After more than three years — which included a pandemic, a restaurant industry reckoning, a few TV appearances, an extended pop-up in a tent village, a cookbook, and a James Beard Award — chef Gregory Gourdet has finally opened the long-anticipated Haitian restaurant Kann, his first restaurant.
Way back in 2019, Gourdet — then mostly known as a finalist on Top Chef season 12 and the chef at downtown hotel restaurant Departure — announced plans to open a Haitian restaurant in Portland, also incorporating some of his other culinary influences, like Southeast Asian ingredients and Pacific Northwestern produce. He wanted to pay homage to his early years, and the meals he shared with his Haitian family. “For me to go back to [Haitian] food, I really want to start from a place of tradition and respect,” he told Eater Portland in 2019. “At the same time, I want to be inspired by the flavors and create new things.”
Over the next three years, details about the project trickled out. Gourdet hosted a few pop-ups, including his “winter village” preview of Kann in the winter of 2020 and spring of 2021. There, diners sat down to a tasting menu served in yurts, a sort of sneak peek into the menu at the future restaurant, which serves dishes like grilled prawns in tomato Creole sauce, pineapple-tamarind Pekin duck, and smoked beef ribs in coffee rub.
Now that Kann is open in Southeast Portland, diners will be able to see the years of progress — and his entire culinary career — coalesce into one place. As promised, Haitian dishes like akra, crispy taro root fritters; patties filled with salt cod; and twice-cooked pork griyo, Haiti’s national dish, appear on the menu. Gourdet says about half of the dishes on Kann’s menu are renditions of traditional Haitian dishes. “There aren’t a lot of big Haitian restaurants in a lot of communities around the country,” Gourdet says. “I know what we’re doing is extremely important because of that.”
Haitian culture is a crucial facet of the restaurant, beyond just the food: Gourdet invited Dr. Bertrhude Albert, a Haitian American storyteller, to teach the staff about Haitian history, to make sure they had a deeper understanding of the country before the restaurant opened. “It’s very clear to me that not a lot of people know about Haitian history, even considering how much Haiti has been in the media,” Gourdet says. “We have an obligation and an opportunity to teach people about Haitian culture and history through its food. So [staff is] prepared to share these stories with our guests.”
While the Haitian diaspora has a large influence on Kann’s menu and identity at large, the restaurant is also a reflection of what Gourdet has learned over the course of his career. There are dishes that may look familiar to diners who frequented Departure during Gourdet’s tenure from 2010 to 2019, such as a tomato, berry, and cherry salad, which arrives tossed with young coconut. Those who bought his award-winning cookbook, Everyone’s Table, should also see some tweaked versions of recipes on the Kann menu, including a grilled cauliflower with allspice, ginger, and scotch bonnet.
Gourdet, who has long been an advocate for sober chefs, made sure the drink menu at Kann included several non-alcoholic drinks incorporating Caribbean fruits and spices, as well as cocktails and Oregon wine. “We worked with a couple of companies to create some special programs specifically for the zero-proof menu here,” Gourdet says. “[For example,] we work with [Portland-based non-alcoholic spirt company] Wilderton, and they created a new expression for us; we’re the first to serve it.” That product shows up in an Old Fashioned-style drink with hibiscus and ginger syrup.
Beyond the food and drink, Kann’s structure and culture is also a reflection on lessons learned over the course of his career. While preparing to open the restaurant, Gourdet received criticism from former employees related to the way some Departure recipes were attributed, part of a larger critique of the overarching culture at Departure as well as the industry at large. As he started to develop Kann, the conversations he had with former employees about his leadership style, and the industry-wide reflection on what a fair workplace looks like, helped shape the business he wanted to create.
“We have given ourselves the grace of many many months to open, and we’re trying to tackle issues piece by piece — making sure I can offer insurance, making sure the team is diverse, making sure there are women in leadership, making sure everyone who comes on board understands and aligns with our values,” Gourdet told Eater in early 2022. “Representing the Haitian diaspora is hugely important to me, but also creating a safe space for everyone who works there, creating a sustainable way of life is extremely important to me.”
At Kann, all employees receive health benefits and paid time off, and gratuity is split evenly among the staff. The kitchen leadership at Kann consists of women, people of color, and LGBTQ industry workers. And in all press materials for the restaurant, Gourdet includes the names of the other leadership at the restaurant, including chef de cuisine Varanya Geyoonsawat, pastry chef Gabby Borlabi, and general manager Damont Nelson.
“In the past couple of years, I’ve been able to reflect on the past opportunities I’ve worked really hard for and been given,” Gourdet says. “I want to create those opportunities for the people on my team.”
Kann is now open at 548 SE Ash Street; while reservations are currently completely sold out, the restaurant is open for very limited walk-ins. September reservations will drop on Resy at noon on August 15.