Breaking Bread with ...

Chef and owner of Gothan Bar and Grill Alfred Portale talks culinary success.

Oct 3, 2007

How do you separate your roles as chef and owner -- creativity vs. business?

I think being an owner here has given's been very, very important. It's true, chefs sometimes, they don't measure their success. Very often chefs measure their success in terms of creativity, and what they put on the plate, and it's often at the expense of business. So, I was in a restaurant the other night, and I'm not going to mention any names, but this guy is one of the chefs in America...but they'll never, ever, ever pay for that restaurant. I love to create a menu that appeals to a large customer base with 14 choices or 20 choices on the menu -- it's more like 22, 24 -- I can satisfy everybody including myself and my cooks. We can have dishes that are cool, not overly complex, and [others] that may not have a huge customer base. But then we also have great big Berkshire pork chop, and our steak and stuff, so when people come in for business they can look at the menu and it's easy. So I've always understood it's got to be about business. What's the point if you're doing all this work and you're running 50% cost?

What do you think of the celebrity chef phenomenon, and do you consider yourself one? I consider you one.

I certainly am, yes. Most of my friends and colleagues have built mini-empires and I have not. I have reasons for that. I don't think there's anything wrong [with it]. Not everyone is super successful. Tom [Colicchio] is very successful, but you know, these guys are on airplanes, who are flying all over. They work constantly, and they don't have time for anything. I chose not to do that up until this point in my life. Fortunately Gotham is so big and so busy that I can afford not to -- I don't need to have multiple restaurants. I've got a spectacular three-bedroom NY apartment, I've got a house in East Hampton on the beach, and I get to play tennis everyday. But that is all going to change.

Is it? Why's that? Are you opening an Italian restaurant?

There are other things. I've had huge opportunities to do things, to be in Las Vegas and to be everywhere else for that matter, and I've held back, and now that makes me very unique and valuable.