As the Executive Chef at Portland’s Departure and Top Chef runner up, Chef Gregory Gourdet is a force to be reckoned with. Most chefs are not lacking in the ego department, especially when they enter the “celebrity chef” realm. However, Chef Gregory exudes a mild temperament and boyish charm that causes you to want to be a part of his team, no matter the game. He passionately endears himself the environment (sourcing food locally, running in the mountains of the Columbia George and commutes via cycling) and animals (when we met, he was returning from hanging out at a friend’s farm) while at the same time, sets a level of standard the faint at heart would be hard-pressed to achieve.
Sitting across from Chef Gregory for over 30 minutes, I’m convinced he is ahead of time. His creativity is boundless and award-winning with titles like “Hottest Chef in Portland,” “Chef of the Year: Oregon Department of Agriculture” and “Best Chef Northwest: James Beard Foundation.” With a keen eye and palate for Pan-Asian cuisine, Chef Gregory is an exception to almost every rule when it comes to the chef persona. If you ever find yourself beyond the Bay and in or near Portland, search him out and indulge in the Chef Gregory experience.
What would people be surprised to know about Gregory Gourdet?
I went to school in Montana (and I was pre-med).
What was dinner like when you were growing up?
My parents worked late. My aunt was the one who cooked a lot. She would leave the leftovers on the stove for when my parents got home. My grandmother would often visit and cook and I would watch her. Sunday was family day, so we had dinner at 2pm was a (Haiti) tradition.
How would you describe your food philosophy?
My cooking is definitely influenced by the seasons. I like to incorporate what is healthy, nutritious, fresh and in season. I tend to lean towards texture and heat… salty and spicy. Most of my dishes are composed with that in mind.
What are the easiest ingredients to source locally in Portland?
Local root vegetables can be found year round.
What did you do last weekend?
I went on a 15-mile run and ate some Thai food.
What was most challenging about being on Top Chef?
Most people don’t know this, but you are very secluded. There are no phones, no Internet and a lot of constraints. Your creativity is maxed out and tested daily.
What kind of music do you like to cook to?
It’s been said that, “The best things in life are free.” Is this true?
A mother’s love is, the rest you work for… work, careers, relationships… they all take work.
What do you value most at this point in time in your life?
Being able to continue to learn about food; to expand my knowledge, capacity and experience as a chef.
What was your last “aha” moment and what was it?
I was making dumplings, but the recipe was off and I realized the fish sauce was overcuring the meat.
What do you find most challenging about being a chef?
Being there for my staff is very important. Helping them build and advance their careers is my responsibility and I take that seriously.
You’ve got an open airline ticket and a passport, where do you go?
I recently got back from Thailand. I plan to travel to as many Asian cities (Japan, Korea, Vietnam, etc.) as possible and absorb the food culture. The flavor combinations are endless. Incorporating those travel experiences into my food back here will help me expand the creativity of our menus.
What’s next for Gregory?
We’re opening a Departure in Denver in 2016.