Vitaly Paley, Ben Bettinger and Patrick McKee in the kitchen at Paley’s Place. ##John Valls
Raviolo, Morels and Asparagus as seen in The Paley s Place Cookbook. ##Photo by John Valls
Bordelaise with Roast
Marrow Bones as seen in The Paley s Place Cookbook.  ##Photo by John Valls
Sweetbreads and Crayfish Boil as seen in The Paley s Place Cookbook. ##Photo by John Valls

Open Book

Alumni pay homage to Paleys’ personal influence and enduring cookbook

By Annelise Kelly

Portland’s culinary flags are flying half-staff with the announcement that Paley’s Place is closing Thanksgiving weekend. Since chef Vitaly Paley and his wife, Kimberly, opened the restaurant in 1995, it’s helped define Pacific Northwest dining and cultivate Portland’s reputation as a capital of cuisine. Outlasting many of its contemporaries, Paley’s Place retained a stellar reputation as well as frequent inclusion on “best of” lists.

The Nob Hill restaurant earned Vitaly Paley a James Beard “Best Chef” award in 2005, and was named “Best Restaurant” by Portland Monthly in 2007 and 2008. He won an “Iron Chef” smackdown in 2011 with a five-course menu based on radishes, and the couple penned “The Paley’s Place Cookbook” in 2008.

In 20-plus years, at the pinnacle of Oregon fine dining, the kitchen at Paley’s Place welcomed and trained dozens of fledgling chefs who would become influential chefs in their own right. Oregon Wine Press spoke to five chefs about their memories in the kitchen with “Vito,” and learned which Paley’s Place dish they consider the most memorable.

The Paley's Place Cookbook ##Photo by John Valls

Chef Scott Ketterman

Pizza Kat

Paley’s Place: 2000–2003

Cookbook Pick: Roman-Style Chopped Chicken Liver

Those guys were probably the most influential people during my career. The takeaway for me from working with them was just their sense of integrity and their full dedication to the craft. They inspired me to go to Europe and work and further my career; I’m totally indebted to them to this day, honestly.

They really helped to put Portland in the national spotlight. There were a lot of young cooks who cut their teeth in that kitchen and have gone on to open places of their own that have really contributed to the culinary landscape in general. It would be really difficult to overstate the influence that restaurant has had on Portland.

I’m happy for them, that they are exiting the restaurant on their terms, and they’re still at the top of their game. The things they’re putting out, they’re just still top level, and I’m happy for them that they’re getting ready for a new chapter of their life, having done an incredible, amazing job.

Chef Ben Bettinger

Your Neighborhood Restaurant Group

Paley’s Place: 2001–2009 / 2012–2014

Cookbook Pick: Soft-Egg Raviolo, Morels and Asparagus

When I first started working for Vitaly, I was an intern coming out of culinary school. I’ve always said I learned more in the six weeks of my internship than I did in a year and a half at school.

The food they were doing was really, really focused on farm to table, well before that phrase got thrown around pretty loosely. Also, the family atmosphere and environment in that restaurant: If you work there, you’re part of the family. That really made an impression on how I wanted to run kitchens.

I tested every single recipe in the cookbook and made all the food for the photos. Shooting the duck egg raviolo as a photo became extremely challenging and we spent an entire day on that one picture. That shows you the dedication Vitaly has to anything he does. He taught me if you’re going to do something, you go 150% in. It doesn’t matter what it was, Vito would go all the way on everything he did. I attribute my work ethic to him, in a large, large way.

Chef Gabriel Rucker

Le Pigeon and Canard

Paley’s Place: 2002–2004

Cookbook Pick: Crispy Sweetbreads and Crayfish Boil

I kind of lied about my qualifications when I did my stage to get a job there. Then I was immediately in over my head in a good way. The job was very hard, but it was rewarding. People who worked there cared deeply about what they were doing. We cooked food in a classical manner, under a lot of pressure, with really high standards. And that really set the table for me.

Vito, I call him the godfather of Portland’s food scene. Everybody’s passed through his kitchen. Everybody’s been touched by what he does. He worked there, he cooked, he made staff meals, he expedited the line and he did events. He didn’t just come in and out of the kitchen; he was there doing it all.

Vito gives you as much as you want to be given, if that makes sense. If you care enough and you’re not a jackass, Vito will take the time to make sure that you thrive. And that set me up to be the chef that I am today.

Chef Jason Barwikowski

Hiyu Wine Farm

Paley’s Place: 2004–2005

Cookbook Pick: Escargot Bordelaise with Roast Marrow Bones

When I started working there, it was really eye-opening. Produce would show up every day, and you’d just rotate through it. I’d never seen that before, and I’d never seen the variety of stuff coming directly from farms. To this day, I still exercise bringing in less product and doing more work more often, rather than bringing in a bunch of stuff and letting it sit in the walk-in and hoping it doesn’t go bad.

There were no prep cooks when I started there, so it was a super-intense restaurant. It made you a better cook, more organized, more precise. You got really efficient and really smart about how you did things.

He helped define Northwest cuisine. They built the cornerstone of the Portland restaurant scene, and that’s part of what attracted me to the Northwest. For that, I’m really thankful. I still talk to Vito to this day. I hope they’re retiring and moving on to the next phase of their life and wish them, obviously, nothing but happiness and further successes.

Chef Timothy Wastell

Antica Terra

Paley’s Place: 2008–2009

Cookbook Pick: Smoked Bacon

One thing that I remember when I first got there was the quality of the produce and just the way things smelled. I’d never been around fruits and vegetables that were that fresh before in my cooking career. Just being blown away learning what a kohlrabi was and what a quince was. More than anything, I can remember the way that they smelled.

He’s one of the pioneers of what Portland food is today; and that’s built on the hard work of farmers and local food artisans. If there’s one thing Paley’s Place really helped shape in how I cook now, it’s going after the freshest, best stuff.

I got here in 2008 and a lot of the work had been done already linking up chefs and farmers and paving a road for easy access to ingredients. So, our food scene is very much stronger because of the work that he and Kim did. We’ve got all this beautiful stuff and that comes primarily from the effort and support of people like them from early on.

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