The following interview was made possible by the NW Tastemaker, a culinary travel publication forthcoming from Northwest Travel Magazine. To read more interviews with the best chefs in the Pacific Northwest, visit Northwest Travel Magazine and TableTalkNorthwest.com.
Gregory Gourdet, Executive Chef of Departure Restaurant and Lounge
In 2010, Chef Gregory Gourdet joined the swank Departure Restaurant and Lounge, located on the 15th floor of The Nines Hotel in Portland. A celebrity chef who competed in the most recent season of Bravo's Top Chef, Chef Gourdet is known as much for his personality as for his cooking, but how much of a difference is there between the two? Like Gourdet himself, his dishes buzz with energy thanks to a potent blend of sweet, sour, and spicy flavors. Chef Gourdet unleashes pan-Asian dishes, with the occasional nod to his Haitian heritage, and he dedicates himself to staying up to date with what his diners need; this includes a regularly updated, healthy selection of paleo, gluten-free, vegan, and vegetarian-friendly plates. Chef Gourdet began his career working beneath New York-superchef Jean-Georges Vongerichten.
1. How do you describe Northwest cuisine?
Northwest cuisine is 100% inspired by the amazing bounty of our region. From our farms, woods, mountains and oceans we grow delectable products year-round, and this defines how we cook. We have iconic, historical and region-defining ingredients, from Dungeness crab and salmon, to mushrooms, berries and game meats, and these are just the beginning. The food ranges from simple to bold, but it is a cuisine that lets these ingredients shine.
2. Who are six of your favorite purveyors that you regularly work with?
Nicky USA- All chefs rely on our friends at this great distributer and farm. The service is personalized and the 25-year history of the company shows. They proudly raise and source game meats for kitchens all over town.
Groundwork Organics Farm- This is the first farm that I formed a relationship with when I moved to Oregon six years ago. They carry an array of essential seasonal vegetables throughout the year, and they are at farmers markets year-round.
Marshall’s Hot Sauce- Their sauces are artisan made, specifically using local farm-sourced ingredients and chilies, and they are cooked with time and hand-bottled one by one. I love these sauces for their bright kick. Sarah and Dirk are some of the nicest people around, and the two of them touch each and every bottle they produce.
Oregon Olive Mill- They provide Oregon-made olive oil in an array of flavors, from fruity to peppery and in between.
Flying Fish Company- It's a one-stop for all sustainable seafood needs. Lyf personally takes care of every order and has a great pulse on the freshest catch around, from the Northwest and beyond.
3. When you go out for a nice meal, what are two or three of your favorite spots?
I go to Ox and Ava Gene’s. They both serve really amazing vegetables, and I love that. Greg and Gabi Denton roast most of the vegetables at Ox over a wood-burning grill. They are deeply flavored and delicious. Joshua McFadden highlights farm produce in a bright and fun way. Eating at Ava Gene’s, there will be a moment when you realize you just ate 15 types of vegetables and they were all great. These are both warm and cozy restaurants, as well as perfect locations for a nice night out.
4. Who are two other Northwest chefs that you admire? Why?
I have the utmost admiration and respect for Andy Ricker, the man behind the Pok Pok empire. He is doing something very unique, in the sense that he is bringing a very different cuisine and culture to the states and trying to do so in the most authentic way possible. Doing everything you can to recreate a time and place is very noble. He doesn’t call himself a chef because he doesn’t cook from imagination but instead tries to recreate an exact standard. It is a very different approach and produces delicious results.
I also have great admiration for Vitaly Paley. He owns one of the most iconic Portland institutions, Paley’s Place, with a burgeoning second, Imperial. His restaurants are shrines to the ingredients that make the Northwest great. Cooking method and technique are also of utmost importance to him, and his restaurants are a stomping ground for young chefs looking to work towards becoming a great Portland chef. Many of the best chefs in this town have worked for Vitaly during their career. The man is also tireless, doing pop-ups and events non-stop, nationwide.
5. In your opinion, is there an area of Northwest cooking that doesn't receive enough attention?
I think there are many chefs doing amazing international cuisine in the Northwest. These chefs are pairing our amazing products, such as fish and meats, in specifically ethnic preparations. The other part of this story is farmers and chefs leading the charge in the local growth of international vegetables. I love finding Oregon-grown ginger, turmeric and wasabi root at my market. This is an important story. As more things become accessible to us due to modern times, and more cultures become a part of our culture, we have to look around to keep things fresh and forward.
6. Looking toward the future, what are you most excited to do in the kitchen?
I feel the possibilities of what we can grow and produce here are endless. The Northwest is a lush place full of green vitality and hope. Of all the people I have met recently, the young, new farm-owners have inspired me the most. Farming is really hard work, and it really takes a love of the land and nature to work on one. The quest to grow your own is noble and needed. I am very excited to continue to build a closer relationship with the ingredients in my backyard—both plants and animals—that are grown by friends.
Departure Restaurant and Lounge
525 SW Morrison Street
Portland, Oregon 97204