Gourdet welcomes 'Top Chef' to his home city
Publicized protests, wildfires, the COVID-19 pandemic, politics — you name it, Portland saw its share of turmoil in 2020 (and early '21), and celebrity chef Gregory Gourdet felt it all.
It's why he, and many other people, look forward to the promise of the rest of 2021. He has a new cookbook coming out, a new restaurant in the works, business relationships evolving and, starting April 1, Gourdet can be seen as part of the judges on season 18 of "Top Chef," the Bravo network reality cooking show.
Gourdet, who rose to fame as chef at Departure at The Nines, appeared on season 12 of "Top Chef," finishing as runner-up, and then took part in season 17, an all-star edition, which aired in the early days of the pandemic.
He's happy to see "Top Chef" finally highlight Portland. Local chefs Gabriel Pascuzzi and Sarah Hauman are among the contestants.
"I know most of them. We're a small community," Gourdet said. "It's entertainment and a break from reality. But, it's also a reality show, and it's amazing to follow the journey of the chefs. It's exciting to be able to show some positive images of my beautiful city and state when there has been conflicting press about what's going on here."
For the record, he's "pretty decent friends" with Pascuzzi, but "I'm fair to him on the show."
He works alongside host Padma Lakshmi and a slew of judges on "Top Chef." Gourdet enjoys participating in reality cooking shows, but he also loves to cook and do many other things in his career.
Having left Departure in 2019, he planned to start a new restaurant, but the pandemic changed his plans and Gourdet opened the pop-up Kann in a yurt in Southeast Portland. Of Haitian descent, he emphasizes traditional Haitian cuisine and global BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) cuisine from around the world.
"A lot of people have not had Haitian food unless you've lived in Miami or Brooklyn," said Gourdet, a three-time James Beard Award nominee. "It's a Caribbean food — a lot of seafood, very savory and soulful cuisine, a lot of marinating. You often marinate fish and meat, (along with) garlic, onion, thyme, chiles, a lot of starchy root vegetables, plantains, sweet potatoes … there is a lot of rice, and rice and bean dishes. We use black mushroom native to northern Haiti, and make tea with it."
Kann will be open until the end of April and, after the release of his cookbook, Gourdet plans to work on a brick-and-mortar restaurant.
"It's been a good experiment project in terms of seeing what works, how to make the industry better," he said. "I feel very lucky I'm able to create a safe and magical experience for people.
"I want to open up my dream restaurant, but there's no rush. Hopefully I'll do another summer pop-up."
His first cookbook comes out May 11. Half the book is plant-based recipes, he said. There are two chapters dedicated to vegetables, as well as parts on seafood, fermentation, meats and eggs. One of his favorite recipes: Red Cherry Jerk Cauliflower.
"I'm excited. It's been three years of work," he said. "I wanted to create a book that helps people.
"I got sober about 13 years ago when I moved to Oregon, and I was changing my lifestyle after a few years of not treating myself well. I was experimenting with different diets; I gave up gluten and dairy. I was working and traveling for work, across Asia and Europe for events and research, and going back to Haiti to tap into my heritage. I always had a global sense of what food should be. There are more than 200 recipes (in the book); allergen friendly, globally inspired."
Meanwhile, Gourdet and Mark Levinson audio systems are partnering on a project that would enhance the pairing of music and food.
"I realized my love of music before food," Gourdet said. It helped him navigate attending a boarding school growing up on the East Coast, and he remembers the music of the 1980s and '90s and the club and rave scene: "Electronic music has been a huge part of my life."
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