José Chesa on Family Legacy

The son of a chef explains the familial devotion behind his latest restaurant project.

July 22, 2016 ● 2 min read

The last time we were in a dining room of José Chesa's, during a Chefs Week PDX dinner hosted at Ataula, a distinguished older gentleman quietly sat at the bar, watching the line like a hawk. He was alone, and while the rest of the dining room jumped at the chance to photograph the chefs or hovered above their table snapping each dish from on high, he remained seated. That was José Chesa, Sr., the father of the chef grinning at the pass. 

Every so often, the junior Chesa would deliver a dish, and then the two of them would talk, and then silently survey the room together. A few weeks later, Chesa, an homage from son to father, opened its doors. — ChefsFeed

My dad was a chef for over 35 years.

He had a restaurant, a really rustic, Spanish-style restaurant in Barcelona. He would come in at 6am and go home by 9pm, every day, times six, times 36 years, times six surgeries. So this restaurant, Chesa, is a gift for him. It's not that I needed to do something, it's that I wanted to — for his name, the hard work that he's done for me.

He worked so many hours that I [had] no time to spare with him in my whole childhood. Which I could not understand when I was little, but then growing up, I understand: he worked so hard for us. For me, for my sister, my mom — my family. I think he deserves to have his name on this new restaurant.

I'm lucky to be able to close two days a week. Sunday, I completely take as a family day, and I try to spend as much time with my son. I try to, obviously, not replicate what I had with my dad, because I know that it's really hard to handle. I want to always spend some time with my kid and my wife. I think it definitely, definitely, definitely makes a huge [difference] when it comes to this job.
My grandmother passed away 12 years ago. During the civil war in Spain, she had the chance to go to work as a nanny for one of the rich families in Barcelona. As a nanny, she had to cook as well, and she was taught by this family all kinds of Catalan cooking. My dad could not go to culinary school. My dad acquired the knowledge from his mom, and also working in traditional kitchens in Barcelona. My grandparents, during the civil war in Spain, they couldn't afford to send my dad, so he started working on the old school style, which is working so hard.
It was a really important image and occasion that I could see my dad sitting and give him, that night, the stuff that was cooking. It changed from me being little and going to his restaurant and sitting down and he's feeding me, so that was the other way.

He loves everything. I mean it's like night-day of the food that he's normally been cooking, but he really likes when I do something that is based on traditional but elevated — give a modern twist to it. It was an A+ from my dad. And he is completely honest — he would tell me right away.

As told to Allison Levitsky