Chef Chat: Chef Pinto & The Portland Spirit


Without our mighty rivers, Portland’s first outside settlers would have had no way to trade fur.  Without the Willamette and Columbia, we would have no iconic bridges (some 50 roadways cross the Willamette alone).  We would have no marine cargo terminal fueling the regional economy with wheat and hay exports, or steel and automobile imports.  Our very identity as a community would be fundamentally altered.

Evidence of Portland’s interest in renewing our relationship with our rivers exists in the development of the Pearl District and South Waterfront in the last 15 years.  This push toward the water illuminates our interest in preserving these pillars of our cultural and environmental heritage, while looking forward to new opportunities in commerce and development.  We see the river not just as a feature of our geography that bisects our city, but as an integral component of our very existence.  We believe one of the best ways to experience the essence of Portland is not just near the water, but on the water.

A river cruise on one of the Portland Spirit’s yachts (Portland Spirit, Willamette Star, Crystal Dolphin, Columbia Gorge Sternwheeler and Explorer) provides a perspective that no other local restaurant can.  Whether one’s preference is for lunch, champagne brunch, dinner, sightseeing, or enjoying an on-board concert, the perfect experience is available for all.  Planning, preparing and producing the menus for each vessel requires an incredibly resourceful and talented individual, and we were fortunate enough to connect with the very person responsible for the entire fleet’s food and beverage operations.  Executive Chef Armin Pinto began his career with the Portland Spirit 16 years ago as a dishwasher.  His story perfectly exemplifies the Portland Spirit’s tradition of promoting from within and rewarding those team members who have dedicated their lives to creating truly exceptional experiences for their guests.


When asked about some of the unique challenges he faces when preparing meals for several hundred guests at a time on-board a 150’ yacht underway, Chef Armin described the Thanksgiving ritual aboard the Portland Spirit; 30 turkeys are prepared using only two ovens.  His walk-in refrigerators are highly compacted, and no gas cooking surfaces are available for his use (to comply with US Coast Guard safety regulations).  Further, Chef Armin must contend with timing and logistical variables that would sink land-based restaurants.  To arrive at work even two minutes late at the Portland Spirit literally means “missing the boat.”

Chef Armin resides in Northeast Portland and prefers that quadrant of our city because of the proximity to his children’s school and the many nearby activities available for families.  He derives his culinary inspiration from the neighborhood itself and especially from local food carts.  From steak tacos to pad Thai noodles to beautiful seasonal salads, Chef Armin’s diverse tastes are pivotal in developing and executing traditional, special occasion and private charter menus for the Portland Spirit.  Using local ingredients enriches the guest experience and reinforces Chef Armin's commitment to quality.

When asked what he loves most about his job, Chef Armin tells us, “I just love food!” This is abundantly clear in the deluxe ambiance that the Portland Spirit provides, and also in the presentation of each of his dishes.  Visible in his demeanor is a deep appreciation for his colleagues, especially the captains of each vessel with whom he is in constant communication during a voyage.  When we asked Chef Armin which talent he would most like to have that he doesn’t currently possess, he told us, “being a magician or juggling.” We appreciate his modesty, but it’s quite clear to us that Chef Armin and his team have already mastered the art of culinary wizardry as well as managing numerous complex objectives simultaneously.

Whether you are visiting Portland or are a local native, we highly recommend experiencing our city from the water. A cruise with Chef Armin and the Portland Spirit team affords guests the opportunity to connect with our incredible location, unparalleled natural environment and rich cultural tradition, all while enjoying amazing local food. To make a cruise reservation with Portland Spirit online, visit or call toll free: (800) 224-3901.

Photo Credits: Portland Spirit Cruises & Events