Though he was in the midst of prepping an enormous dinner for hundreds of people at the James Beard Foundation’s Silver Anniversay Gala, Alfred Portale was kind enough to step outside the kitchen at the Four Seasons and submit to our questions — specifically, our obsession with Treme and his role in a crucial scene that he previewed in our last interview with him. Thanks, Mr. Portale!
We are obsessed with your involvement with Treme. We had an interview with you a while back before the episode aired, but now that it’s been aired, we were wondering: how is it different from anything you’ve done on television in the past? Obviously, it’s scripted, but how else was it different?
Well, it was certainly not the first time I’ve been on television, but the first time that I’ve been in that context. I was part of a scene with Tom Colicchio, Wylie Dufresne, and David [Chang], which took place in New York. It was a dinner party. For me, it was fascinating to be behind the camera and see how much goes into a production like that. It was just astonishing. Our scene was maybe a few minutes on the show, but it took all of a day and a half to actually shoot.
A day and a half?!
To plan it, to set it up. To shoot it was about four or five hours.
And I heard that they had to keep feeding you the same food, over and over and over.
[Laughs] The food was not really meant to be eaten, but we were there for so long we started eating it! The problem was that one of the main characters could not pronounce “Lièvre [Hare] à la Royale”, and he had to keep saying it over, and over, and over again! It was really hilarious.
Do you think that Anthony Bourdain was able to capture your voice, or the voice of any of the other chefs, in the script? Like, did his words sound like how the chefs spoke?
I did have a line, but I wasn’t scripted to say anything.I don’t know about Eric [Ripert]. It didn’t sound like Eric, but it did sound like David Chang.
Well, they have some sort of mind synthesis, the two of them.
True. But with Eric, it’s hard to understand what the heck he’s saying anyways, so I’m not sure it matters.
Oh my goodness. How do you understand him, then?
Oh, we’re old friends.
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