Creating the Culinary Vision In & Out of the Kitchen

Posted on November 28, 2016

When you usually think of traditional Culinary Schools, many form the idea of students in a kitchen surrounded by ovens, stoves, knifes, and ingredients of all sorts. Although not quite the contrary at Oregon Culinary Institute, faculty throw in a few more ingredients to polish the perfect experience for their students.

It was a brisk and sunny Friday morning in Oregon’s Tillamook Forest as OCI (Oregon Culinary Institute) students prepared to do some fall mushroom hunting instead of their typical in-class instruction.  Leading the pack were OCI Culinary Artistry instructors, Chef Brophy and Chef Cronwell.

It’s an OCI tradition that started years ago, and an experience both Chefs and students look forward to each term. Taking students out to a local farm, beach, or forest to gain an in-depth feel for where some of the proteins, vegetables, and herbs used in every day kitchens, naturally come from. In this case, the focus and hunt were for wild mushrooms, which according to Chef Brophy, grow well in conifer forests like the Tillamook.

While hunting and directing students where to search, Chef Brophy explains how the components they search for, end up in certain areas in the first place. He explains how there is always a time and place to collect certain ingredients whether it be clams, berries, or in this case... mushrooms. And although all “edible once”, Chef Brophy advised which wild mushrooms students should take home and cook, versus ones that probably wouldn’t be in their best interest.

Within a couple hours of mushroom hunting, many students met their “mushroom quota” for the day. But foraging for fresh wild ingredients worked up an appetite. Chef Brophy and Cronwell led a student run cookout with corn-on-the-cob, hot dogs, chili, brownies, and of course… the iconic chanterelle mushrooms found that very day. The learning didn’t stop there either. Students were taught how to use a huge propane torch (a.k.a. “The Dragon”) to toast up the corn.

At the end of the day students not only walk away with leftovers, but memories and new bonds created between fellow peers and their chef instructors.

OCI Alumni Showcase: Alaina Sargent of Sargent’s Sinful Sweets

Posted on October 12, 2016


Alaina Sargent is a notable alumnus of Oregon Culinary Institute and pastry chef owner of Sargent’s Sinful Sweets. Read more about her story here.

What Inspired You to Become a Chef?

My name is Alaina Sargent, and I am the owner and baker of Sargent’s Sinful Sweets.

I grew up in the small town of Scappoose, west of Portland. I had a pretty average suburban life growing up. After graduating high school, I was pretty lost on what I wanted to do for a career. I thought I wanted to be a photographer, then an artist, then a tattoo artist, but nothing seemed to stick. I had two years of not doing any schooling before culinary school clicked.

How Did Sargent’s Sinful Sweets Come to Be?

I didn’t always know I wanted to be a baker. Growing up, my mom was a cake decorator and was always making amazing and fondant-free cakes. If I was lucky, I would get some of the scraps. I would watch her for hours.

It was in high school where I started to love to bake, just as a hobby. My friends and family loved it, too. After my mom got an office job and quit making cakes, my family started to ask me to do the birthday cakes. Then during my two-year break in between schools, people close to me suggested that I should attend a culinary school. The problem was that I always thought I was never good enough.

After some serious pep talks, I went in to apply for the Oregon Culinary Institute. To this day, it is still one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

After just trying on that first chef jacket for school, something sparked and it’s then that I knew I never wanted to take that jacket off. That first week of school is when I took pride in everything I made and knew I had what it took to make this my career for the rest of my life.

I was very fortunate in my journey to open my business. For five years I volunteered at my aunt’s booth down at the Portland Saturday Market, along with working in a few kitchens in the Portland area during the week.

After being down there for a while, people would always ask where to buy cookies and at the time there were no vendors that did so. There wasn’t a coffee stand on our side of the street either. So after running the idea past my aunt, I filed the forum and talked with directors about opening up a small coffee and bakery stand, and they loved the idea! I immediately set out to work on getting it up and running, and it’s been such a long and crazy journey with it.

The first weekend down there was the hardest. I sold out of everything within two hours. It took a lot of time, and a few tears before I finally found my stride. Then I noticed, I needed to stand out from all the other bakeries. That’s why when you go down to my stand, there’s always a new item because the menu changes monthly and by the season. I also have some unique flavors, and items you’re not going to find at a bakery in that area.

We Are Coming to Your Place Tonight, What Do You Make Us?

What I’ve grown most famous for (so far) are my macarons. Having learned the macaron art and craft from OCI’s baking and pastry program, I chose to create unique and outstanding flavors that you won’t find anywhere else is Portland. But have no fear, Salted Caramel is always on the menu as a good solid choice for the less adventurous.

Some of my favorite ones I do are my Raspberry Rosemary, Blackberry Black Pepper, and Strawberry Ginger macarons during the berry seasons, with the berries picked from Sauvie’s Island. During the fall the most popular, we have our Whisky Peach Brûlée and Pumpkin Spiced Latte.

Any Advice to Aspiring OCI Ninjas?

My advice for aspiring cooking ninjas would be to work hard. This is no cake walk (pun intended).

I had a few peers in my class thinking this field would be fun and easy because they would bake at home for fun. Most people don’t know how hard this field is. It’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but one of the most rewarding.

I didn’t know what to expect when I walked in, but it was amazing. The staff is amazing, and you can tell how much they care about their students and the culinary field. I had such a great experience that I didn’t want my classes to end. My love of baking is what got me into OCI, but it was their teaching and constant mentoring that turned me into the baker and businessperson that I now am.

About Alaina Sargent

Alaina Sargent is the pastry chef-owner of Sargent’s Sinful Sweets, home to the sinfully baked cakes and pastries in Portland, Oregon.

For more information about Alaina or to satisfy all of your sweet craving and catering needs, visit her website.

OCI Graduate Chef Alvin Cailan Expands Eggslut to Las Vegas

Posted on June 13, 2016

OCI graduate Chef Alvin Cailan debuted his second location of Eggslut at the Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas this past weekend. Open seven days a week, Chef Alvin’s menu consists of breakfast-only dishes served day and night.

Eggslut, the food-truck-turned-food-stand at the Grand Central Market in Los Angeles was Chef Cailan’s first adventure in 2011. Since then he opened Ramen Champ, which he’s since sold; and a kitchen incubator called Unit 21. Expanding to Las Vegas was a step he hadn’t expected to take for many years.

Cosmopolitan CEO Bill McBeath came to Los Angeles to stand in Eggslut’s line, on the recommendation of his daughter, a USC student. He waited 30 minutes to get an egg sandwich — then got back in line and waited another 30 minutes for his second.

When McBeath approached Eggslut Chef Cailan, Cailan said he was “shocked and stoked. I mean, my idols are there,” said Cailan. “Thomas Keller, Jose Andres. I thought we were like a decade away from actually being a part of the Las Vegas food scene — if that.”

Next up for Chef Cailan — opening two more units in California, Venice later this summer and Glendale this fall.

Meet Chef Preble

Posted on April 19, 2016

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!”