written by Julie Lee photos by Josh Chang

John Pickett can’t recall a moment when he didn’t want to be a chef. He played with dishes as a toddler, cooked for family at 8 years old and bussed tables at 13. “I feel lucky,” he said. “I knew what I wanted and stayed on that path.” Doug Weiler was the opposite. He was a picky eater growing up, consuming exclusively peanut butter sandwiches, custard yogurt and hot dogs. His palate blossomed in college when cooking for roommates. After studying business communication, he enrolled in culinary school once he realized with irony that the only inspiration for him was food. “Once I gave food a shot, that was it,” he said. Together, chefs Pickett and Weiler are upending the traditional restaurant model with Willow, a rising star in Portland’s burgeoning culinary landscape.

The two chefs met at BlueHour and immediately connected, recognizing a similar approach to cooking. Willow is a fusion of their imaginations, a culmination of years of meticulous planning and a prolonged search for the perfect location. Willow feels like being welcomed into a home for a great meal. The vibe is unpretentious and magnetic, consummating the melded personalities of both chefs. Greeted warmly at the door, guests enter a living area before sitting down to one of ten seats for dinner. This tasting style, chef-driven approach encourages intimate interaction between Pickett, Weiler and their guests. Customers pay for their meals in advance online with their reservation, resulting in a laid back evening where no money is exchanged. Dishes are inventive and contrived from weekly farmer sheets. Willow represents a future small restaurant mode—providing a balanced life for the chefs and a relaxed experience for guests. “It’s like we’re cooking for family, we just make more,” Weiler said.

Willow | 2005 SE 11th Ave., Portland | willowpdx.com