Top | Our Table
(article, Kim Carlson)
One of Portland, Oregon's, consistently excellent restaurants is Paley's Place. Perhaps it's no surprise, then, that among all the cookbooks to come through Culinate's door in recent months, one of my favorites is The Paley's Place Cookbook.
Co-written by the restaurant's chef, Vitaly Paley, and his wife and business partner, Kimberly Paley — with help from Portland chef and cooking teacher Robert Reynolds — the book is an accessible collection of recipes and techniques that make the most of such classic Pacific Northwest ingredients as morels, Dungeness crab, and hazelnuts. But beyond the recipes, the book also contains a dozen or so essays that capture the considerable craft and skill of the region's farmers, fishermen, and growers.
Finally, the photographs, by John Valls, enhance the book tremendously.
Granted, they're very different kinds of works, but I haven't read anything that's made me more excited about Oregon's bounty since I devoured James Beard's Delights and Prejudices.
[%image reference-image float=left width=400 caption="Kimberly and Vitaly Paley have written a valuable cookbook that makes you want to go to the kitchen and cook."]
Unlike many restaurant cookbooks, The Paley's Place Cookbook actually made me want to get in the kitchen and cook — not just get myself to the restaurant as soon as possible (although there was that, too).
The book also made me hungry for a taste of Freddy Guys hazelnuts and some of Gene Thiel's Alby's Gold potatoes — two food-producers featured prominently in the book.
Not all of the book's essays are about farmers. When he was a teenager, Vitaly Paley emigrated to the United States with his mother from Russia. One of my favorite pieces in the book is his story of cooking French fries — and much more — in his mother's New York studio apartment on the occasion of their 30th anniversary in the United States. Although we readers weren't there to celebrate with them, the gift of the essay is that we get to relive the moment with mother and son.
(One minor complaint: The essays are not listed in the book's main table of contents, so finding — or referring back to them — is tricky. The French-fry essay is on page 48.)
The Paleys' book has plenty of special-occasion recipes, evoking the restaurant's formal dining room. But it also has many easy recipes, such as Crispy Potatoes With Romesco, summoning up the restaurant's cozy bar.
I especially appreciated the numerous basics recipes in the "Bar and Pantry" chapter, including one for ricotta cheese. This chapter contains a good bit of useful kitchen know-how, including a six-page photo essay on how to bone a chicken and an accompanying recipe for chicken stock. It's something I wish we saw more of in restaurant cookbooks.
The Paleys are generous writers, and their ability to convey the foods of the region, the people of a region, and their own love of food is potent. So even if you don't live in the Pacific Northwest, I'm betting that the book may inspire you to search out the ingredients of your home — and make the most of them.
Recently I had a chance to sit down with Vitaly Paley at the restaurant and talk about Paley's Place and The Paley's Place Cookbook. Here's a truncated video version of our discussion, filmed with my trusty Flip:
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