Great restaurants transport guests. Chesa lets the world outside, melt away. A Josper grill gently warms the air with Orange wood. Large black and white sketches trigger memories of Spain. Suddenly, standing by the bar, wine glass in hand, snacking on tapas, is a way of life again.
What Draws Chefs to Portland
Our intention at ALOR was simple. Interview Chef José Chesa about the Portland food scene and photograph his new venture. What Chef José Chesa says about Portland is unique and unabashedly honest. Yet it’s his approach to life, food and family that focused our interview a little closer to the heart.
Portland Chef José Chesa
We stood admiring a large sketch of the Barcelona Market when Chef José Chesa arrived. Greeting us warmly he points to the artwork, the first question his.
CJC: “Do you like Barcelona?”
ALOR: “Yes, we just spent a month in Spain. I was ready to move to Barcelona after exploring that market.”
A warm smiled spread to Chef José Chesa’s eyes, pride.
Moments later, Chef José welcomed us into the most immaculate kitchen I’ve ever seen. Marveling at each surface, pristine stations, I remark “It’s so clean!”
Almost reflexively, Chef José replies “clean kitchen, clean food. It must be clean, it must be.”
As we talked I watched Chef José watch his kitchen. His eyes catch everything, every detail. Without skipping a beat, a giant stock pot gets his hand to glide it safely around the corner.
As quickly as he returns to our conversation, his other hand wipes away a previously unseen smudge. Spotless.
Satisfied, Chef José is ready for questions.
Chef José Chesa On Portland
ALOR: Chef, why Portland?
CJC: “Portland reminds me of Europe. People are open minded here. People are really into food, Foodies. Portland has very beautiful nature. Many of the ingredients for Spanish cuisine are grown here. Plus, people are polite here and Portland is a safe place to raise my son. It’s getting too expensive though. I can tell you that right now. But you cannot have perfection, it doesn’t exist.”
ALOR: “What’s the Chef Community like in Portland?”
CJC: “We are very supportive of each other. We help each other. It’s important for Chefs. People have a great amount of knowledge here. Chefs are into taking good care of food. They use the best ingredients, the best techniques. They cook food in the best way possible.”
What Makes a Chef Great
ALOR: What’s the key ingredient to a great Chef?”
CJC: “Devotion. This is a hard business. You must be passionate about what you’re doing. If you’re not happy and you cook, your food will not be good. You simply have to love what you’re doing, otherwise what’s the point? You have to live for today. It’s all we have.”
“In this business, if you are not a little crazy you’ll go nuts.”
ALOR: “Chef, what keeps you inspired? Keeps you in love with what you do?”
CJC: “I try to go to Spain at least once a year. In Spain, they really move fast on using new ingredients and new techniques. I love to figure out, how to handle a good ingredient in a new way. Then I translate it. How can I use this ingredient for a Portland palate? Plus in Spain I get to see my family.”
ALOR: So let’s talk family.
CJC: “Family is everything! They are the most important thing. I have to talk to my family. I call them five times a week. I have to, I don’t care what other people say. I have to call them! I have to hear from them and talk to them. Family is the most important thing.”
ALOR: Who is your biggest influence from your family?
CJC: “My Dad is my biggest influence. Growing up I never got to see him. He owned a restaurant for 35 years. He was always working. Sundays were the day he would cook for us.
I was the most privileged kid. Not because I had lots of books, fancy cars or apartments by the sea but because I was able to enjoy the best foods.
My parents paid for culinary school. Dad said ‘with you, we will do this right.’ It’s because of him that I have this love of food, cooking, this love of what I do. He gave me everything.”
If Chef José Chesa has anything to say about it, his son, guests and team, will all inherit his love and passion through his food.
A Sense of Family at Chesa
At home, Chef José started introducing his Son to flavors at three months. “Just a taste on the lips.” At three years, Chef José took his Son to an eight course tasting menus. He waved off critical comments and watched his Son begin to develop his palate early.
Similarly, at Chesa and Sister restaurant Ataula, Chef José is out in the dining room as often as possible. Giving Porron demonstrations, checking to see, are his guests happy? How do they feel? Did they like the food?
The hospitality Chef José shows his guests starts in the kitchen. He needs to know his staff is happy. That they have what they need, that they are enjoying their work. Are they cooking happy?
It seems, in every aspect of his life, Chef José is working to replicate the closeness of family. Chesa is named after his Father. His partner and co-owner at Ataula, Chesa and 108 is his wife, Cristina Baéz.
The Orange wood used in the Josper grill, replicates family memories as much as it lends a smokey, developed flavor to his paella Chesa. The same Catalan paella his Grandmother taught his Father to make. The very same Catalan Paella we experience as guests that evening.
Replicating a sense of family, is not something that can be done without heart. The pure devotion, passion and love of food is what Chef José puts into Chesa. Chef José and team put out plate after beautiful plate, straight from the heart.
Yesterday we shared a photography tour of Chesa for hard-core Foodies. It’s definitely worth noting, from our point of view, the craftsmanship of team Chesa, is equally beautiful to catch in prep.
Recent Chesa Restaurant Reviews
- “Chef Chesa takes traditional tapas to a new level.” Bon Appetit
- 2016 Best Restaurants in Portland Oregon Live
- “It’s artful but accessible, mining soul-food and surrealism as only a Barcelona native could.” PDX Monthly
Chesa Portland Address & Hours
- 2218 NE Broadway St, Portland, OR 97232 | MAP
- Tuesday – Saturday (5 pm – 10 pm)
- Chesa Phone Number 503-477-9521