“We’re Here With the Chef”

Walking into a restaurant before opening feels like sneaking backstage at a concert. Getting in the door is easy enough but any minute now, we’re going to get kicked out, right?! Except this time, as we walked into Ataula, Portland’s premiere Spanish restaurant, it was Chef José Chesa himself who had invited us.

Portland Food Photographer

To give you an idea of what it’s like to enter a restaurant before opening, imagine hearing Tunnel Vision from Kodak Black, blasting. Here, let me help you with that.

Relaxed but busy, the Ataula team, dressed in uniform t-shirts and jeans are deep in prep mode. Servers are setting up tables, folding napkins and chatting.

Pre Service Prep at Ataula
Pre Service Prep at Ataula

Owner Cristina Baez is sitting at the bar, back to the door with long time Bar Manager Angel Teta. Cristina is trying to get her Son to eat dinner before service starts.

It’s as if we’ve walked into a family home, right before a party.

Pre Service Prep at Ataula
Pre Service Prep at Ataula

Turning, Cristina greets us warmly and helps us get to work. After picking out a table for food photography, she waves to the kitchen. “It’s tight in there, but feel free to go on in.”

Entering the kitchen, the energy shifts. The front-of-house music fades, replaced by a hum of concentration.

Large pots simmer to my left. Two Chefs cutting in focused silence to my right. A mesmerizing amount of control at work, through every rapid movement.

Paolo quickly gets to work himself, focuses on the vibrant colors of fresh peppers juxtaposed with hands and flashing knives. The faint, rapid click of his camera, marks our only intrusion.

Red Pepper Prep
Red Pepper Prep

Shortly after, Chef José arrives. Greeting us briefly with a smile and a kiss. He too goes straight to work. Demonstrating the exact size cuts he wants for the zucchini and potatoes.

Chef José Chesa, Ataula
Chef José Chesa, Ataula
Chef José Chesa, Ataula
Chef José Chesa, Ataula
Chef José Chesa, Ataula
Chef José Chesa, Ataula
Chef José Chesa, Ataula
Chef José Chesa, Ataula

One of the hardest working Chefs in Portland, Chef José Chesa leads by example.

Chef José Chesa, Ataula
Chef José Chesa, Ataula

Chef José and Cristina have a lot of love for the people who work for them.

Chef José With Team Ataula in the Kitchen
Chef José With Team Ataula in the Kitchen

Average employee turnover rate in the restaurant business is just over 72% a year. That day, Cristina pointed out several staff members that have “been here with us from the beginning.”

At the end of the day, as we wrap up to leave, there is a feeling of guilty pleasure (afterall we did get to eat the food) mixed with a tinge of remorse. We got to hang with the cool kids for a moment, yet we had not earned our right to be among them. We left with nothing more than our memories, full bellies, and Paolo’s pictures.

It is our hope that sharing these words and Paolo’s Ataula restaurant photography, shows our immense respect for not only for Chef José and Cristina but for all the Ataula team. Those who show up day after day and get to work.

Ataula Restaurant Photography

Team Ataula at Work
Team Ataula at Work
Team Ataula at Work
Team Ataula at Work
Prep at Ataula
Prep at Ataula
Bikini House-Made Brioche, Serrano Ham, Mahon Cheese, Tomato Jam, Truffle Butter
Bikini House-Made Brioche, Serrano Ham, Mahon Cheese, Tomato Jam, Truffle Butter
Chef José Chesa Plating
Chef José Chesa Plating
Chef José Chesa Plating
Chef José Chesa Plating
Chef José Firing Xupa-Xup Cantimpalo Chorizo-stuffed Goat Cheese and Membrillo Lolli-pop
Xupa-Xup Cantimpalo Chorizo-stuffed Goat Cheese and Membrillo Lolli-pop
Ataula Nuestra Bravas, 30 Layers in Every Bite!
Ataula Nuestra Bravas, 30 Layers in Every Bite!
Mini Rossejat Negre. Toasted noodles, calamari, squid ink, sofrito harissa ali-oli
Mini Rossejat Negre. Toasted noodles, calamari, squid ink, sofrito harissa ali-oli
Ataula Cocktail
Ataula Cocktail
Pepito de Ternera. Veal Breast Sandwich, Brioche, Havarti, Roasted Green Pepper, Horseradish
Pepito de Ternera. Veal Breast Sandwich, Brioche, Havarti, Roasted Green Pepper, Horseradish
Ataula Montadito. House Cured Salmon, Mascarpone Yogurt, Black Truffle Honey, Coca Bread
Ataula Montadito. House Cured Salmon, Mascarpone Yogurt, Black Truffle Honey, Coca Bread
Rossejat. Toasted Noodles, Free Range Chicken, Chorizo, Pimentón, Roasted Garlic Ali-oli
Rossejat. Toasted Noodles, Free Range Chicken, Chorizo, Pimentón, Roasted Garlic Ali-oli
Aceitunas Mixed Marinated Olives at Ataula
Aceitunas Mixed Marinated Olives at Ataula
An Ataula Feast
An Ataula Feast
Jamón ibérico at Ataula
Jamón ibérico at Ataula
Art at Ataula
Art at Ataula
Antique Cooler at Ataula
Antique Cooler at Ataula
Mural on Ataula Above Kitchen with Chef José Chesa
Ataula Mural Above Kitchen with Chef José Chesa

 

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