PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Rodrigo Ochoa has shown his prowess as a chef in the kitchen with his mother, on Food Network’s Chopped, in some of Miami’s hottest restaurants and now in the Pearl District.
Ochoa’s pan-Asian eatery Janken opened for the first time ever on Saturday, Nov. 19, and he and his team have already proven their ability to give guests a complete high-end dining experience. But the chef didn’t initially craft his culinary skills in a setting as upscale as his new restaurant.
After immigrating from Medellín, Colombia, to Miami nearly 20 years ago, he and his mom began selling food out of their house. “We had to make ends meet and make it happen for us as an immigrant family,” Ochoa said.
Soon, world class chef and “Godfather of Nuevo Latino Cuisine”, Douglas Rodriguez would give Ochoa the opportunity to work in his now-closed restaurant located on Miami’s famous Ocean Drive. Rodriguez served as a mentor for the chef, who was later given a scholarship to attend Miami Dade College.
Throughout Ochoa’s time working at steakhouses, with Latin American cuisines, in Italian restaurants and more, he ultimately decided that Asian food was his passion.
“In 2015, I had two surgeries on my knees. And I was like, ‘Okay, what am I gonna do with my career?’” he recalled. “I started working for Zuma, that known izakaya-style, worldwide Azumi group. I loved it. [It was] very different to what I was used to before… Everything that we do, it’s for a reason. And I fell in love with it.”
Ochoa also fell in love with Portland, while he and his wife were touring the West Coast’s national parks for their honeymoon in 2020.
“It really brought me back home,” he said. “Columbia, Medellín, is not as rainy as here, but you see a lot of trees. You see a lot of nature. People are very nice. I have six dogs, so for me it was amazing to see people are very dog-friendly and you can take them everywhere.”
Portland being the No. 1 city for both dog-owners and foodies makes Ochoa’s big move feel predestined. And as much as the chef believes the Rose City is just what he needed, he also thinks Janken is just what the local restaurant scene needs.
“The East Coast is very cutthroat,” he said. “Versus, when I came here, I see that people are willing to try everything and a place like this is filling a big hole in the city…It’s not just about the food. It’s a whole experience. That was so important for me.”
Janken is, indeed, a whole experience. Patrons who walk into the Northwest Portland restaurant will see woody wishbone chairs, dreamy lantern lights, a cherry blossom tree at its center and other touches of aesthetically-pleasing decor.
Fortunately, it tastes as good as it looks. Ochoa and the team have diligently curated the current menu that features Japanese, Korean and other Asian dishes, including spicy yellowtail maki mono, kimchi fried rice and Peking duck which takes three days to make.
Ochoa wants the restaurant to be the go-to spot for any and all celebrations, although Janken is already booked up until Christmas Eve. Find a later reservation for the spot on 250 NW 13th Ave., the former Bluehour space, here.
“Through our menu you can walk through cold [or] hot appetizers, land, sea, or multiple vegan options and gluten-free options as well. If you come around, then you’ll be able to have a completely different experience every time you come,” the executive chef said.