Zagat: Of all the places you've worked, which chef would you say had the greatest influence on you?
Well I would say it would be Andoni at Mugaritz in Spain, he kind of has an approach to food that is very fun, so it's very natural but at the same time too it's looking at things in a different lens. He would see it and go 'oh what does it look like, what is it similar to, how can you use this texture but turn it into something unexpected?' He would have a childish insight - it's about not having too many boundaries.
Zagat: I know know Atera has a full-time forager but do you still do any of the foraging yourself?
It depends on the season, it depends on the timing, it's been more challenging lately with the opening of the restaurant. Ideally, yes but it's hard to pin down a certain amount of time.
Zagat: How did you get into foraging?
When I moved out to Oregon, there would be these foragers that would come knock on the back of the door, that was my first insight into it. Then when I was cooking in Spain, I found that you have to work a little harder to get something you can't buy, something really special and pristine. At Noma they thought "we just can't find this product but we want to find it." And once it was in the kitchen it was "We have this product that no one else does so we're going to do something really cool with it."
Zagat: How do you think diner expectations differ in Portland vs. NY? Have you had to make any adjustments to your cooking/philosophy?
My philosophy and my style is very personal, so not necessarily, but the ingredients change. As far as the diners, you know it's hard to say - I haven't seen really too much of a difference, if you go and give someone an enjoyable experience, then they'll find fun in it, they'll find the reasoning behind it and hopefully they'll enjoy it.
Zagat: Pete Wells of the NYTimes referred to you as a magician of sorts, do you see yourself that way?
Well I don't' really see myself as an artist or a magician, it goes back to the whole Andoni thing, you want people to have fun. For instance, you want to look at to something you've looked at your entire life, and go 'oh, wow this is what this is they're having fun with it, it's something different.'
Zagat: Was there a life experience you would say most influenced your food philosophy?
Yeah I would say my whole culinary journey has been quite a story and a challenge. When I moved back to Southern California, I was working at another beach resort, trying to save money so that I could to go to Spain.
I applied to do a stage at Mugaritz - if you want to be part of that group, they give you a scholarship, go travel, go into the kitchens of places like El Bulli. That was one of the biggest changing points. Ferran was explaining the whole process of how they organize things and I thought I really need to pay attention and focus in on food because I was much older than a lot of the guys that were there. Most stagiares will go and work at these places and be 21, 22, and 23 and I finally made it there I was 27, When I got to Spain I was kind of the older guy, they said you're 27 you're going to stage now?
When I was there I felt that I was very good cook, but when we would sit down and do our productions I wasn't quite good enough yet, and the chef would come up and say 'you can't keep ripping off the little part of the tail off the langoustine.' I have a lot of friends who wanted to go to El Bulli, they spent their life trying to get there just to do a six month stage. After two weeks of having to peel shrimp the size of your pinkie nail for six hours a day, all the stories and the romanticism leading up to it kind of disintegrates. But, if you learn how to do it really well than you can understand what makes those restaurants really great.
Zagat: Last question - please tell me you have some junk food guilty pleasures.
Man, I have way too many. I would say I pretty frequently eat Swedish Fish.