Portale's 12 Seasons Cookbook
Alfred Portale with Andrew Friedman (Broadway)
it to Alfred Portale to come up with the Big Bang
theory of the culinary world. After all, the man has
always been an achiever. He graduated first in his
class at the Culinary Institute of America, the country's
best cooking school. Soon, he co-owned and cooked
at Gotham Bar and Grillconsistently named one
of New York's top restaurants, and won the prestigious
James Beard Award for Best Chef, New York, as well
as the coveted IACP Julia Child Award for his first
cookbook, Alfred Portale's Gotham Bar and Grill
theory is that May is the Big Bang of the culinary
year. "If a chef rather than an astronomer had
devised the calendar, the year would begin not in
January, but in May, when the vegetables that appear
are a cook's dream come true," writes Portale,
as he kicks off his own 12-season cookbook with May.
"May is the time of life beginning anew, of optimism
and promise, and this spirit is revealed in the fragile
shade of green that infuses the entire landscape-a
pale, expectant hue that announces tender young buds
and shoots as they sprout into being. Not coincidentally,
this color also defines many of the foods of May,
such as pea shoots, fava beans and asparagusmany
of which rank among my favorites of any month."
to this list ingredients like ramps (sweet, wild leeks)
and fiddleheads (the shoots of ostrich ferns), which
appear oh-so-briefly each May, and you've got the
building blocks for Portale's theory and new book.
He believes that each month is a season unto itself
and, therefore, deserves its own scrutiny and recipes.
Needless to say, this brings the freshness that is
the hallmark of the cooking of all top chefs to even
higher and more focused levels.
this deliciously translates into are recipes like
Bosc pear carpaccio with microgreens, pecorino Romano
and balsamic vinegar in January; goat cheese salad
with beets, braised fennel and a citrus vinaigrette
in April; and duck with roasted peaches and baby turnips
recipes sound gourmetand they are. However,
like most of the world's best chefs and best cuisines,
their style is simple, deriving exceptional flavor
from the perfect blend of their ultra-fresh ingredients
rather than from sophisticated cooking techniques.
The aforementioned peaches, for instance, which add
an exceptional sweetness and balance the fatty quality
of the duck, are simply peeled and pitted, then sprinkled
with sugar and roasted for release of their juices
and an exquisite caramelization.
also exquisite is Portale's infectious enthusiasm
and the virtual poetry that flows from him as a result.
His book is about much more than just eating fiddlehead
ferns in May. It's about getting spiritually in tune
with the "monthly seasons," too. In his
"January: A Fresh Start" chapter, he writes:
"Gastronomically speaking, January is a time
of reckoning and readjustment...For gourmands, this
is an annual turning point. This unabashed feeding
frenzy that defines December looms in one's memory
as a nirvana of sorts, but the need to rein it in
is indisputable come the New Year. The obvious problem
is that it's challenging to eat healthfully without
giving in to the bland." That's not a problem
in this book, whichwhen taken in whole with
Gozen Koshida's stunning color photography of the
seasons and the recipesbecomes a perennial masterpiece
rather than a seasonal advice guide.
Risotto with Spot Prawns
(Updated: 10/30/08 SB)