Magazine article Newsweek

Keep It Simple, Stupid; Alfred Portale Made Complicated Cuisine a 1980s Ritual. but His New Cookbook Shows Homey Is Haute

Magazine article Newsweek

Keep It Simple, Stupid; Alfred Portale Made Complicated Cuisine a 1980s Ritual. but His New Cookbook Shows Homey Is Haute

Article excerpt

Byline: Julie Scelfo

For Alfred Portale, the Manhattan chef who gained fame in the 1980s with towering culinary creations that resembled architecture more than cuisine, the hardest thing in the world is cooking simply. Consider an appetizer he whipped up for Gotham Bar and Grill's 20th-anniversary party this year: hamachi tartare with yuzo-orange vinaigrette and jalapeno pepper topped by a wasabi microgreen. Not the guy you'd expect to write a cookbook featuring recipes for popsicles and pizza.

"Simple Pleasures" arrives in bookstores next month, bringing with it Portale's hopes that it will re-energize his career. While Emeril and Wolfgang Puck were turning themselves into brands with TV shows and eponymous restaurants, Portale, 50, stayed committed to Gotham and raising two daughters. But his elaborate cooking style drew increasingly less attention as Food Network-watching Americans came to favor simple fare they could re- create at home. Thus the inspiration for "Simple Pleasures," which joins a growing list of cookbooks by famous chefs who are replacing the haute with the homey. As simple as creating simple recipes might seem, for a perfectionist like Portale the effort was herculean.

Hunched over a small white stove in Gotham's kitchen in late 2002, Portale dips his fingers into a pot of pappardelle with braised lamb shank and pinches a bit to taste. Something's missing. Instinctively, he reaches for a bottle of truffle oil, but restrains himself, remembering that most home cooks don't keep that delicacy in their cupboards. Committing his ideas to paper requires equal restraint. "I don't know if it tastes 'darkly of the Tuscan countryside'," he says to coauthor Andrew Friedman, chiding him for his description of a mushroom minestrone. Photographing the food is just as challenging: "It won't fit in this f---ing dish! …

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