She might have taken a break from the restaurant scene, but you can still catch her in a world she is very familiar with— still in a kitchen—this time surrounded by students, teaching in a Southwest Portland classroom at the Oregon Culinary Institute. (photo: Chef Shannon Preble)
Before Chef Shannon Preble took a dive into teaching Culinary Art, it wasn’t all meat and potatoes. The saga behind her Chef title started in her hometown–San Jose, California. “If I wasn’t watching the [cooking] shows, I was in the kitchen trying to recreate the dish if we had the ingredients, or I was thumbing through my mom’s cookbooks, looking for something new to try. This is embarrassing, but I’d even put on my own little cooking show, reciting each step. I was talking out loud to an audience that wasn’t there,” Preble recounted. “So, when I turned 16, it was a no brainer that I wanted to get into a real kitchen,” she said.
It didn’t take long for Preble to make a name for herself in the culinary world. Her resume exudes everything from education at some of the most renowned culinary programs in the U.S., to her experience in restaurants spanning from the East to West Coast.
So what exactly was it that made the California native plant her feet in the Northwest some 9 years ago? “The weather! For real, you know how hot it is in California in the summer? A girl does not do well in the heat. It was also the overwhelming sense of community I felt when I visited here,” Preble said. “I also really love the outdoors, and what better place to be for that than Portland. The mountains, the ocean, the desert– they are all a hop skip and a jump away. Oh, and the food of course. So much good food, and that's only gotten better throughout the years I've been here,” she added.
Her most recent role was serving as Chef de Cuisine at the Eastside butcher shop some may know as–Laurelhurst Market. “It was a roller coaster. I was brought in two weeks after they opened their doors with the intent to just help out on pantry for a while as they settled into being one of the busiest restaurants in town,” Preble recalled. “The first 6 months was grueling, 10am-12am, 5 or sometimes 6 days a week, as we worked out all the kinks. Fast forward 3 years and I was running the kitchen,” she described.
Preble left Laurelhurst Market in 2014. “Sometimes the option to move out is the only one left when you’ve already moved up as far as you can go,” she said about her departure. “Five years was a pretty good run! I miss Laurelhurst sometimes, especially the French fries and the Wagyu brisket, but now I can enjoy those things as a patron and watch as someone else sweats it out behind the line.”
She now lays everything she has experienced in the culinary world out on the table, and uses it to teach those hungry for culinary education. “I tell all my students that this is a job driven by passion. If cooking is not flowing through the blood in your veins, if you don’t feel some gravitational pull towards the (industrial) kitchen, it’s best to turn around now,” she stated.
And if you’re curious how Chef Preble felt about ditching the kitchen for OCI– “Cooking can be really awe-inspiring, from tasting or smelling something for the first time, or nailing a technique or a dish you may have had trouble with in the past. Sometimes all it takes is explaining the technique a little different than the person before did and the light bulbs just start going off. It's pretty awesome to see that happen for the first time.” Preble described. “My favorite part has been learning about how other people learn, and then adapting my teaching style to fit their needs. That doesn’t come without its challenges, but I thrive on challenge– so lucky me!”