When brave Portuguese sailors set out across the seas during the 15th century, they were searching for wealth. Gold and silver were high on their shopping lists along with spices: nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon and especially black pepper, prized in Europe since the Romans.
In 1492, Columbus sailed west, in search of an easier route to India's spices. He wasn't successful, but in 1497, the Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama sailed east, around the Horn of Africa, and found a shorter route to India. Over the next three centuries, the Portuguese, Spanish, English and Dutch became wealthy exploiting the resources of Asia.
Black pepper may not be as sought after as gold, but still, we are lucky benefactors. From the Age of Discovery comes a mouth-watering heritage: Spice Route Cuisine, the inspiration behind chef David Machado's new restaurant, Vindalho.
At Vindalho, Machado chooses among the heirloom recipes of the Indian subcontinent to create a menu that combines vibrant spices such as black pepper, cloves and cinnamon with chiles, ginger, coconut and herbs, anchored by rice, lentils and flatbreads. The complex, multi-layered flavors create culinary interest whether or not the meals include meat, a key concept for Machado in planning his new venture.
"A significant percentage of my customers at Lauro Kitchen are strongly requesting vegetarian fare, or at least meals where meat plays a less central role," he explains. "I can't achieve that as effectively with the Mediterranean palette. But Spice Route Cuisine is the most evolved vegetarian food on the planet. It's flavorful, satisfying, balanced, surprising. If we're going to leave Europe, this is the place to go."
Two tandoor ovens form the centerpiece of the showcase kitchen, turning out skewers and flatbreads from its glowing, red-hot interior. "I've always been crazy about grills and barbecues," says Machado. "The tandoor, a clay vessel that originated in Arab countries and migrated to India, has been around for centuries." At Vindalho, skewers of lamb, chicken, shrimp, fish and vegetables are flavored with vivid marinades, quick-seared in the 800-degree tandoor, and served with sauces, chutneys and fresh breads.
Though many of the signature flavors of Spice Route Cuisine are not native to the Pacific Northwest, the menu at Vindalho is firmly based on locally sourced, seasonal ingredients – a signature of Machado's restaurants. Roasted Beet Salad features local beets and greens; Northwest mussels are steamed with ginger, coconut and chiles; Yukon Gold potatoes are sizzled with South Indian spices; Lamb Boti Kebab uses Anderson Valley lamb as well as Hood River Pears in the accompanying chutney; the pork shoulder slow-braised in a classic Goan garlic-vinegar sauce comes from Oregon producer Carlton Farms. The result is high-quality, fresh food, and a socially responsible business.
"The recipes are authentic, true to their source," Machado emphasizes. "We're not trying to invent some new, fusion-style cuisine here. We're using great local ingredients in time-honored recipes."
Chef David Machado's journey to Vindalho and Spice Route Cuisine began in his childhood. Born and raised in Fall River, Massachusetts, a melting pot of culinary traditions, his family's Portuguese heritage rubbed shoulders with the traditions and foods of his friends and neighbors, descendants of Italian and Jewish immigrants.
Some years later, at the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco, Machado studied classical European techniques, while frequenting the Bay Area's superb Asian restaurants, soaking up an entirely different set of flavors.
He studied Southeast Asian cooking with Bruce Cost, and Chinese cooking with Martin Yan. Machado then worked in San Francisco's finest kitchens during the 1980s, when California Cuisine, with its Mediterranean foundation and emphasis on local, seasonal ingredients, took the restaurant world by storm.
This colorful combination of experiences and influences has provided Machado the depth of experience and breadth of knowledge to bring forth Vindalho, and the rich Spice Route Cuisine that it passionately celebrates.