’t discuss much of her time on “Top Chef Masters.” The show premieres at 10 p.m. Wednesday, July 24, on Bravo and runs each Wednesday night through the summer.

She bonded with other chefs, some of whom she knew before the show.

“It was a really tough experience, reality television, different than anything I’ve done in the past,” she says. “Like any group of people, chefs have reputations, similarities and live intense lifestyles. There’s a good diversity of people and interests, etc.

“I think we’re all incredibly varied. Some personalities will get along better than others. It’s always thrilling to spend time with colleagues who are incredibly accomplished.”

The best thing about “Top Chef Masters” was learning from others, she adds.

“I’m very open-minded, and I like to learn from everyone, watching their technique and flavor combinations, seeing how their heads work,” Louis says. “There are so many different styles and ways to cook. There’s always something to learn.”

Chefs have challenges on the show, and also must rely on the work of sous chefs in an online contest. For Louis, it’s Cory Chunn, 26, who became her chef cuisine at Lincoln only two years ago.

“He’s a great guy, a really special person,” Louis says. “He’s one of the few people who you meet in life who really has your back all the time. A real good sense of priorities. Really loving. Great communicator. I’ve learned a lot from him.

“He’s young, but he’s not a new cook by any means. He started making cotton candy when he was 9.”

Contestants on “Top Chef Masters” compete for $100,000 for the charity of their choice. Louis chose City of Hope, a hospital in Duarte, Calif., which cared for her late mother. “A tremendous facility,” she adds.

Louis attended Pitzer College in Claremont, Calif., and after international travel, went to Western Culinary Institute in Portland. Her first cooking gig came as a line cook at Wildwood. In 2000, she started Culinary Artistry and she and husband, David Welch, opened Lincoln, 3808 N. Williams Ave., in 2008. She describes the restaurant as a balance between old and new, modern and classic, and rustic and refined.

Lincoln’s success allowed Louis and Welch to navigate the tough economy and open Sunshine Tavern, 3111 S.E. Division St., a haven for both young families and singles.

Louis takes great pride in being successful in the tough restaurant world. She says her businesses employ about 60 people.

“We were smart in investing profits,” Louis says. “We only have bank loans for our businesses.

“Things have been great. With both restaurants, we’re very fortunate they’re doing really well. Stable with great employees,” she says.

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