For many chefs, learning how to cook is just as much about eating food as making it. Understanding flavor, or how specific techniques impact the end result, requires tasting and contemplating, using your palate to comprehend the lessons learned.
Grain & Gristle owners Heidi and Jeff Whitney-Schile learned how to cook this way, and in the fall, they want to teach by example. So on May 29, the couple will close their popular gastropub and prepare to open L’ecole, a new restaurant and event space. When L’ecole opens in a new Northeast Portland location, it will offer small bites and wine in the evenings, brunch on weekends, and a series of classes for home cooks.
Ned Ludd co-founder Ben Meyer, Upright Brewing’s Alex Ganum, and Marcus Hoover opened Grain & Gristle in 2010; the restaurant soon became a neighborhood staple on the strength of its beer selection, affordable farm-to-table food, and inviting, relaxed atmosphere. The Whitney-Schiles took ownership in 2019, less than a year before the COVID-19 pandemic, and led the restaurant through its most challenging years.
L’ecole — literally “the school” in French — is meant to blend the experience of enjoying food with learning, both on its restaurant side and its educational side. Formal classes will include one-off seminars and multi-class courses, with Jeff Whitney-Schile leading sausage-making classes and Heidi Whitney-Schile teaching pastry and cooking courses. The cooking classes will emphasize seasonality, sharing wine and food as the Whitney-Schiles teach.
Outside of the formal classes, the couple envisions the restaurant as an ongoing learning experience for patrons, with cards presenting fun facts about food and drinks alongside orders. Additionally, both owners expect to frequently present in the front of the house, to discuss sourcing and techniques with diners, creating an enriching ongoing conversation. Charcuterie will appear in the small plate offerings, and fans of Grain & Gristle’s fish board can be reassured that seafood will be a consistent feature at L’ecole as well.
The location for L’Ecole has not been determined, but the Whitney-Schiles expect the space to have a max capacity of around 25, keeping each evening relatively intimate. The Whitney-Schiles are committed to staying in Northeast Portland to remain convenient to Grain & Gristle’s loyal regulars. The new restaurant venture has no relationship with the Walla Walla area winery of the same name.
Before opening L’ecole, the team plans to offer special classes and events at a range of locations over the summer — follow the L’ecole instagram account for announcements.