While Top Chef finalist Gregory Gourdet was growing up — before he thought about cooking personally, let alone professionally — Sundays usually involved a Haitian feast. His mother, who worked two jobs, would spend most of the weekend cooking, until his immediate family and various extended relatives would sit down for chicken in creole sauce, rice and beans, and plantains. “I didn’t start cooking until I left home, but when I trace back to my beginning, where food and memories start, it comes back to Haitian food,” Gourdet says.
Since those days, Gourdet has cooked a lot of food that is not Haitian: He spent years working for various Jean-Georges restaurants, which involved quite a bit of French technique. In his almost 10 years at Departure, the sky-high downtown restaurant within the Nines hotel, he tackled various Asian cuisines, from sashimi to Thai curries to seasonal Peking duck. But over the last few years, Gourdet has slowly re-acquainted himself with the world of Haitian cooking — and he’s decided he wants to take things to the next level.
As Portland Monthly first reported, Gourdet will open his own restaurant, incorporating the distinctive, global style he’s fine-tuned at Departure, as well as his personal interpretation of Haitian cooking.
Although Gourdet has been searching for a restaurant space for eight months, the chef is still very early in the restaurant opening process. The chef still hasn’t landed on an actual location, ideally one with room for 60 seats and a wood-fired kitchen. “In a perfect world, it’d be a freestanding building, something old Portland,” Gourdet says. “A lot of these new restaurants are in mixed-use buildings, and considering what happened with Mama Bird, that’s something to consider, unfortunately.” The unnamed restaurant may open as early as late 2020, but Gourdet isn’t necessarily confident the space will open by then; according to the chef, it’s more likely diners will be able to visit in early 2021. And no, Gourdet hasn’t landed on a name yet — he’s between two.
Still, he’s already begun playing around with menu ideas. Some dishes will be versions of things he ate growing up, like chicken legs in creole sauce. He’ll also take classic Haitian flavors and create new dishes with them, like a whole duck with a smoked chile marinade and plantain flour crepes. “For me to go back to [Haitian] food, I really want to start from a place of tradition and respect,” he says. “At the same time, I want to be inspired by the flavors and create new things.” Some dishes won’t have a Haitian influence, instead pulling from Asian countries or the wood-fired foundations of the restaurant. “I really want to play around with what we can do with a wood fire... smoking coconuts, smoking bananas,” he says. And although the chef is a big proponent of the contemporary sobriety movement, he says his restaurant will have a great bar — plus, a long list of non-alcoholic drinks.
For now, Gourdet remains at Departure until the end of the year, leaving his role as executive chef and staying on as a culinary director. His cookbook should come out in 2021, as well, so Gourdet fans should get excited — it seems like the next decade will be a big one.
• Departure [Official]
• Gregory Gourdet [Top Chef]
• Star Chef Gregory Gourdet Will Open His Own Restaurant in 2020 … At Last [Portland Monthly]
• Sober and still cool: Celebrity chefs buck addiction to lead wellness movement [USA Today]
• Previous Gregory Gourdet coverage [EPDX]