There is something truly magical to interviewing a Chef in his kitchen. Especially, before his restaurant opens. There’s a relaxed ease to Chef David Farrell as he dances between conversation and cooking his signature Cioppino.
“It’s what we’re known for, we make our fish stock fresh everyday and the shellfish in these parts is second to none.” — Chef David Farrell, Cabezon
What Draws Chefs to Portland
Despite having worked with the Fathers of California cuisine Jeremiah Tower and Wolfgang Puck, Chef Farrell seems right at home in the laid back, Portland food scene.
“There’s not a lot of elitism in food here. Places are respectful with each other and down-to-earth. People are doing what they want to do. You can be weird here. You can do it your way. “
ALOR recently had the chance to talk with Cabezon Owner and Chef, David Farrell about the Portland food scene, fishing and a seven-year-old sauté pan.
Portland Chef David Farrell
After culinary school in New England, Chef David Farrell trained at Jardin de la Tour in Avignon, France. A Provencal “joie de vivre” influence that still can be seen in his dishes and his demeanor.
It’s not that Chef Farrell isn’t professional. He worked in several high-profile restaurants. Mosaic in Atlanta to Stars and Postrio in San Francisco, where he worked with Jeremiah Tower and Wolfgang Puck respectively.
It’s more that Chef Farrell is a laid back guy. The kind you want to go fishing with on your days off.
The day of our interview, we felt like party guests who arrive early and end up in the kitchen chatting with the host. Our interview quickly took a backseat to simply hanging out. Before we knew it, Chef was saying “You’re going to eat too right? You’re welcome to, you gotta eat!”
Quickly bonding over a shared love of travel and Santa Fe Chef Farrell had a moment of nostalgia take over “It’s beautiful there, during the holidays, all the lights!”
Over the years, Chef Farrell returned again and again to Santa Fe working hotspots like Santacafe and Ristra. “It’s my dream to own a house in Santa Fe.”
Cabezon Portland staff and locals need not worry. Chef Farrell just closed on a new home in Portland and plans to stay a while.
Portland Gives Chefs Freedom
After spending much of his career in high pressure “big party” markets, Chef Farrell and his partner/wine-maven Jackie Speck moved to Portland and opened Cabezon in 2009. Why Portland?
“You don’t have to be backed by a corporation to open a restaurant here. When you don’t have multiple, hundred thousand dollar backers, you can do what you want. There’s a real, strong entrepreneurial spirit in Portland. From starting a food cart to pedaling around delivering meals on a freakin’ bicycle. It’s become a crazy food scene. That’s great, it’s healthy! ” — Chef David Farrell
Given his choice and freedom in Portland to do just what he wanted, Chef Farrell focuses on fresh forage and fishing ingredients.
Bounty of Ingredients in Portland
From Chef José Chesa of the famed Ataula, Chesa and 108 to Brunch Chef de cuisine Erin Connell of Tasty n Sons, the abundance of fresh ingredients is a theme we hear over and over again when talking to Portland Chefs.
Chef Farrell is no exception. He’s a staunch proponent for quality ingredients readily available to Portland residents and Chefs.
“You’ve gotta go to the farmers markets! I go weekly to the Hollywood Farmers Market. PSU is great too. You gotta go! “
It was right about then that Chef Farrell disappeared to the back of the kitchen and returned with a box of foragers gold, beautiful giant mushrooms.
“Fall is a great time for mushrooms. I take my dogs out to forage. I’ve got local farmers that will deliver too. My mushroom guys are great.”
I asked Chef Farrell about his start to finish reputation.
“I just went salmon fishing in June. We caught four or five Sockeye Salmon and they were really, really tasty. You can go in September, when the bite is on, but the fish are not as good. They have been in the river too long. The flavor of the fish changes, the texture change. What happens is, the oil content change as the fish uses energy to procreate and spawn. So later in the year when there’s more fish and the bite is on, the fish is just not as good.”
In other words, Chef Farrell is a Chef who clearly knows a thing or two about fish. Not just how to cook, but where, how and when to catch them.
“Halibut season ends this week. Wild Salmon gets rivery, so it’s over. You want that fat content with fish. So around here we have Sole, Rockfish and Black Cod or Sablefish.”
At the end of our time with Chef Farrell he sat us down to the dishes he prepared while we talked and it, was, good! Simple yet still with a creative approach. Fresh and cooked to perfection.
Our fresh fish du jour, Striped Bass was served on a bed of white sweet potato purée and squash topped with mushrooms and micro greens. Perfect.
A signature dish, Cioppino hit all the right notes. A mix of local fish, mussels, and clams, Dungeness crab and calamari in a stew of fennel, onion, celery and leeks. A little spicy heat builds slowly. Comfort food, without the discomfort of eating a heavy dish.
Best Seafood in Portland
Even as the Portland food scene heats up, Cabezon still stands seven years in as a top pick for the best seafood in Portland. Chef David Farrell’s classic, straight forward approach consistently delivers.
Right down to the heavenly Maker’s Mark whiskey ice cream profiteroles with chocolate sauce and candied hazelnuts. Yeah homina, homina, homina, you want that. There’s always room for dessert.
Oh, and in case you were wondering about that sauté pan. We spun into a conversation about the most important kitchen utensils. Aside from good knives and a fish spatula, Chef Farrell swears by a good sauté pan. Quality lasts. This one is seven years old and shows all the marks and scars of use in Cabezon.
Cabezon Photography Tour
One of the best ways to find out if a restaurant is what you’re looking for is to go take a look. When traveling to a new city, that can be, a tad tricky.
The desire to check out restaurant images before visiting is the exact reason, ALOR is creating a photography sneak peeks for restaurants we recommend.