“Local” is a term that is thrown around a lot these days. But for 2011 Portland Rising Star William Preisch, it’s not a term he takes lightly. Preisch works with Chef and Restaurateur Scott Dolich of The Bent Brick to craft an entirely, discriminately domestic, sustainable menu in an upscale tavern. If Portland is the national poster child for local, Bent Brick is Portland's poster child for local, even behind the bar (where mixo-staples like Italian bitters are as off-limits as Sherry vinegars and non-domestic products in the kitchen).
And though he might look young for a chef, Preisch is something of an industry vet. He was making cheesecakes, brownies, and pies for his father’s flagship diner in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, at the age of 12. He worked his way up the ladder to line cook, and, in 2004, with ambitions of learning more about the industry, he moved to Fire Food and Drink under Douglas Katz.
Preisch got a taste for sophisticated restaurants, and two years later, he moved to Oregon, drawn by Portland’s thriving restaurant scene. He worked at Le Pigeon and Park Kitchen. The latter restaurant (a Northwest restaurant with Mediterranean influences) was where Preisch met his mentor, Dolich. After a year and a bit at Park Kitchen, Preisch took the time to travel across America. He staged at restaurants and visited farms, familiarizing himself with all the permutations of American produce and cuisine. When he returned to Portland, it was to a position as sous chef at Park Kitchen, where he would continue to work for two more years. Dolich and Preisch then teamed up to open The Bent Brick. While the plates look avant-garde, it’s here that Preisch puts into practice all of his newfound knowledge on classic American foodways, from Louie sauce to ham.
Interview with Portland Rising Star Chef William Preisch of The Bent Brick - Portland, OR
Francoise Villeneuve: What inspired you to start cooking professionally?
Will Preisch: I grew up in the restaurant business. My dad ran a 24-hour diner in Cleveland when I was a kid. He did it all, cooked, served, everything. Cooking always appealed to me from a young age. I started making soups for the diner with my mom when I was 5 years old, bussing tables when I was 9, making from-scratch desserts at age 12, and cooking on the line when I was 14.
FV: Did you go to culinary school?
WP: I attended culinary school briefly, and dropped out after three months. I advocate learning on the job or staging; real world experience over school.
FV: Do you hire people with or without a culinary school degree?
WP: It all depends on the person. I look more for personality, attitude, and the ability to take direction; a degree means very little to me.
FV: What's your philosophy on food and dining?
WP: As far as food goes, I like to use a very small number of ingredients on the plate but a lot of components. You won’t often find more than three or four ingredients in my dishes, but each of those ingredients will be reiterated a few times to show the versatility of the ingredient, as well as reinforce the flavor. My food is technical, but from the diner’s viewpoint it should be very easy to understand.
FV: What goes into creating a dish?
WP: Hard work and research. I don’t really shoot from my hip as far as menu items are concerned. Sometimes dishes come together very easily, both in concept and execution, but they still undergo a testing process. I sit down with my boss, Scott, once a week and we brainstorm menu ideas. After that, my team and I test ideas, techniques, and plating. Once we have something that we’re nearly happy with, the kitchen eats it, and we critique it. Finally, I will cook it for Scott and myself, and it usually goes on the menu a few days later.
FV: What's the biggest challenge facing your restaurant?
WP: Public perception. We also want to make sure that we present our food in a way that’s approachable without compromising our vision.
FV: What's the toughest thing you've had to do in your job?
WP: Managing people is a constant (but welcome) challenge.
FV: How are you involved in the local culinary community?
WP: We work with a large network of farmers, foragers, and local producers. I visit and shop at the farmers' markets usually twice a week as well. On my days off, you can find me at any number of local bars or restaurants. Portland is a small restaurant community, so all of my friends are in the industry.
FV: How do you keep abreast of the latest trends?
WP: I read…a lot. As many free restaurant publications as I can, a ton of blogs, and every cookbook I can get my hands on.
FV: What trends do you see emerging?
WP: Barrels and barrel-aging, house-made vinegars, and coastal foraging.
FV: Where will we see you in five years?
WP: In the kitchen.
FV: If you weren't a chef what would you be doing?
WP: I would probably be a diner mogul.