Did you ever consider after you were working in the restaurant not going to culinary school?
No, that never crossed my mind. Again, I think I had a romantic idea of what was going to happen at school. I thought I was going to go there and two years later emerge as a full-blown master chef. I had no idea .... Of course that's not the case at all.
You were first in your class.
I was first in my class.
You came to New York City.
During school I was obsessed with the Michelin three-star chefs. And through their books ... there was an early series of cookbooks called Lafont series. And it had Guerard, ... and Senderens, and Chappelle, and all those guys. So there's sort of late 70s, early 80s superstar chefs ... Maximin ... all those guys. So I had not traveled to France at that point in my life. But I devoured those books even though they were in French and I couldn't read [them], but it didn't matter. So when I was at school, I had an opportunity. There was a job listing for an interview to work for Michel Guerard, and that's all I needed to know. So I went to New York, found out what it was -- it wasn't a restaurant, it ended up being something else -- but saw it as a segue into getting to France. And in fact, less than a year and a half later I was working in France in his restaurant, so it all worked out well.
Why did you leave France?
I loved the food, but the problem with France is that it's full of French people. [Ed: Chef Portale is kidding, of course.] I guess I was ready -- I had a car, a little bit of money, worked at Guerard, and lived a couple of months in Paris, and traveled all over to wineries... I think I was anxious to get back to New York and apply what I had learned.