Robert Reynolds at the Chef Studio
Image: Karen Brooks
Robert Reynolds at the Chef Studio Mentors dinner with Vitaly Paley.

Portland food icon and French culinary philosopher Robert Reynolds passed away early this morning at age 70 after a valiant battle with brain cancer. An esteemed teacher, much-quoted storyteller and outspoken food historian, Reynolds inspired and mentored a generation of Portland talents, including Grüner’s Christopher Israel and pastry wiz Kristen Murray. “He gave me a framework for how to think about cooking,” says John Taboada, who studied with Reynolds in France before opening his landmark restaurant Navarre.

Reynolds co-authored one of the great tomes of local cooking, The Paley's Place Cookbook: Recipes and Stories from the Pacific Northwest (Ten Speed Press, 2008). “Robert made you see life, and he imparted that wisdom every time you saw him,” says Vitaly Paley, the restaurant’s chef and co-author of the cookbook.  “His thinking pushed you in all directions.”

When Robert Reynolds threw a dinner, it was an occasion—an intimate night of good eats, sparkling wines, and conversations that led you down roads not yet taken. Something interesting was always cooking at the Robert Reynolds Chef Studio, a personalized cave of concrete, cookbooks, and culinary magic in Southeast Portland. For more than a decade, the tiny space served as the home of his small but influential cooking school, where he shared his musings on French and Italian culinary philosophy. The Studio hosted famous local chefs and experimental up-and-comers, including the Din Din Supper Club. Sometimes the Studio simply let chefs cook something outside of their ordinary routine, showcasing the hidden cooking passions of food cart owner Nong Poonsukwattana (Nong’s Khao Man Gai) or Tim Healea (Little T Bakery).

The Chef Studio will continue its traditions under teachers Murray, Blake Van Roekel, and Din Din’s Courtney Sproule. Check the website for upcoming classes.

Portland’s food community and Reynolds's longtime friends raised funds to send him back to Europe in early August, with former students Taboada, Murray, and Israel at his side. But he died in the place he loved, Oregon, surrounded by friends in his Southeast Portland home. “He had an urge to be here in the Northwest, even in the tough times,” says Paley. “He was very tenacious. This is where he put down his stakes. Portland represented the best of the world he had in France.”

Read "Kitchen Existential," Camas Davis's January 2007 profile of Robert Reynolds