Alumni Profilesspring2006

rains imageMore Than Just Desserts

While preparing a portfolio for her M.F.A. program, Jehnee Rains ’93 took a job at a bakery in Berkeley, California, and discovered what she describes as “the science and magic of baking.” She worked a variety of pastry positions in the Bay Area, including at Chez Panisse, and helped open a bakery in Oakland. When her husband, Adam King, was accepted to the physician’s assistant program at Oregon Health & Science University, she returned to Portland and began crafting pastries for another Reedie—Michael Hebberoy ’99—who has revolutionized the local culinary scene with his restaurants Ripe and the Gotham Tavern.

Rains is now the pastry chef at Balvo, a fashionable new Italian restaurant in Northwest Portland. She is responsible for creating new desserts and writing the menu, which gives her real power in the kitchen. “The restaurant setting is the only outlet for Candy Cap mushroom ice cream (who would order that!),” she says. “By pairing it with chocolate—such as a caramel and chocolate tart—you force people to try new things.”

Rains majored in art at Reed and thinks of bakery and restaurant work in architectural terms. The traditional baked item is built sturdy, to survive counter tops, display cases, vehicle transport. What’s created in a restaurant kitchen can be more spontaneous, and can focus on the flavor of a single star ingredient. And it’s a dessert meant to be done in easily by a fork or spoon.

“My artistic impulses are now fulfilled by imagining goat cheese gelato together with poached quince, grapefruit sorbet with rosemary, fresh ricotta and ripe raspberries,” she says. “Or, what about a take on pasta Milanese? It often has currants, pine nuts over saffron noodles—easily converted into an ice cream sundae. Not everyone is ready for such a conceptual leap after a three-course dinner. But then, no one said you can’t have dessert first.”

Reed English professor Roger Porter, meanwhile, dished a bit blandly on Balvo recently in his restaurant column in Willamette Week. “Some dishes get nicely off the ground,” he wrote, “but others simply lie there, waiting for a pick-me-up.” Still, he was jazzed by the final course: “Sweet redemption comes in the form of Jehnee Rains’ desserts: A gentle panna cotta ($6) that shimmers like an ice floe, or a clean-flavored Meyer-lemon sorbetto ($5) paradoxically enhanced with pistachio-studded whipped cream.”

– Laurie Lindquist