“Big Patrick”

This post is a tribute to my oldest friend who passed away in October. I named my youngest son after him, so in order to differentiate between the two when we got together, he was always known as “Big Patrick”. It was also a befitting name, as he was a tall former Vietnam Marine. I knew my friend as a chef. He learned his trade in the restaurants of San Francisco, where I first met him over 40 years ago. The restaurant he worked in that he talked the most about was Doro’s, a fine high-end Italian restaurant which no longer exists. Tucked in a little alley across from the famous landmark “the pyramid”, Patrick learned to cook probably at least 20 different types of veal dishes there from the head chef, which he later incorporated into the menu of his own restaurant as well as his own creations of course. I think that Doro’s was the restaurant that most influenced him.

If you think the Bay Area is unaffordable now, even back in 1985 Patrick decided to move with his wife Sanae to Portland in order to be able to afford to buy a house. This became a reality and he worked in several restaurants in Portland plying his trade, while Sanae worked for a Japanese business. Some years later they took out a loan on their house in order to finance buying their own restaurant – a lifelong dream that Patrick had. Thus, da Vinci’s Italian Restaurant was born in Milwaukie – a suburb of Portland. This was a second home to my boys and I, and we visited it almost every summer, first stopping near Whiskeytown Lake in California to go camping, which was our halfway point on the way up to Portland.

What a privilege it was to “hang out” in the back of the kitchen. Well, perhaps that is not quite the right word, because it was a tight space and when the orders came pouring in, the pace was fast and we had to duck to get out of the way of Patrick cooking at the two six burner stoves, as well as the kitchen crew buzzing at their various work and prep stations. Cramped quarters indeed.

Back in the dining room Patrick fed us his delicacies over the years: osso bucco, veal piccata, spaghetti Bolognese, halibut cheeks, and all of them came with fresh-baked garlic bread. It was a feast every time. The restaurant was kept simple in decor, with occasional dining room embellishments brought back from culinary trips to Italy. The emphasis at da Vinci’s, and Patrick’s view of food was to feed people – generous portions at reasonable prices. Sometimes he had specials such as abalone, and he had a waiting list for such rare culinary delicacies. Patrick just loved to talk about food all the time when he wasn’t cooking. It was hard to get a word in, but that was quite OK. His stories and food knowledge were so much fun to listen to.

His drill sergeant approach in the kitchen usually weeded out lazy workers very quickly: particularly the waiters, who drew his ire more than one time. I will refrain from illustrious details, applying self-censorship here.

One of my most amusing memories was when we met up in Paris one summer for a short vacation – Patrick and Sanae on the way to a culinary exploration trip of Italy, me to see family in Germany. We enjoyed some wonderful French cuisine and had a lovely time there, however with one notable exception: one morning we sat down for breakfast in a tourist-style restaurant (we should have known better) and ordered our food. It came and was edible, but Patrick’s omelet was runny. He was livid and in colorful language expressed his contempt for the mess in front of him, saying that this is absolute cooking basics, knowing how to cook a proper omelet. It was sent back and arrived again, this time overcooked. Patrick was ready to go into the back of the kitchen to kick the guy’s butt and it took all our persuasion to have him remain seated at the table. I do believe he talked about that incident for a couple of days afterwards, and a lot in later years. It is a good thing reason prevailed, I would not have been able to restrain him physically. It showed me how seriously he took his profession.

I have been able to publish a couple of books, but a cookbook that I have been working on since 1990 has yet to be completed. Thank God that I learned and kept a couple of recipes from my old friend which are included in my cookbook, so that his memory and some of the food he created will live on, bringing joy to kitchens and smiles to hungry faces.

Rest in peace “Big” Patrick. I love you my friend. Oh, and you still owe me that halibut cheeks recipe! 🙂

Matthias

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