Well lookie here. The NFL season isn’t the only thing that starts tomorrow: Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week kicks off Wednesday night in NYC and runs through September 16. All through the “week,” we’ll be talking to the food world’s most stylish men, starting with a legend, Mr. Alfred Portale.
After graduating from the Culinary Institute of America, Alfred Portale took over as chef de cuisine at New York’s Gotham Bar and Grill and is now a co-owner of the influential restaurant, which is celebrating its 28th anniversary. Before considering a career as a chef, as it turns out, he was all about gemstones, jewels and general bling. We sat down with Portale to talk food and fashion, and got the scoop on what’s inside his closet. Today, Portale is known for being one of the founders of New American cuisine, but what you may not have known about the chef is his devotion to Prada.
You started off as a jewelry designer. What made you transition to food?
I was interested in jewelry, gemstones and design, but I wasn’t able to make a living with that in my early twenties. Around the same time, I was with two family friends who told me about the Culinary Institute, and I thought, wow, a college for chefs; you go there for two years and you graduate a full-blown chef! Little did I know at the time it would probably take around 10 years.
How are food and design related for you?
I believe good food, like fashion, never goes out of style. One very talked about aspect here at Gotham is the presentation and design of the food, and how artistic it is. While it’s not fashion, it has the same artistic sensibilities. Each dish is designed, very often on paper, then it goes through several different component changes, color changes and textural changes till we get the right, successful combination.
We’re seeing more and more cross-pollination between food and design. What’s your take on that?
It’s impossible to separate style and food. It makes sense that people in the fashion and food industries follow one another. And food is cool! It’s really hot right now, it’s fashionable, it’s all over the papers. Chefs are everywhere. So it makes sense that the two are aligned now.
And what about your personal style. I noticed that you only wear black chef coats. Why is that?
I wear a lot of black. I just think it’s just cool, it’s very New York, very chic. I have my coats made by a company and then I have them tailored so that they fit just right.
What do you wear outside the kitchen?
I’m not a clothes horse by any stretch, but I enjoy some really decent pieces. Not too many people know this, but I basically have a uniform that I wear almost every single day. The same shoes, pants and shirts. I’ll buy a couple of different variations, buy 10 of the same shirt, five or six of the same pants, four pairs of the same shoes and when I wake up I just put the same clothes on every single day.
And what does the uniform look like these days?
Generally, I am wearing black T-shirts and blue jeans. I only wear Paige denim and Prada shoes. But today’s an exception, I’m wearing A. Testoni shoes. My T-shirts are Club Monaco. I wear that every single day. It’s always gray, black or navy. There’s no white in the mix.
Who are some of your favorite designers?
I used to be able to wear all Armani from head to toe, but I stopped that. Now, I wear Gucci dress shirts, Prada dressy sportswear and Prada shoes. Also Dolce & Gabbana makes really incredible boots; they are my favorite boots. For really casual everyday stuff I wear Theory because it fits me really well.
What is one thing you wouldn’t be caught dead in?
I would never wear a double-breasted jacket, that’s for sure. I would also never wear a plaid shirt. That’s about it.
Who are your chef style inspirations?
Well, there are some chefs with really great style. [Food Republic co-founder] Marcus Samuelsson, of course. Scott Conant, John Delucie, oh and Geoffrey Zakarian, who is coming to my house for dinner tomorrow, by the way.
What are you going to be making him?
Grilled octopus. It’s all going to be cold food, so a lot of charcuterie and cheeses. Geoffrey and I live so close to each other, but my wife and I are moving soon. For about a year and a half we were saying: we live about a block away from one another, you have to come over for dinner and hang out! And no one has ever done it. So I said before we move we have to do it.
If you were not a chef, what would you be doing?
It would be doing something artistic. I don’t make jewelry anymore, but one of my hobbies is working with wood. I like making furniture.
Do you wear Crocs?
Crocs should only be used for gardening.
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