As Portlanders wait with bated breath for chef Greg Denton's new project, OX Restaurant, to debut later this spring, his soon-to-be-former kitchen at Metrovino has announced that sous chef Victor Deras will assume the role of head chef. (Denton and wife/chef Gabrielle Quiñonez Denton mark their last day at the Pearl District spot tomorrow, January 31.)
Eater chatted with the 32-year-old Deras — who counts Teardrop Lounge, Oven & Shaker, and NW's Moonshine Lounge as favorite haunts — about his Mediterranean style of cooking, upcoming menu changes (including an update to that famous charcuterie board), and the shadow of Greg Denton.
Tell us a bit about your culinary background.
I started a little late compared to a lot of other chefs — I went to culinary school in Scotsdale, and worked in a couple small mom-and-pop restaurants. I spent a lot of my culinary experience in Arizona — hotels and casinos. I moved to Flagstaff and worked in a hotel in Flagstaff called Little America, which was a lot of fun. But shortly after my stint in Flagstaff, I moved to Portland. I took a week-long vacation to Portland — my brother lives up here — and pretty much fell in love with the city and the food scene. I spent three days just going around downtown, going to a bunch of restaurants, and just loved the way Portland has seasonal ingredients: The way everyone cooks seasonally, farm-to-table, everything local, which I didn't see a lot of in Arizona.
When did you move up to Portland?
That was about three-and-a-half years ago. 2008, 2009. I had a little stint in Casa del Matador when I first moved to Portland, but I've mostly been here at Metrovino the whole time, working my way up here.
So what first attracted you to the Metrovino gig?
I started in the pantry here. I was really excited when I saw the menu — the style of food was different than what I'd seen at a lot of other places. I was intrigued by it, it sounded like a restaurant where I'd have to use skill — everywhere else I had worked, I moved up really quickly... but I always got bored really quick. But with Greg's style and the image he portrayed to me when I first talked to him, it excited me.
What's it been like working with and maybe learning from Greg, who's earned this reputation in Portland?
It's been amazing, especially being here from the beginning and seeing how his style really evolved. It was always the same style, but it's gotten better and better each time. Technique-wise... I saw a lot of things I knew how to do well, but his technique, it's much, much better than I've been doing it. Technically, I'm a lot better than when I first started here, thanks to Greg.
So let's talk about your style of food.
I draw a lot of inspiration from Mediterranean style-food, the way it's prepared and the fact that it's all about the ingredients. Or less ingredients but more flavors. Would you say a "simpler" style of cooking? I would say a bit simplified — not too much, though. Still a lot of technique, a lot of different ideas. Changing the way traditional Mediterranean food is.
How will that be reflected in menu changes at Metrovino? Are you looking to do major changes?
Not right off the bat. We're going to slowly move the menu into — not a different direction, but tweaking it more towards my style... As of right now, nothing major yet. I'm still playing around with the Valentine's menu right now and that's consuming a lot of my time.
I have to ask about the charcuterie board.
The charcuterie program will still be very much alive at Metrovino. We're going to tweak the actual board itself, peel it down a little bit and make the individual ingredients a little more accessible on their own. So, a smaller board and ordering items individually? Yes, that's exactly it.
And finally, are there any nerves about following in Greg's footsteps?
I haven't slept in a while. [laughs] It's definitely a lot of nerves, definitely very excited, very terrified feelings of letting Greg down. It's a very big shadow he's cast, very big shoes to fill. A lot of my motivation is not to let him down.
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