We knew it was only a matter of time. Two years ago, no one had heard of Doug “Douggie” Adams, a line cook at Vitaly Paley’s downtown hotel restaurant, Imperial. When the outgoing Texas native won the chance to compete on season 12 of Bravo’s Top Chef, he seemed like one of those movie soldiers, the sweet guy who’d get shot as soon as he showed his wife’s picture to a buddy. Weeks later, in a Gladiator-level season, Adams was a finalist and fan crush favorite. By the time he returned to Imperial, he quickly earned a new title: “executive chef,” just under Paley, Portland’s premier chef talent scout and teacher.
Now, Adams tells Eat Beat, he is moving on to another project, though he can’t disclose details. The change is not immediate, but will occur some time this year. “I’m not sure what the timeline is,” says Adams, who just turned 31. “I love Vitaly, I love Imperial. It’s a big chunk of my life, a milestone. It was hard [to make this decision].”
Paley is supportive of the move—he’s no stranger to grooming new food stars. Some of the city’s best chefs have trained in his kitchen, among them Le Pigeon’s Gabriel Rucker, Laurelhurst Market’s Ben Bettinger, and Patrick McKee, who is busting out with the French-Asian micro-bistro Common Law in the new Pine Street Market. “I’ve always said, you’re not a good soldier if you don’t want to be a captain,” Paley says. “I train them that way. At some point, you have to let them fly. Doug has what it takes. I saw that spark in his eye. He’s more confident today than back then. He’s got a bright future ahead of him.”
Both Adams and Paley say the transition will be as smooth as possible. That’s a good thing, considering what else Vitaly and his partner/wife Kimberly have on their plate: Headwaters, the couple’s major makeover of historic Heathman restaurant only blocks away from Imperial. Right now, they’re deep in plans and construction, with an eye to open the seafood-focused restaurant in early fall.
At the moment, Adam can’t say if his new project is in Portland or elsewhere. But he knows what he wants to be remembered for, when culinary archeologists pour over Portland menus: “My fried chicken,” he says with Portland-sized pride. It’s a good call. Adam's chicken emerged as Imperial’s signature dish, served with Texas-size watermelon chunks, pickled onions, jalapeños, rooftop honey (of course!), and the kitchen’s barrel-aged hot sauce.
We can’t wait to taste what’s next.