My Favorite Mistake
Chef owner Scott Dolich reveals a Park Kitchen classic and the creative process that brought it to light.
STORY AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY MATT MORNICK
Park Kitchen, along the Pearl District’s historic tree-lined green belt, is a landmark destination for its seasonal American cuisine. For chef owner Scott Dolich and his team, it is a finely-tuned culinary workshop. Scott walked me through Park Kitchen’s rigorous R&D process and how it yielded a local favorite menu item 13 years and counting: chickpea fries and seasonal ketchup.
“In late 2003, right after Park Kitchen opened, I was working in the kitchen full time, serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner,” explains Scott. “It was hectic. There was no real organization to the restaurant. Me and a handful of people were working really hard, nonstop. After about a year, my wife and I took our first vacation through Europe. In Spain, we came across a dish called socca – a loose batter poured into a wood-fired hot pan. Basically a chickpea flour crepe. It blisters and puffs out and goes well with a variety of foods. It was delicious.”
Upon his return, Scott tried his hand with the chickpea crepe. Immediately, things went wrong. “We stayed late one night and made the batter. Once we put it in the dish, it was evident we screwed it up. It was too thick and lumpy. We put it in the pan and it immediately scorched. I was tired and set it aside in the refrigerator to clean up later. The next night when I removed the batter from the sheet tray, it held its shape, which was unexpected. I removed the scorched portion, cut little strips, and put them in the deep fryer out of curiosity. They puffed up into french fries. The taste was intriguing. So I prepared the remaining batter and served it for the staff meal with some pickles and leftover cuts of meat. Our team was into them.
“We explored and refined the texture and flavors with different seasonings. Over the course of a week, the dish was complete. It proved a wonderful example of how a perceived mistake evolves into something that can be truly great. Once we put the chickpea fries on the menu, we couldn’t take them off. People love them.”
This first experiment became the backbone of Park Kitchen’s ethos. “Exploration is the heartbeat of what we do,” says Scott. “A lot of the work is difficult and monotonous. Ninety percent of the work involves countless repetitive tasks. Yet that 10 percent to experiment and explore makes the 90 percent worth it.
“Every time we conceptualize a new dish, a dozen challenges arise,” he continues. “Our chefs have learned to not focus on the challenges, but to think about the final dish, its flavors, textures, and presentation. Once conceptualized, they work relentlessly. When a mishap happens, we set the dish aside. With time, you see it in a new light — and that in fact, it wasn’t a mistake at all. And almost always we end up with a dish we never intended to make, but one people love.”
Much of Park Kitchen’s menu is guided by Sheldon and Carol Marcovitz’s farm, Your Kitchen Garden, in Canby, Oregon. “Sheldon’s vegetables dictate what we can do year round,” reflects Scott. “We have a little liberty to adjust the supply, but most of the time we have to take what produce is on hand. This forces a degree of creativity, but it also guarantees the farm’s survival. Which is fine because our suppliers have become an integral part of what we do.”
Park Kitchen’s chickpea fries are made from cooked, mashed chickpeas, dehydrated and ground up. The batter has an earthy, elemental taste of chickpea – an unmistakable light sweetness with a crunchy outside, smooth inside, and creamy finish. It has the mouth feel of the ideal french fry.
Scott recommends pairing the fries with a local craft beer, like those from Breakside Brewery. “Ben Edmunds is one of the most talented and intelligent brewers I’ve met. He is creative and well versed on beer. His Breakside Stout is malty yet light, and is delectable with the fries.”
422 NW 8th Ave.
Portland, OR, 97209
West Coast photographer Matt Mornick specializes in photographing food and people. His portfolio is available at mornick.com.
Serves 8-10 | 30 minutes active time
At first glance, this recipe may seem challenging. Don’t sweat it. As Scott would say, use excellent ingredients and charge forth – you won’t regret it. Final amount is approximately 3 quarts or 75 fries each, cut 1/2 inch by 1/2 inch by 4 inches.
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large yellow onion, diced
5 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 sprig rosemary, minced
1 tablespoon sambal
2 1/2 quarts hot water
5 1/2 cups chickpea flour
In a thick-bottomed pot, sweat onions and garlic in olive oil. Add rosemary and sambal. Add 1 1/2 quarts hot water to the pot and bring up to a simmer. In a large bowl, make a slurry with chickpea flour and the remaining 1 quart hot water. Make sure the slurry is smooth. Add slurry to the simmering pot and vigorously whisk until you can no longer use the whisk. Switch to a long wooden spoon, and lower the heat to medium. Continue stirring, making sure to scrape the sides as well as the bottom of the pot. Cook until the chickpea flour is smooth and the flour taste is cooked out. Add salt to taste.
Pour onto a greased sheet tray, making sure the sheet tray is flat. Spread thin with plastic spatula, getting the batter as square as possible. Place a second sheet tray with a greased bottom on top of the evenly spread batter. This will help the batter evenly set. Let it cool in the refrigerator overnight.
Cut into 1/2-inch by 1/2-inch french fry shapes. Shallow-fry the chickpea fries in a tall, straight-sided pot containing at least 2 inches of 375° canola oil for approximately 3 1/2 minutes. Serve with seasonal ketchup.
Winter Squash Ketchup
Makes 6 cups 35 minutes
Ketchup is one condiment on the table that is nearly untouchable. Not at Park Kitchen. Scott and his team prove to Heinz adherents that ketchup can be made better – with anything. This seasonal recipe provides sweet and tart with the salty, earthy flavor of the chickpea fries.
1 medium-size butternut squash, peeled, seeded, diced into large pieces (yields 5 1/2 cups)
1 diced head garlic
1 cup cider vinegar
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground coriander seed
1 teaspoon mustard seed
1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
1 pinch ground clove
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon sambal
1/2 cup olive oil
3 tablespoons sherry vinegar
Place all ingredients except olive oil and sherry vinegar into a small stainless steel pot. Simmer over medium-high heat for 30 minutes until the squash is completely soft. The liquid should reduce slightly but not completely evaporate. If more liquid is needed to completely cook the squash, add water a little at a time to complete cooking. In a blender, puree squash mixture and slowly emulsify in olive oil. Add sherry vinegar. Let cool and re-season if necessary.