As one of Boston’s most notable chefs and restaurateurs, Chef Ken Oringer’s interest in restaurants began as a child in New Jersey. Mesmerized by early dining experiences with his family at New York City’s many restaurants, Ken’s youthful interest blossomed into the beginnings of his restaurant career as a teenage dishwasher in a local restaurant. After pursuing an undergraduate degree at Bryant University in Rhode Island, Ken returned to his food roots, working under Chef David Burke at River Café in New York City before moving back to New England to work as the Pastry Chef at Al Forno in Providence, Rhode Island and Jean Georges Vongerichten’s Le Marquis de Lafayette in Boston.
Ken moved to San Francisco in 1992 to become Chef de Cuisine at acclaimed dining destination Silks in the Mandarin Oriental Hotel. At Silks, he began to attract attention for his distinctive, Asian-accented style and his flair for making the most out of cutting-edge ingredients. Traveler magazine named Silks “one of the top twenty restaurants in America,” and raves followed in the Zagat Survey and Gourmet.
In 1997, Ken returned to Boston to open Clio, an elegant restaurant within The Eliot Hotel serving a contemporary French-American menu that marries schooled technique with an artful, Asian-inspired approach. Within the first year, Clio was named “Best Newcomer of the Year” by Gourmet magazine and made John Mariani’s respected list of “America’s Best New Restaurants” in Esquire. The early success of Clio earned Ken a James Beard Award nomination for Best Chef Northeast four years in a row, ultimately being honored with Best Chef Northeast in 2001. Clio was named one of Gourmet magazine’s “Top 50 Restaurants in America” that same year.
In 2002, Ken opened UNI in the lounge of Clio; an inventive sashimi bar offering the freshest seafood from Tokyo’s Tskuji market as well as local fisherman. UNI earned four stars from The Boston Herald, and in 2005 was selected “Best Sashimi” by Boston magazine for its innovative and creative interpretations of sashimi and Japanese fusion cuisine. That same year, Ken opened Toro in Boston’s South End, a Barcelona-inspired tapas restaurant influenced from his travels throughout Spain.
In November 2009, Ken partnered with Chef Jamie Bissonette of Toro to open Coppa, an Italian-style enoteca featuring Italian wines, an experimental cocktail list, and an inventive menu showcasing Ken’s fearlessness with ingredients and his drive to constantly take risks. Ken has since branched outside of Boston on his latest ventures with Earth at Hidden Pond in Kennebunkport, Maine (2011) and a second location of Toro in New York City (2013), both garnering critical acclaim.
In 2015, Ken made the decision to redesign and renovate his flagship, Clio, and reopen as an expanded UNI concept. After 19 years in Boston’s Back Bay, Clio was legendary for its use of exotic ingredients, cutting-edge techniques and dramatic presentations. With an eye toward innovation, drive to push boundaries, and inspiration from his travels throughout the world, Ken was ready to transition.
Following the final service at Clio, Ken reopened UNI in early 2016. Transforming from an intimate, subterranean sashimi bar to an expansive restaurant serving inventive Japanese cuisine using the freshest seafood from Tokyo’s famed Tsukiji market, local New England catches and far-flung flavors inspired by global street food. The new UNI stays true to its roots with innovative sashimi offerings, while introducing Nigiri and Maki-style sushi and plates inspired by street food and modern Japanese cuisine.
When he is not working in one of his six restaurants or teaching and inspiring the next generation of chefs (which earned him the Star Chefs Rising Stars Mentor Award in 2010), Ken spends his time at home with his wife Celine, daughter Verveine and son Luca.