Q&A with Grassa Chef Ian Hutchings

After 3 years at Corvallis' acclaimed Luc, the seasoned chef is ready to roll out a menu of fresh pastas at Rick Gencarelli's Lardo follow-up.

By Allison Jones May 28, 2013

Ian Hutchings at Afton Field Farm in Corvallis with his son, Atticus.

This June, Corvallis's loss is Portland's gain.

After three years behind the helm of acclaimed farm-to-fork restaurant Luc, Chef Ian Hutchings is packing his knives (and his family) for a northbound move: the talented chef will open Rick Gencarelli's hotly anticipated fresh pasta restaurant Grassa in June.

The pasta eatery will house a small space between Gencarelli's Lardo and Anthony Cafiero's Racion in the turbine-topped Twelve West building on SW Washington (aka the compartmentalized architectural fallout of the massive Corazon space).

The counter-service restaurant will offer up to a dozen affordable fresh pasta dishes, and is set for preview dinners on June 6 and 7.

FOODIE FREEBIES: We're giving away two pairs of tickets to each Grassa preview dinner—yep, that's FOUR chances to win a first-look seat for you and a lucky guest. Click here to enter! Contest is now closed.

We sat down with Hutchings to see what lured him to the big city, how the Grassa menu is shaping up, and whether his established cooking style will still make it to the plate.

Eat Beat: How’s the move going?
Ian Hutchings: The move is happening slowly, we own a house in Corvallis that is on the market. Fingers crossed!  Mostly, my wife and I are excited about raising our son in such an awesome city. Corvallis is a fantastic place, but the level of culture that Portland has to offer is unmatchable. I'm excited about getting my kid an OMSI season pass...and at some point it's hard to be a chef and not step up to the plate with all the amazing cooks in Portland.

How did you meet Lardo's Rick Gencarelli—and how did he convince you to leave Luc?
Long story short, Cathy Whims and I cooked together at City Grit in NYC. We became fast friends—she is an amazing person. I had been thinking about leaving Luc for a bit. While we were having a lot of fun, I was, from the day we opened until I left, the only cook there. I sourced, prepped, fired and plated everything we served. I was getting tired and we seemed to be at the limit of what the town would support.

So I had reached out to Cathy, who had eaten at Luc a few times, and she set up a meeting with Kurt Huffman. He connected me with Rick and we just hit it off. I was waiting for the right project/guy to work with and Rick and I are just cut from the same culinary cloth. We even had both delved into the small-town farm-to-table struggle, and follow a flavor over pretense formula.  It just seemed too perfect to pass up.

Is there an updated menu? Any sure-bet dishes that we can expect to see?
Rick and have been working on this a lot.  The main issue we face is the sheer volume of dishes we can produce. It's really only limited by our imagination. We're trying to straddle a line between traditional and inventive. Much like at Luc, we will be changing the menu a lot. One dish I know we are itching to throw out there is a charred octopus, chorizo butter, preserved lemon with squid ink ala tasty. Alongside the pasta, we'll feature salads, contorni. and vegetable sides.

Tell us a bit about the space—how will the dining experience be different than other pasta-centric places in town?
For the most part space was designed by Rick Gencarelli and Nick Schuurman with input from Jessica Silverman and Kurt [Huffman]. It's extremely functional and manly, with a workshop vibe. It'll be counter service, and we are really trying to bring fresh pasta to the masses—taking it out of the fine dining arena and putting it in a fun, communal, high energy space.

Tell me a bit about Grassa's imported pasta equipment.
We have an Emilio Mitidieri pasta extruder and sheeter. The sheeter looks like a pasta roller on steroids, but the beauty machine is the P3 extruder—it turns semolina and water into amazing shapes by forcing it through brass dies. We've been playing around with it and it's amazing the amount and types of pasta we can produce: Gigli, strozzapretti, bucatini, rigatoni, radiatore, on and on.

Do you feel like the cooking style you developed at Luc will be evident on the Grassa menu?
I feel like cooking style is a lot like handwriting—you can change it for a brief period of time if you focus hard enough, but you always come back to what feels comfortable. We are always bringing with us what we know, but Grassa is going to be a little more collaborative and accessible than Luc may have been.

What’s your favorite kind of pasta to make? To eat?
I'm really liking Gigli shapes... they have a frilly lip, and are curled like a sea shell (they catch sauce amazingly). But you can't beat the feel of rolling out sheets of pasta and having it feel just right in your hands, anyone who has worked with pasta a while will know that feeling. As far as cooking, I'm a fresh fresh pesto fan. I won my wife over years ago with a pesto dish.

You earned a reputation as a frequent produce-laden wagon puller at the Corvallis Farmers Market. Will you be frequenting the Portland markets as well?
Yes, we certainly will be.  After years of running Luc as a local-only menu, it's become second nature to work those elements into food costs. Plus the benefit of our pasta-centric menu allows us to spend a little more where we'd love to. Rick and I both have a history with farmers market-centric menus and Grassa will be no exception.

1205 SW Washington St

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