How’s this for dedication? Jose Chesa answered Eat Beat’s questions from a maternity wing while his wife Cristina delivered their first son. At 31, Chesa is not only a new father, but also a veteran of several Michelin-starred restaurants including L’Arpege in Paris, Can Fabes in Barcelona, and most recently helmed Portland’s neighborhood spot, Ciao Vito. Later this summer, he will open Ataula, a tapas restaurant in the former Patanegra space on Northwest 23rd. We caught up with Chesa to get the scoop on his new digs, Spanish Sunday brunch, and his favorite Portland burger.
1. You've worked at some of the world's best restaurants. What brought you to Portland?
When I first came to America, I was living in the Big Apple, cooking at Fleur De Sel as the chef de cuisine. New York made my heart race with its lights and 24-hour restaurants. Yet there was something missing. I began dreaming of a place that would allow me to express myself. Cristina visited Portland for a seminar on food photography, and we fell in love with the city and its foodie culture. Patanegra was the first restaurant I ate at when I visited.
2. Is Ataula going to serve casual tapas or upscale tweezer food?
Ataula will inject traditional Spanish/Catalan flavors with the knowledge I've acquired in fine dining restaurants. Ataula is a Catalan name—similar to à table in French. It basically means “Its time to eat…come to the table.” So, it’ll be more of a communal gastrobar with playful food and small plates. Modernism isn’t going to be a conscious thing at the restaurant. Sure, there will be a touch of modern Spanish influence, but I don’t have 15 people in the kitchen, it’s a small crew.
3. Give us a taste of Ataula: What are dishes you are excited about?
I cannot wait to do my coca (a traditional Catalan flatbread) with seasonal ingredients, paellas, pepito bocata (veal breast with charred green peppers), and octopus carpaccio. For brunch we are planning crispy, Spanish-style fried egg yolks, different kinds of beans, Spanish potato tortillas in every shape and size, cured meats, sausages, and breakfast paellas.
4. When you aren’t dabbling in Spanish gastronomy, where do you eat?
I’m a sucker for a great burger! I’ll stop into Little Big Burger once in a while for a tiny hamburger. For lunch I sometimes head to the downtown food carts and I love what Anthony Cafiero is doing at Racion. But mostly we love to cook at home—we go to PSU farmers market almost every week.