Jenn Louis ’89 receives 2021 Alumni Outstanding Achievement Award
If you take a moment and talk to Jenn Louis ’89 about her life path, there is a theme you will probably hear: it’s OK to feel uncomfortable if you allow yourself the freedom and confidence to do the right thing.
The 2021 Alumni Outstanding Achievement Award recipient has surely forged her own path, found her own niche and made a huge difference in her community, all by following her own advice. Louis encompasses the motto of Vivian Webb School in her work and life. Her wisdom and drive have led her to the top of the culinary world, while her friendship and values have led her to exhibit kindness and compassion to an underprivileged community during a global pandemic.
While at Webb, Louis recognized the need to be her own person.
“I had to learn that I wasn’t my brother or my classmate,” Louis said.
She excelled at Webb in running. She was the captain of the VWS cross country and track teams.
“I would’ve never called myself an athlete,” she said. “I think having a small environment and a loving coach really helped. I don’t think I could’ve done that anywhere else…Running showed me I could be successful at something; I think it built a lot of my self-esteem at a time which is hard.”
She has continued to run road races after Webb, and it has remained a huge piece of her life.
Professionally, Louis posts a long list of accomplishments. She has competed on Bravo’s “Top Chef Masters,” was named one of Food & Wine’s “Best New Chefs,” and her simple, sophisticated cooking style, using seasonal Pacific Northwest ingredients, has earned her two nominations for the James Beard Foundation Award of Best Chef: Northwest.
Her debut cookbook, “Pasta by Hand” published in 2015, was nominated by the International Association of Culinary Professionals in the category of “Single Subject Cookbooks.” Her second book, “The Book of Greens,” which debuted in April 2017, won an IACP award. The book also was nominated for a James Beard Award. “The Chicken Soup Manifesto,” Jenn’s third book, was published in 2020. She has owned and operated three restaurants and a catering business in Portland.
Louis has always loved cooking.
“It’s creative, and I love that. It was like a game.”
While she was at the top of her game, she knew there would be a time when she didn’t want to do it anymore, and it was very clear to Louis when that happened.
What happened next helps to define Louis’s humanity. When the pandemic hit in 2020, she began volunteering around Portland and saw a great need within the homeless community.
“I then knew that volunteering and relief work was it, it was the right thing to do,” she said.
Louis knew she had the resources to help and partnered with area non-profits to start serving the homeless community in a way that they hadn’t been helped previously. Getting basic food and nutrition is a big obstacle in homeless communities, and Louis was able to bring in hot food and feed her homeless neighbors. She didn’t stop there. She began working with a non-profit to secure funds to pay people to pick up garbage around the city, making their community more beautiful, and giving those folks a sense of pride in knowing they made a difference in the city.
“I wanted to go to the bottom rung of where people were being ignored and needed the most. That was the baseline, and if we are going to care for people, these are the people that need it,” she said.
Louis not only showed servant leadership in the homeless population but influenced her friends and other community members to help, too. From inspiring them to join her in the field as volunteers or to donate unused resources, Louis was able to help spark change.
“It was cool to see wealthy friends change their thinking about their material things,” Louis said. “They give things, and because of that, now someone is more comfortable. I feel like that’s the right stuff to do.”
With such deep insight into human care and compassion, what advice would Louis give to Webb students today?
“We all feel like outsiders in some way, and we are trying to feel out where we are in this world, and all that’s OK. It’s OK to feel like you fit in or don’t fit in, or feel successful or not.”
Louis says we should keep doing what feels right and what feels good for you.
“Be who you are. Everyone has something to contribute. Make a contribution. There are important ways to be successful that don’t always mean the grades or the colleges,” she said.
Louis continues her community programs and human relief projects. She resides in Portland with her three cats, Wasco, Silverado Silverstein and Tov, and when she’s not busy volunteering, she loves to play the drums, work in her garden and cook for her friends.
Congratulations to the 2021 Alumni Outstanding Achievement Award recipient, Jenn Louis ’89!
Nominations are open for the 2022 Alumni Awards. Submit your nominations by June 30. Nominate someone here.