A Chat with Coquine’s Chef
Many of Portland’s best chefs use and love STEELPORT knives. We recently had the pleasure of chatting with one of them – Katy Millard, Chef and Co-Owner of Coquine – who puts her STEELPORT 6” Carbon Steel Chef Knife and STEELPORT 4” Carbon Steel Paring Knife to good use in her award-winning restaurant and market in SE Portland. Read on to learn what Katy’s philosophy on sourcing, kitchen knives and more from our conversation while she prepared some gorgeous summer produce.
Welcome to Coquine
Walking into the light-filled Coquine Market and Coquine Restaurant (a hallway separates them) on the corner of SE 69th and Belmont, a person feels instantly invited into a friendly community. The warm wood tones of the space perfectly complement the welcoming smile of Chef Katy Millard.
Built on top of an extinct volcano in Portland’s beautiful Mount Tabor neighborhood, Chef Katy Millard has been serving up thoughtful, seasonal food, and accumulating accolades at Coquine since 2015. The venue features food and drink menus that continually evolve, and Coquine is committed to sustainable practices and responsible sourcing from local farms.
Next door, the more recent Coquine Market opened up mid-pandemic in July of 2021 as a way for people to pick up their CSA boxes, but has since become a cozy food market with weekend oyster happy hours, Coava coffee, a bakery window (starring the famous Coquine Cookie) and a private patio. In the words of Chef Katy, the space has a community vibe and is crafted especially for the market’s neighborhood.
Meet Chef Katy Millard
Coquine has been nominated several times for the James Beard award, including specifically “Best Chef: Northwest” in 2017. Both Esquire and Bon Appétit have named the place one of the best new restaurants in the nation. In 2016, The Oregonian named the Mt. Tabor spot its “Restaurant of the Year.” Portland Monthly dubbed Coquine a “Rising Star” a few years ago.
But on Instagram, the one line description of Chef Katy is simply: “Wife, mother, cook, and lover of life in the Pacific Northwest.”
Coquine is committed to sustainable practices and responsible sourcing from local farms, and is a ZeroFoodPrint business. Chef Katy Millard is well-known for pushing for and being part of the farm-to-table movement both locally and nationally. The location also offers a Farm Direct Pickup as a CSA program, so anyone can purchase chef-selected veggie bags that are curated fresh and available straight from the farms Coquine loves.
When STEELPORT recently stopped by to visit with her, we noticed things like the speed with which she destrings a sugar snap pea. When she wasn’t expertly slicing up a few fresh cucumbers or removing one half of a perfectly red cherry, she never hesitated to offer us up a taste, remarking how crisp the cucumbers are or how much she loves the cherries this year.
Much like the feeling she wants people to get in her restaurant, Chef Katy is as deft in the kitchen as she is humble and charming in person.
All About Knives
As the essential tool of the trade, most chefs (of course) have a lot to say about knives. We chatted with Chef Katy recently to see what she thinks of her STEELPORT 6” Carbon Steel Chef Knife, the STEELPORT 4” Carbon Steel Paring Knife and carbon steel knives in general. Here are the highlights of our conversation.
You care about local sourcing as much as we do. Can you talk a little bit about why that’s important to you, and how STEELPORT is part of your focus on local?
I like the fact that it’s a local company. That’s really compelling to me because I always want to support our community. Knowing that Eytan [STEELPORT’s co-founder and bladesmith] supports local businesses and suppliers in his venture is also really awesome and very much in line with what we do. And also not sacrificing quality.
The fact that Eytan uses local tree wood in the handles is the coolest. We got a bunch of maple wood from Goby when we opened our restaurant for the tabletops and check presenters, so that’s a cool connection.
Eytan is as obsessed with quality as we are. That’s the thing that’s the most interesting to me. That’s what we do here at Coquine, which is source local ingredients and lift up artisans and farmers in our community who are doing good things rather than buying stuff from halfway across the country. We do sell Italian and French wine…don’t get me wrong…but if there’s someone who does something really well from here, then I’d much rather use that.
What do you like about the STEELPORT knives in general?
They’re obviously well-made. The handle is super comfortable. The wood is really soft which I think just feels good in my hand. I have to hand-select my knives because I have really small hands, and it feels really nice to hold this knife. I think they’re really beautifully designed. Period.
You used stainless steel before. How do you feel about using carbon steel now?
I didn’t use carbon steel knives for no particular reason other than I’ve just always used stainless steel. I’m hooked. I don’t think I’ll ever buy stainless steel knives again.
Carbon steel knives are so much easier to sharpen. I’d rather sharpen my knives more often but not have to spend an hour doing it. Because I don’t have an hour to spend, and it’s a lot easier to justify taking 5-10 minutes than a giant chunk of time. They sharpen so much more quickly and stay sharp longer. Maintenance is not quite so intense. I totally thought it took longer to maintain these knives.
I like the way the carbon steel blade looks. Seeing the blade change a little bit makes it seem more like an artisanal product than something stamped out in a factory which I’m all about. Feels more authentic to me.
How much do you and the other chefs talk about knives?
Quite a bit. We’re starkly divided into two camps: the carbon steel camp and stainless steel camp. I have to admit I was part of the stainless steel camp for a very long time. Since having these knives in the kitchen, everyone’s been very curious about them and have been like, what are they like? My sous chef Thomas really wanted to try them, and he also really likes them.
We get a lot of young cooks here, and they’re curious what kind of knife should I get? I only had my five knife set for quite a long time. I didn’t start getting into specialty knives until 10 years into my career when all of a sudden you start butchering fish and butchering different kinds of meat–things you need a special knife for.
My main advice to young chefs is: You can invest a lot of money in a ton of different knives, or you can get like two really great ones.
Why did you pick the STEELPORT 6” Carbon Steel Chef Knife instead of the 8” Chef Knife?
It’s because of work surface height. An 8” knife, you have to raise it higher to get the full range of motion. Because I’m short, a smaller knife is better for me and feels more manageable. Smaller knives feel better in my hands. For an all-purpose chef knife, I’d much prefer a 6”. It just feels better on my wrist when I’m working.
What do you like about the STEELPORT 4” Carbon Steel Paring Knife?
The handle, honestly. The handle feels comfortable. You can hold it further up on the blade for work like cutting artichoke which I think is really cool (you can’t do that with a petty knife and get this much control).
It’s a nice size. I like that it’s in-between a paring and a petty knife. So, it’s not quite as small as a lot of paring knives, but not quite as big as a petty. I like that it’s bigger: I use it for pitting cherries all the time. It’s also a nice size for slicing strawberries.
I like the versatility during service. You can still use it for small work, but also use it to mince a shallot or garlic. I have two knives up here during service. I used to have three knives, and I realized I don’t really need the petty. The paring knife is easier to make into an all-purpose knife than the petty knife.