For Patrick McKee, cooking is all about mixing and matching. As the executive chef at Perlot — a fine-dining establishment located in the heart of Portland, Oregon’s east side — he has spent the bulk of the past year refining the restaurant’s globally-inspired dishes, which bring touches of Italian, Japanese, and Southeast Asian cuisine to a town not particularly known for any one dish.
Perlot may be where McKee’s now works, but it wasn’t where he got his start. He began his career as a chef at the now-shuttered Zefiro, a spot that put Portland on the map when it first opened in the 1990. There, he excelled under the direction of renowned chef Christopher Israel, who showed him that he could cook for a living.
“What he told me when I was leaving was to find the best chef that I could work with,” says McKee. “I ended up with Vitaly Paley [of Paley’s Place fame], where I was for 10 years.”
Although it was under Israel and Paley that McKee gained a sense confidence in the kitchen, it was his mother and grandmother who taught him the value of a good meal. Sunday dinner was big in McKee’s household growing up, a time to reflect on the week’s happenings over his mother’s lasagna, spaghetti, or whichever dish she decided to cook up in a given week. Side dishes were often as important as the main course, especially during Thanksgiving, something McKee has taken to heart since then.
“The turkey is the turkey,” says McKeen. “But for me, it’s about the creative side dishes that can go along with it, whether you’re doing a soup, stuffing, or something else.”
One of his favorites? His mother’s green bean side dish, which represents a welcome alternative to the traditional green bean casserole that has dominated the dinner table since it was introduced in the mid-1950s. According to McKee, it’s a simple dish, yet it’s a versatile crowd-pleaser no matter the time of year.
To start, blanch a helping of green beans for a minute or two before letting them cool. Then, render some cubed bacon and a little bit of shallot in pan for five minutes over a medium-to-low heat. Add the green beans to the pan and a little ride wine vinegar — which provides acidity — before dropping in a few dollops of butter. When finished cooking, top it off with fresh parsley, fried onions, and a dash of salt. In the summer, consider adding fresh-chopped heirloom or cherry tomatoes.
When it comes to cooking in general, McKee has some additional advice: Keep it simple and stick with what you know.
“I think the one thing that you find with a lot of people is when they go outside their comfort zone and try to create something that they’re not familiar with, that’s when the screw-ups happen in the kitchen,” McKee continues. “You end up with burnt chicken or half your house burning down.”
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