Local food cart Chef Alexeisia doesn’t seem like the kind of person to go looking for trouble.
But he is getting ready for a trip to Los Angeles as a contestant on the reality-cooking show “Hell’s Kitchen.”
With his British-inflected voice (Castelano attended a boarding school in London as a child and spent years as a flight attendant on British Airways), plus his stylish appearance (he is a former fashion designer who worked as a professional dancer in New York City), and his flair for flavorful spices (his family is from Brazil, with Italian influences thrown into the mix), Chef Alexeisia is as unforgettable as his art.
“Cooking is not about competition, it's not even about presentation,” he says. “It's all about taste, and flavor -- and pleasing someone’s palette.”
His elegant cart under Portland’s HawthorneBridge – ironically called the Dirty Bridge Bistro – features covered tables with flowers and a clear-plastic windbreak.
There, Castelano dishes out fresh burgers and sandwiches for the Eastside industrial lunch crowd.
But when he puts on the annual Black and White Ball – with the help of his business partner Josh Martyn and benefitting Jean’s Place women’s shelter – he and a host of students from the Cordon Bleu school reach for the glamour, using fresh ingredients such as wild-caught salmon, free range chicken, Northwest vegetables and wild rice.
“When I cook a meal for someone, it's all about blending the spices and sauces and the herbs and everything. That's what's important to me.
“Presentation is presentation, it's wonderful, and we can put that in our mind -- but I'm going after flavor,” Castelano says. “That's what the Dirty Bridge Bistro is about -- it's about having a good meal without having to get a second mortgage.”
Chef Alexeisia is very opinionated about food – and that’s why fans of “Hell’s Kitchen” might cringe at the thought of what could happen when their beloved local chef goes against the King Kong of the Kitchen, celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay.
“You know, when I cook for people, and I prepare a meal, I never sit down and eat with them -- never ever,” Castelano says. “I always sit and watch them, because I just want to see their reaction.”
Reaction is the name of the game on “Hell’s Kitchen,” where Ramsay terrorizes contestants with risotto, veggie chopping, and evenly cooking the delicate lamb chops.
Winner of the season’s competition can get $250,000 and a top job as a chef at one of Ramsay’s many restaurants around the nation.
But the most important thing is that contestants have to endure Ramsay’s boot camp-style management without rebelling. In fact, the show’s winners consistently improve their skills under a barrage of abuse.
Asked whether he’s tough enough to take it, Castelano shrugs coolly.
“I’m not afraid of it,” he says.
A quick walk through the House of Alexeisia’s Facebook page or website shows the chef in his element, wrangling beautiful models onto the runway and advising young people on how to live life – “live it to the fullest.”
Over the years, Castelano’s annual Black and White Ball – featuring a fashion show, gourmet dinner and checks written to local charities – has grown. This year, about 750 people are expected.
Slated for Monday, June 9 at 7 p.m., at PortlandStateUniversity’s Grand Ballroom, this year’s fashion show is built around children, with the fashions from Gap Kids and the proceeds going to Jean’s Place, the women and children’s shelter operated by Transition Projects.
Find out more about House of Alexeisia by clicking here, or go to their Facebook page.
The Dirty Bridge Bistro is located at 3553 SE Hawthorne Blvd. in Portland.