In a city known for its skyscrapers, Alfred Portale's food at the famed Gotham Bar and Grill mirrors New York's architecture: His towering plates are as legendary for their complex presentations as for their complex flavors.
Portale's interest in food was piqued by reading Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking; his subsequent career change from jewelry designer to world-class chef began with an education at the Culinary Institute of America, where he graduated first in his class in 1981. For three years Portale worked with some of France's most renowned chefs — Michel Guerard, the brothers Troisgros, and Jacques Maximin — during which time he continued to refine and master classical French technique. As he gained experience, a personal style evolved, and Portale became one of the founders of New American Cuisine.
Eager to share his wealth of knowledge and creativity back in New York, Portale became chef at the Gotham Bar and Grill, which was first awarded three stars by the New York Times in 1986, a feat it has since repeated.
Influenced by his mother, who learned Italian cooking from her mother and then adapted it to American ingredients, Portale borrows from several cultures to infuse his dishes with a wide range of flavors.
In 1992 Portale opened a seafood restaurant to fill the city's gap between high-end and cheap-eats seafood offerings. One Fifth Avenue became New York's seafood restaurant of choice, supplied daily by a salmon farm and by a fisherman in Maine. In his seafood dishes, Portale combines the gutsy flavors of the Mediterranean and the abundance of the Atlantic coast with the technical flourishes of France.
Whether visiting relatives in his hometown of Buffalo, N.Y., or at home with his wife and family, Portale is never far away from the kitchen. He is actively involved in charities dedicated to providing food for the needy, such as Share Our Strength and Citymeals-on-Wheels, and has participated in the American Chefs and Winemakers' Tribute to James Beard and Wolfgang Puck's Annual American Food and Wine Festival. In 1990 he was given the Ivy Award by the respected trade magazine Restaurants & Institutions.