Gotham Bar & Grill's Chef Alfred Portale on His New Book and Love of Peaches
Four years ago, Gotham Bar & Grill chef Alfred Portale decided to celebrate summer with Greenmarket to Gotham, a weekly prix fixe lunch sourced almost entirely from the Union Square Greenmarket. Spotlighting seasonal ingredients allows Portale to highlight a different local farmer every week for 12 weeks, June through August. These summer lunches follow a strict vegetarian diet; each dish hinges on fresh fruits and vegetables, without leaning on meat for substance.
All photos courtesy Gotham Bar & Grill Gotham White Peach Salad
Four years into the program, Portale realized he had been stockpiling recipes, each with its own story. "We had all these great dishes, many were well documented," the chef says. "So the idea was, why not put together this recipe journal and tell the story of the farms [we were featuring]?" Portale published Greenmarket to Gotham Recipe Journal this spring, a vegetarian cookbook with 36 recipes featuring produce from Union Square Market and lots of local lore. The book is available for $22 via Gotham Bar & Grill's website, and you can feel great about buying it: Ten percent of sales go to GrowNYC, which supports greenmarkets around the city.
In the interview that follows, we chat recipes (spoiler alert: he gets reeeaaally specific on the White Peach Salad pictured above), new restaurants, the farm-to-table craze and yes, the cronut.
Fried Zucchini Blossoms
What are a few of your favorite recipes in book?
It's hard for me to say because I selected the recipes. I like some of them for their simplicity. The strawberry and arugula salad is so easy to make and just very impressive. We celebrate the tomato season each year, and we've got a lot of tomatoes represented in the book. There's a peach salad. I think that is a really fun recipe. If I'm cooking at home on the weekends, the idea of doing a stone fruit salad is not all that new, but it works so well together, it's impressive.
Do you have favorite summer/fall ingredient?
I love all the stone fruits. Starting with cherries, moving into apricots, nectarines, peaches, plums; they play a big role in the menu here at Gotham, and they show up a bit in the journal. But I really, really like using those. We have a seared foie gras that we're doing with a roasted nectarine, and we have a pork dish that utilizes white peaches in sort of a spicy peach chutney, so I dig that. I also love corn; who doesn't? Corn is something I really truly look forward to. There's some great corn soup on the menu at Gotham, and one in the journal, and then tomatoes.
When you go to the Greenmarket, is there a particular farmer or stand that you always try to visit?
All 12 farms that are represented in the book. I take the subway from the Upper East Side, and I get off at Union Square. On Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, I walk through the market. I start at one end, and I just do a loop. When my chefs go, they're going for a very specific purchase. I like to see everything and be inspired and make sure we're using as much as we can from the market, but we tend to buy from at least 15 or more farms on a regular basis. Some farms we'll buy just one ingredient from, whereas others have lots of products that we use.
What's freshest, most beautiful and bountiful, at this moment in early August?
The tomatoes are now in full swing. We buy mostly from Eckerton Hill [Farm, at Union Square Greenmarket on Saturdays], but a lot of people have tomatoes. The jury's out on how great of a season it is; the season started late, and for that reason, it may have affected the crops. What we're getting now are really outstanding tomatoes. There are a number of baby beautiful yellow and green summer squash, all different shapes and sizes, that are really sweet and delicious. On the weekends I just slice them thickly with olive oil and grill them. Sometimes we'll do a pan-roast, other times we'll thinly slice them, steam them, and use them in a warm vinaigrette. And lots of plums. There are tons of plums in the market. And there's really nothing better for me than a perfect peach.
Next, Portale speaks on the limitations of greenmarket cooking and the farm to table trend.