In this monthly feature, we ask acclaimed Portland chefs to show us what's in their refrigerators, to get a hint of how what they make at home informs the stuff they serve you.
Vitaly Paley confesses his refrigerator wasn't always so well stocked.
When you spend most of your time cooking in a restaurant, the burners at home tend to stay switched off, and supplies are bound to dwindle. If, for some reason, the James Beard Award-winning chef found himself hosting an impromptu dinner party at his home in Northwest Portland instead of Paley's Place, the restaurant he opened in a converted Nob Hill house in 1995, guests would be disappointed to find a nearly bare-naked fridge with only a few bottled sauces and spreads occupying the shelves—the icebox equivalent of cobwebs.
"Back in the day, we would shop once a week for a Sunday night dinner because that would be the only time we would have together," Paley says. "The rest of the time, we'd have a bunch of condiments and nothing else."
Now that Paley and his wife, Kimberly, oversee a miniature empire of eateries in the city's booming luxury hotel scene—including Imperial, Headwaters and Rosa Rosa—the couple's schedule has flipped: They spend their days meeting with key staff and running errands, freeing up their nights for leisurely paced meals for two.
"My wife and I actually enjoy cooking at home and spending time together," Paley says. "These days, more than ever, we cook quite often. This is a bit of a departure for us from many years of being at the restaurants pretty much every evening and only spending maybe a day or two at home together."
It would be easy to assume a critically acclaimed chef would sit down and draw up meal plans for himself, similar to how he'd devise a seasonal menu for paying customers. But Paley is just like the rest of us when it comes to the question "What sounds good for dinner?" Meals usually aren't thought through until a few hours before his stomach starts to growl, and he simply opens the refrigerator to see what's there.
"When I cook at home, it's not so unusual," he says. "We work so much all day long, and sometimes you just want to eat and drink wine and watch a movie on TV."
1. Paley says the most unusual item in his fridge is this corked bottle of mead, which was a gift from a friend. "It's been sitting there for three years," Paley says. "It's made in kind of a Russian style that calls for soaking some hops in it while fermenting."
2. The Paleys' fridge has an entire drawer devoted to cheese. While all those wedges and chunks give the impression the couple regularly hosts elegant cocktail soirees, Vitaly says they actually entertain infrequently. That stockpile—primarily sheep and goat cheese—is all for them. "We spent a little bit of time in our youth in France and learned to enjoy cheese," he says. "The same day we'll have, say, a roast chicken and some veggies, and maybe instead of dessert there will be two or three nice little ripe cheeses with some crackers and a piece of apple."
3. The Paleys' care for sourcing quality ingredients extends to their kitchen at home, which is why they prefer fresh fruits and vegetables from a particular grocer. "Food Front has definitely been there for us for many, many years," he says. "I really enjoy their produce selection. They buy from some of the same farmers we work with, and the products are just spectacular."
4. Like many fellow Portlanders, the Paleys' go-to for staples like peanut butter and deli items is New Seasons. "New Seasons is on the way home," he says, "and before we leave the restaurant, especially Paley's, we'll go inside and do the shopping."
5. Whole chicken is a regular item for dinner in the Paley household. It's useful for squeezing out several meals by repurposing leftovers in everything from soup to tacos. Paley also has the perfect hack for cooking them. Remember that dusty old Bundt pan lurking in the back of your parents' cupboard? Use it to cook the bird. "Nobody really makes Bundt cake anymore. It's one of those yesteryear recipes," he says. "I actually take the chicken and put the Bundt pan through the middle of its cavity, standing the chicken rightside up, so it cooks on all sides, quicker, more evenly, and it's really juicy."