Chef Alfred Portale’s restaurant in New York City, Gotham Bar & Grill, has held one Michelin star since 2005. In fact, it also happens to be NYC’s only restaurant to earn a record five three-star reviews from The New York Times. We caught up with the chef at Singapore Airlines‘ World Gourmet Forum 2019 for a quick chat. By Priyanka Chakrabarti
How is your collaboration with Singapore Airlines shaping up?
I have been associated with Singapore Airlines for over 10 years now. We have an excellent relationship. In the beginning, it was a learning experience; I started with developing dishes that went on to become successful in the aircraft. They are very happy not just for the menu and recipe curation but also for my contribution to marketing initiatives and social media promotions in New York.
Did you always want to become a chef?
I actually thought I would be an artist. I studied art since I was a very young boy. Somehow, my interest in art morphed into jewellery. So, for a while, I was studying jewellery designing. But later, it was a young woman who introduced me to the world of culinary art. Once I got exposed to this, I felt, like wow… this is edible art. So, I began cooking and went to a culinary institute. I didn’t start off to be a chef, but I am very happy that I made that decision.
What are the things you keep in mind while curating a menu for global flyers?
There are a number of things. I try to keep the dishes relatively simple. I don’t use unique or difficult-to-get ingredients because I know they may not be able to find it easily, everywhere, and I don’t want them to use a substitute. The fact that the food is fully cooked, chilled, uploaded and then placed on the aircraft – I have to take all of that into consideration because I learnt, at 40,000 ft. there is no humidity and it affects your taste buds. So, I try to ramp up the seasonings in the dishes that I do and add an element of acidity or sweetness, or both – this really helps.
Can you tell me about the top two in-flight dining trends that are doing the rounds this year?
For the past few years, Singapore Airlines has really embraced the idea of farm to plate, which I’ve been doing for the last 30 years. I have relationships with farmers, in fact, sometimes they grow stuff for my specific requirements. It’s nice that the airline has taken this approach. Another approach is sustainability, and again, sustainability is not a local but a global concern. It really begins with seasonality; I always try to incorporate seasonal food.
What is your definition of comfort food?
Something simple, heart-warming and soulful.
What is comfort food for you?
It actually depends on the time of the year. Right now, it’s really cold back in New York. I do a lot of cooking on the weekends and I have a house in the countryside, and I often make big batches of chicken soup – that’s sort of comfort food for me.
Who’s your favourite chef?
That’s a tough one. It’s like naming my favourite child. However, one of my favourite chefs would be Jean-Georges Vongerichten; I’ve admired him for many years. As his restaurant empire has grown over the years, he has managed to maintain a very high level of consistency; he works very hard and he is extremely creative!