We had the pleasure of sitting down with renowned Chef Vitaly Paley, who helms the edible excitement happening at Rosa Rosa, Imperial, The Crown, Headwaters and Paley’s Place. Read on to explore the stories behind his success.

“I describe my style of cooking as…well, I’m a mut because I’ve traveled the world and learned from other people’s food. I’m very proficient in a range of things but later in life, I decided to go back in time to understand my roots. Of course my grandmother, Rosa, came up in conversation a lot as did my mother and what they’d feed me as a kid. It became increasingly more important to understand where I come from geographically as well as emotionally. To carry that authenticity forward, the food that we serve in the restaurants is inspired by the life of the past.”

“I grew up eating Eastern European food, so being able to go visit with 30 years of cooking behind me allowed me to truly understand the techniques and the philosophies. As well as trying to reproduce them from muscle memory because I only ate what my grandmother cooked, I didn’t make it. To be able to step back in time and truly understand is special. The journey of today represents my journeys prior, it’s very rewarding.”

 

“I left to former Soviet Union with my family in the mid-70s and traveled through Vienna and Rome, hence some of the Italian influences in the food served at Rosa Rosa. We then landed in New York City, those were really my formative years. I grew up in New York, I went to school in New York, I fell in love with New York and even got married there. So for me, that part of my life Is very special.”

“After two years studying music at The Julliard School, I took a leave of absence. I was trained as a classical pianist all my life but never went back after stepping away. Yet as time goes by, I realize the things that I learned in that part of my life that I still carry with me. Music is a sensory experience, and so is food. We eat every day, which means we take certain things for granted. Meals should be very special experiences where all 5 senses are included. The piano holds a keyboard of 88 keys, yet centuries of music were created on those 88 keys. We only have a certain number of ingredients to use, yet not many of us repeat each other because of all the creative stuff that happens. So, my job today perhaps is a conductor. I conduct an orchestra of cooks in the kitchen and the dining room and that’s pretty gratifying.”

 


“In 1994, we decided to move. It was one of those ‘go West, young man’ moments. However, the story goes a little farther back than that. We spent time in France training and one day, a basket of mushrooms showed up at the door of our kitchen. They were beautiful Morel’s, so I asked the chef where they were from thinking they were foraged in the woods nearby. Instead, he said they were from Oregon. So, we’re in the middle of nowhere working at a Michelin star restaurant and here are these French chefs who believe they have all the best ingredients yet thought Oregon mushrooms were better. That’s where my love affair with Oregon began. I saw the bounty of ingredients. As a chef, you want to be close to the source. Having so many nearby – like the wine regions, the ocean and the mountains – made it ripe and ready, about to explode. 25 years ago Portland was a sleepy town, but we’ve enjoyed a nice resurgence. It’s such an open city. There are no staunch rules or traditions, the pioneering spirit is alive and well. Basically, we get to make it up as we go because no one is holding us back.”

“I don’t remember the first dish that I ever made. But I remember the first day I cooked in Portland at Paley’s Place, amazing that we’re about to celebrate 25 years in business. That first day, as chaotic as it was, I remember standing at the stove with a gazillion pans in front of me and a room full of hungry people waiting. I stopped for a second and said to myself ‘This is exactly what I want to be doing, at exactly the time I want to be doing it, I need to learn and enjoy this moment.’ And then this sense of calm came over me. That was the day that solidified my commitment to my love for food and to the city of Portland. The rest is history at this point.”

 


“In terms of my favorite spots to eat around town, I can’t travel through the Willamette Valley without stopping at Martha’s Tacos. It’s my favorite. I also love Japanese food. Yama Sushi is high on the list but for a very special meal, Nodogoru is hands down the best place in Portland. If I was on a desert island and had to pick between sushi or Mexican…I’d go hungry because I wouldn’t know which one to pick.”

“As for home cooking, I love grilling at our home during the summer. It’s all pretty simple, a one pot meal I call it. Usually just some sort of protein, a variety of vegetables that we grew ourselves or bought at a farmer’s market and of course, good wine. In the winter, we have a little fireplace that I love cooking in. We eat very simply at home.”

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