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Top Chef Masters' Chris Cosentino on Why He Opened a Spot in Portland: "It Just Feels Right"
Oh, and there's another restaurant in the works, too.
The doors haven't even been open for a month at Jackrabbit, the new restaurant from Top Chef Masters Season 4 winner Chris Cosentino at boutique hotel The Duniway in Portland, OR, and he's already looking aheead to the next big thing. He's got a second hotel-based restaurant about to open next month (also with business partner Oliver Wharton), along with a brand-new cookbook, Offal Good, coming out this August.
"Nobody sets out to time two hotel openings at the same time," he tells The Feast with a cool sense of humor as he oversees a kitchen training session at Acacia House, his restaurant slated to open in early May at Las Alcobas, a new hotel in the food-obsessed Napa Valley town of St. Helena, CA. "It's unhealthy."
Working with hotels is new for Cosentino, who also owns a restaurant called Cockscomb (named after the crest on top of a rooster's head) and Boccalone, a purveyor of "tasty salted pig parts," both in San Francisco. But it's clear he's excited about trying his hand at creating breakfast, lunch, and dinner, as well as coming up with fun and decadent options for room service.
Known for cooking from head to tail, Cosentino creates food that has always stood out for being both fun and thrilling. His passion and ingenuity clinched Top Chef Masters for him, and no one could beat his imagination or execution. (Remember the "guts prevail!" victory call?) He's put television behind him for the most part, but he hasn't extinguished that fire for making creative and intensely delicious food deserving of a wide audience.
Opening Jackrabbit in Portland, his first project outside of California, has him energized in a whole new way. San Francisco is a tough and expensive place to open a restaurant, and he says he was delighted to find the dining scene much easier and more economical up north. It's allowed him to be more creative and take chances.
Sparked by Bon Appetit's annual food festival Feast Portland, which he's attended every year, the city has long been on his wish list. "Every time I went there, I saw growth and change," he says of the local food scene. "And also, I had a lot of fun. If I was ever going to do a place that was out of town, it had to be someplace where I enjoy spending time and my family enjoys spending time."
He's loving the artisanal community of Portland, the outdoors lifestyle for cycling (he's even created an energy bar) and having the soccer team play right downtown, which has been really fun for his "soccer freak" son Easton. And he and wife Tatiana have discovered a bounty of beautiful food in Portland restaurants.
"I have my places that I go to consistently that I know are delicious, like I always go to& Pok Pok, I always go to Whiskey Soda Lounge, Lardo, Bailey's Taproom, Beer Belly," he reveals. "I've been to Hat Yai like six times. And then I just try all sorts of different restaurants every time and it's a really great way to taste and see things."
"It's great working with people who are having fun and excited," he says of Jackrabbit. "I feel very fortunate because it could have gone really wrong. I'm the outsider, so it's all pretty nice. It just feels right. You know how they say, 'Keep Portland Weird?' I like that about Portland. You see the dude on the unicycle playing the bagpipe with flames shooting out of it in a Darth Vader helmet. The dude's for real, that's kinda cool, there's something fun about that!"