Nora Antene grew up on Chicago’s west side as part of a large “foodie” family (she is the third oldest among nine children, including seven girls) and graduated with a culinary degree from Kendall College, after which she worked in both savory and sweet roles in Chicago restaurants starting in fall of 2009. After moving to Portland in 2010, Antene staged at Le Pigeon under two-time James Beard Award winning chef Gabriel Rucker, who invited her to join the team at his just-opened Little Bird Bistro. Antene worked at Little Bird where she was mentored by pastry chef Lauren Fortgang for 18 months until becoming lead pastry chef.
In 2013, Rucker tapped Antene to head the pastry program of Le Pigeon, where she traded in Little Bird’s signature macaroons for Le Pigeon’s iconic foie gras profiteroles while staying within the Rucker restaurant family she loves. As executive pastry chef of Le Pigeon in Portland, Oregon, Antene challenges the notions of classic French cuisine by juxtaposing uniquely prepared ingredients in unparalleled, clever execution. Antene has been featured as one of The Next Top Chefs in Portland.
Local marionberries and strawberries play an influential role from May through September during farmer’s market season. As fall and winter arrive, dessert flavors shift to butternut squash and other savory options. Yet two never change: their classic vanilla crème brûlée and the quintessential Le Pigeon foie gras profiteroles. The latter is made with a frozen mousse that goes inside a pâte à choux pastry shell. “It’s fun and decadent,” Antene says. “Eight years ago, this dessert was pretty avant-garde, but people aren’t shocked by it anymore.”
Antene feels as though she is young enough that she continues to develop her own signature style and prefers desserts that are not too heavy. “My favorite ingredients to work with change all the time,” she says. “I love desserts like pineapple pie with caraway ice cream.”
Bread for dessert
Le Pigeon’s pastry department experiments most often in the tasty menu, where they toy with ingredients like puffed rice and different types of flour, such as buckwheat flour to make graham crackers. Alternative flours are popular right now. Le Pigeon’s staff loves to test out different flavors and textures by incorporating bread in desserts. Orange spiced monkey bread is one example of an extremely popular dessert item, or potato rolls for ice cream sandwiches. “There are a lot of artisan breads coming out now. For us, it is fun to play with.”
Outside of work
In her free time, Antene is pastry chef of Limited Company, an intimate multi-course pop-up dinner series started by her boyfriend and Le Pigeon Chef de Cuisine, Andrew Mace.
Le Pigeon released its first cookbook, Le Pigeon: Cooking at the Dirty Bird (Ten Speed Press), in September 2013. Forwarded by Chef Tom Colicchio, the cookbook is a serious yet playful collection of 150 recipes celebrating Rucker's high-low extremes in cooking, combining the wild and the refined in a unique and progressive style, receiving national acclaim from media and chefs alike.