Massachusetts native Cassie Kyriakides Piuma graduated with honors from Johnson & Wales University. She spent her last semester studying in Asia. While pursuing her culinary degree, she worked at Al Forno, a highly acclaimed restaurant in Providence, RI. After graduation she moved back to Boston where she worked in several notable kitchens including Sel de la Terre, Gourmet Caterers and The Butcher Shop.
After reading about Oleana in a magazine, Piuma dragged her mother through a blizzard in high heels to eat there. ("Can't we get pizza?" her poor mom begged. The answer was "No.") After dinner, Piuma went home and crafted a letter to Oleana's Chef and owner, Ana Sortun, about her experience. "I just wanted to share with her how excited I was by the meal. I was mesmerized by her use of spice and her interpretation of colors and shapes."
She didn't expect the chef to get back to her, but she did – with a job offer. Piuma started at Oleana as a line cook in 2003; now she's chef de cuisine, a position in which she's given tremendous creative freedom by Chef Sortun. "I like to think that although our thoughts and creations are different," Piuma says, "we find a harmonious balance working together. We're always thinking, brainstorming, bouncing ideas off each other, working towards the next level."
Piuma strives to make smart, bold, flavor-drenched food that also has a bit of whimsy. "Something that tells a story," she explains. She calls on all her memories of food when making a dish – she collects them "like shells on a beach" – whether they come from restaurants she's worked or eaten in, cookbooks she's read or places she's traveled. When the chef de cuisine is at the stove, all of it goes onto the plate.