Bio: John Eisenhart, the executive chef at Pazzo, has been drawn to food since he was a teen in Omaha, Nebraska. Along the way he has captured the attention and respect of some of the greats in the culinary world, working with four James Beard Award winning chefs. Yet, John Eisenhart simply thinks of himself as a fan of seasonal ingredients and fresh flavors - adjectives that might best describe the chef himself.
John's first experience in the culinary world came at the age of 14, working at the swank Sonoma Mission Inn, washing dishes and watching the chefs make their magic. It was that creative side of the kitchen that appealed to John, so he answered the call and enrolled at the California Culinary Academy. After graduating in 1991, he began building an illustrious career at famous restaurants on both coasts. As an assistant pastry chef and line cook in San Francisco at Aqua Restaurant, he learned modern techniques for creating bold flavor combinations. Later he chopped, punched and stirred as the tourant/butcher and pastry assistant at the four-star French restaurant Masa's in San Francisco. Eisenhart's versatility became apparent when he moved from pastry assistant to a position as saucier at the famed French restaurant La Grenouille in New York. With a growing reputation and expanding skill set, John landed a coveted spot as sous chef working with Mario Batali to open Babbo in New York's West Village.
After more than two years experimenting with new flavors and classic techniques at Babbo, John set his sights on Italy, working with top chefs in some of the finest, small boutique kitchens in Lucca, Venice and Alba. It was in Italy that John developed his cooking style of creating fresh, simple, robust and clean flavors - not to mention his love for Italian culture.
When he decided it was time to branch out, John researched American cities and landed in Portland. He instantly knew he wanted to live and cook here. Eisenhart spent his first two years in Portland working as sous chef for Chef Philippe Boulot at the Heathman Restaurant until the position of executive chef at Pazzo became available in 2003. "Pazzo is a cornerstone restaurant in Portland's dining scene," says John, "We've had 20 years here because we are dedicated to quality and consistency."
At Pazzo John takes classic combinations, like prosciutto and melon, and coaxes out the flavors by using creative techniques. He pickles watermelon rind and combines it with house-cured San Daniele Italian ham. This inspired take on a classsic adds extra zing to the salty sweet dialogue, and whets the appetite beautifully as a first course.
Chef Eisenhart is committed to the community and involved in activities like the Wild About Game & Wine Celebration and the Taste of Tillamook County. He is currently closely involved with P:ear, a non-profit foundation for children in the arts and the Cooking with Kids classes that benefit the Morrison Family and Child Services Center of Portland.