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Food + Drink

The Dish: Chef Alfred Portale

Long before "local" was a thing, chef Alfred Portale was a devoted fan of small farms, food markets and using only the freshest ingredients at his landmark West Village restaurant Gotham Bar and Grill. Inspired by a recent trip to southern France, his new tasting menu follows that same ethos while incorporating rich flavors from the Cote D'Azur. Siobhan Reid talks to the celebrated toque about bouillabaisse, tennis, and 16-hour flights.

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1

Tell us about the new tasting menu at Gotham?

The concept was inspired by a recent trip to the Côte d’Azur. When you travel along the French Riviera from Monaco to Menton, you'll find restaurants that serve both Italian and French food. Gotham's new tasting menu has a seafood linguini like you'd find in Cinque Terre but also roast fennel rouget, which is a French specialty. I’m Italian American but lived and trained in France, so I appreciate both cuisines.

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2

Your mother is second-generation Sicilian. What are some of your earliest cooking memories with her?

My mother made all of her pastas and sauces from scratch. I remember spending many afternoons rolling out raviolis by hand. And at Christmas time, she would make these delicious Italian cookies, and bring a large plate of them to our neighbors. Now I do that.

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3

How has the restaurant biz changed since you started at Gotham?

I began working there 30 years ago. The culture and attitudes in American kitchens are totally different now. Back then you had your stereotypical chef who was screaming at everyone and picking fights with the front and back of the house. He wanted the staff to pay their dues. You don’t see that anymore. Chefs now understand how to motivate in a far more intelligent and sensitive way.

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5

How does travel inform your work?

I am constantly seeking inspiration for new creations, so travel is a huge influence on me. When I was in Antibes, I had bouillabaisse at two of the area’s best restaurants; it was so good I developed a bouillabaisse for Gotham. The same thing happened after traveling to Morocco for the first time and tasting an olive and preserved lemon chicken dish. I've put that recipe on my menus throughout the years and included a version of it in my cookbook Simple Pleasures.

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6

What's your most memorable meal?

The bouillabaisse royale at the Hotel Du Cap-Eden-Roc’s waterfront restaurant. It was a perfect evening...the lobster, the rosé, the setting.

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7

Where would you open a restaurant next?

I’ve always wanted a place in London. The rule for any chef is to open a restaurant in a city you love, and London is very high on my travel list.

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What's your dream travel destination?

I like going back to places again and again...like Venice. At this point, the city is very familiar and comfortable, but I always discover something there.

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9

You're known to be quite the tennis player. Do you play on the road?

I’ve never gone on a tennis holiday or to a camp, but I always play on vacation. The Villa D'Este, in Lake Como, has these beautiful red clay courts. When you’re traveling, it’s such a luxury to start your day with a match.

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10

What are your must-have travel accessories?

I’m a food consultant for Singapore Airlines, so I fly the airline a lot. A flight from Newark to Singapore is 16 and half hours—that’s a long haul. I always make sure to bring a great book (murder mysteries are my favorite) and a great pair of headphones. I love listening to jazz music.