Two eggs, side by each, both facing the sun with an orange glass of juice
A Cautionary Fairy Tale of a Life Dedicated to Overindulgence and Excess
There comes a time in all our lives where we need to come to grips and embrace who we are and what we’ve become. Some are forged out of experiencing life changing traumatic events while others reluctantly accept the path they were born into. A bird is a bird and eventually it must fly, to deny the bird flight is is to deny it’s very existence. After 50 years of life on this planet I finally am coming to grips with whom I was born.
I am a gourmand; Bacchus personified, fat, round and damn proud of it. My stomach has been built upon the tables of many great meals and even more fond memories. The problem is it’s an excessive lifestyle that I have a natural inclination to and few near me have embraced it as deeply as I have. I swear I come by it honestly and it has been my ordained path long before birth.
My story actually begins in the womb when Pépé, my grandfather, insisted on feeding my pregnant mother a hearty Perigord diet of goose foie gras and black truffles to ensure that despite growing up in Chicago, thousands of miles away from the French motherland, I would become a proper gourmand when I materialized in the physical world. The party continued on day one when instead of getting the traditional spank and sip of mother’s milk to welcome my arrival, I was handed a flute of bubbles and a serious addiction to the good life. You see, dear old Maman was born in Champagne, France and it is the old custom to whet the lips of a newborn with a sparkler. The way she recounts my birth is, I was being ingloriously hung upside down like a rabbit about to be spanked when she growled at the doctor with a ferocity almost devil like that I needed a flute of Champagne immediately. It is better not to question a command emitting so deeply and forcibly from the guttural bowels of a snarling woman who just had the equivalent of a melon pass through the most intimate part of her anatomy and survive to tell the tale.
I followed my natural path from budding gourmand to becoming a Chef, cutting my teeth on a cornucopia of restaurants across the USA, Canada and even a brief stage for Joel Robuchon in Paris, France. I had the great pleasure to work with some of the most colorful cooks, Chefs and oddball characters that if I dedicated the rest of my life to writing endless posts and books and perhaps a few movies based solely on my life experiences in the kitchen trenches I may not have enough time. I can never forget a French Canadian waiter named Tony who would literally smoke four cigarettes at once in about ten puffs, mutter something incomprehensible like “I had two eggs side by each both facing the sun with an orange glass of juice for breakfast” then run back into the dining room and elegantly serve people their dinner. My sous chef at the time was a culinarian foot soldier named Dave Mottershall whom we respectfully called “the animal” . Animal is every Chef’s wet dream of a sous – fun, passionate, loyal and with an insatiable work ethic that forced you to keep up or be crushed by his single mindedness to be best. Dave was a guy who could crush it day in and day out, week after week and never flinch after a 14 day stretch when I returned from the Saturday farmer’s market overloaded with enough ingredients for twenty new dishes that would appear that very night on the menu because I had some drunken food fueled fantasy the night before combined with three too many espressos in the morning. By contrast my other sous chef Andrew would end up curled in fetal position babbling like a newborn eventually missing a full week of work because he tried to make sense with the 38 massive menu changes in five months of operation. He literally panicked himself so bad he developed some form of short term psychosis that rendered him utterly speechless and howling at the moon.
We all worked together at a seafood restaurant called Dayboat, owned by a New Yorker rumored to have the dubious distinction of being immortalized as the “Silver Shadow” in Anthony Bourdain’s epic tale of kitchen life entitled “Kitchen Confidential”. A fact that led to many career highlights, lowlights and insane moments over the next year but that is a tale for another day. We had so many hilarious times working the endless hours in the hot sweaty kitchen together that the season just shot by and before I knew it, Lisa and I were loading our VW bus and heading south to New York City to open and partner a chain of seafood restaurants with the Silver Shadow. I left Dave guarding a few precious salted hams we hoped to cure over the long, cold Canadian winter and serve the following season at Dayboat as house made prosciutto. Neither the partnership nor prosciutto ever materialized due to shady business practices and sadly Dave and I never worked together again though we remained in touch.
Over the years we traded many phone calls and emails and even a few times I almost got Dave to work with me again, most recently in Southern California at another soon to be doomed restaurant. Fate had stepped in abruptly ending that dream dead in it’s tracks. Just a few weeks ago Dave called and said he and his partner in crime Ayngelina would be in Portland on a food pilgrimage and hoped we could get together and do some serious eating. I was tasked with providing the line up and he was supposed to keep up with the eating. A fair trade off.
Bollywood Theater is Troy MacLarty’s brainchild. His goal was to transport you to Mumbai and make you feel as though you were eating there. I love Indian street food and have been wanting to eat here for months. We started with three recommendations from the cashier/waitress/hostess, Dahi Papri Chaat, a wonderful dish of house made crackers topped with chickpeas, potatoes, yogurt, cilantro and tamarind chutney. An incredible Paneer Kati Roll made from house made cheese, pickled onions and green chutney. And Gobi Manchurian, a dish that will challenge you to think there is chicken in it despite it is made solely from fried cauliflower, lemon, curry leaves and a sweet and sour sauce. All the wonderful flavors and textures transported me as I closed my eyes and took in the smells and savored the layers and layers of flavors. I honestly forget the cocktails we had but remember them as being delicious and refreshing. Our appetites were whetted and our expectations high as we walked down the street to Pok Pok for round two.
I have written about Pok Pok in the past and have eaten there several times. Of all of Portland’s excellent restaurants I knew this had to be on the list of where I took Dave because of the massive flavors and originality of the menu. Portland seems to really excel at providing the dining public places to try authentic street food and Pok Pok is no slouch in that category. Forget every single Thai or Vietnamese place in America offering affordably priced food. Go to Pok Pok and have your mind expanded with every preconceived notion about flavors blown to pieces. Where the competitors do run of the mill dishes like a mediocre Pad Thai or Spring Rolls, Pok Pok does a funky street food version that Chef/Owner Andy Ricker has relentlessly searched out and perfected. For an analogy think of Rick Bayless’s amazing Mexican restaurants compared to an average Mexican restaurant in any town or city. We ordered Ike’s Vietnamese fish sauce Chicken wings, Da Chom’s laap meuang which is an incredibly tasty and slightly spicy Thai minced pork salad, and a charcoal grilled boar collar that was billed as so spicy you absolutely had to have a refreshing bite of mustard greens they actually serve under a mound of crushed ice just to cool off. The very concept of a dish so hot you need ice struck us as immensely ballsy and incredibly funny. I have personally vowed to make that concept a signature of future menus if I ever end up as a Chef again.
We were feeling the suffocating pains of over indulgence and perhaps too much alcohol but opted for one more offering and tried Keeng hang lah, a Northern Vietnamese dish of pork belly and pork shoulder slow cooked in a curried broth. It tasted incredible and the textures of belly and shoulder were sinful but I was stuffed and partially drunk by this point. We asked for the check and debated going to Podnay’s Pit BBQ or Biwa or both.
In a true Eat Till You Bleed moment we piled into our Jetta Sports Wagon and headed in search of Biwa, a vaunted Japanese restaurant in Portland. I had heard that this is the spot that Portland Chefs congregate after working in their own kitchens all night to taste some of the best Japanese fare in the city. We drove through Portland’s dark streets taking miscues from our GPS as we continued laughing about the dish so hot you have to eat chilled mustard greens then pack a snow ball into your arse just to alleviate the impending burst of heat. Drunken Chef’s humor at it’s juvenile best.
I descended into Biwa at 11:30 feeling a bit like I just stepped off the line and had that hunger Chefs get every night when they leave their kitchens to go drinking and then need to eat something they don’t make. Most of the time it had been diners, Chinese, Sushi, bbq or fried chicken. Chefs are notorious for having the most deprived fridges ever. Most of my career my fridge contained no more than a varying quantity of beer, leftover Chinese food, cream for coffee and some molding food that turned into a funky science project.
Biwa features an awesome atmosphere that lends itself well to late night dining and even have a special menu with some amazing bites. Whenever I walk into a restaurant I always ask the wait staff or kitchen staff to send out whatever they think an adventurous Chef would want to eat. I want the weird dish that may or may not appeal to the normal diner or something simple that the cook thinks is the fucking bomb and I need to eat it. Complexity is not the goal, pure taste and adrenaline is. I want what they feel is their best work on a plate. The simpler it is the more badass and ballsy the move.
Biwa’s delivered on their promise. We started with a small plate of king salmon sashimi that sparkled with it’s clean flavors. I had to order the saba nanbanzuke, which for those of us who don’t read Japanese translates to barbarian style fried, pickled mackerel. I loved the oily rich strong flavors of good mackerel that was pickled, fried then chilled. We almost went with their infamous biwa hamburger but then decided on Ramen noodles with pork broth, egg, chasyu and smoked pork shoulder. The soup was awesome but I have had better versions at Momofuku in New York City and Tsujita LA in Los Angeles, which for the record actually spoiled Asian noodles for me anywhere else. Biwas are fine, but Tsujita’s are ethereal. We finished the Bacchanalian night with an unbelievably yummy miso butterscotch gelato. The miso was an incredible addition and I wondered why more places don’t do that.
Lisa and I dropped Dave and Ayngelina back near the Westin hotel and as I pulled away I rolled down the windows and screamed “two eggs side by each both facing the sun with an orange colored glass of juice.’
Dave Mottershall can be found by visiting his incredible facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/LokaSnacks