After building an illustrious career cooking different cuisines, Gregory Gourdet is exploring his heritage.
“Cooking Haitian food feels really comfortable to me because it is so embedded in me as a person, in my memory, and in my soul,” says Gourdet.
The James Beard-nominated (four-time Best Chefs in America semi-finalist!) chef didn’t start cooking until his 20s while attending college, but went on to learn French cuisine in the high-profile kitchen of Jean-Georges and explore pan-Asian cuisine during his decade-long tenure at downtown’s rooftop dining destination, Departure.
Celebrating Haiti’s culturally rich cuisine within a changing industry
In December 2020, the chef opened the first iteration—Winter Village—of his highly anticipated first solo restaurant, Kann, as part of a nationwide partnership with American Express and Resy. The COVID conscious pop-up resides in the parking lot of the Redd wherein diners are served four course (seven dishes total) meals in private yurts. The limited engagement project serves as a preview and test run for the brick and mortar restaurant that Gourdet plans to open post-pandemic. As a deeply personal project, Chef Gourdet chose to spotlight the Haitian cuisine he grew up with.
“The first time I went back to Haiti after about 22 years, I had so many memories come back to me,” says Gourdet. “I was eating dishes I hadn’t had in years… a lot of it just brought me back to being a kid in Queens and what my aunts made. It was a very powerful experience to go through.”
With a team made up of 90 percent BIPOC and womxn, one of Kann’s main objectives is to rethink restaurant culture. A mission statement on their website outlines how the COVID shutdown and the murder of George Floyd led to an examination of the inequalities that marginalized groups face on a daily basis. After witnessing the country undergo a racial reckoning, and on the other side of the reckoning that rocked Portland’s restaurant industry, Gourdet is making a point to prioritize equity, representation, and career advancement opportunities for womxn in his business.
Challenges abound in Top Chef: Portland
Avid Top Chef viewers were excited to see the show finally tap food-obsessed Portland to play host city in its 18th season. The cooking competition is of course the vehicle which first catapulted Gourdet into widespread recognition. Gourdet speaks on what it was like having the Top Chef family in his neck of the woods:
“As a ‘host,’ I was thrilled that all these great people could be in town," says Gourdet. "We’d been working on getting Top Chef [here] for a couple of years and it finally came.”
The two-time alumnus, who was runner-up in season 12 and an All Stars finalist, is making a much less stressful return this season as a guest judge.
Top Chef: Portland looks like no other prior season; the show had to adapt to COVID protocols (the entire production was pulled off with zero positive cases!) and dealt with last summer’s forest fires within the first week of filming. The cheftestants and crew were bubbled up at the Hotel Monaco, just blocks away from nightly protests at the Justice Center.
“It’s a time stamp of the year that we had with the pandemic and the social justice reckoning that we found ourselves in. We can’t not talk about that,” says Gourdet.
Along with the show’s new adjustments, viewers can also expect to see the competition explore iconic Oregon locales such as Hood River’s Fruit Loop and the Tillamook Creamery.
Gather ‘round the table
For those looking to flex their own culinary skills, Gourdet’s first cookbook Everyone’s Table is set to be released in May.
The book was three years in the making and contains over 200 recipes inspired by global flavors from the chef’s travels. Health and wellness is a through line in every aspect of Gourdet’s work; all of the recipes he shares in the cookbook are dairy, soy, legume, and gluten-free as a reflection of his own diet. His primary goal with the cookbook is to help people eat healthier by making simple adjustments with ingredients. The “not too chef-y” recipes are designed to be approachable, and the book also contains pro-tips on how to stock a pantry with global ingredients.
“You see words like ‘jerk’ thrown around on menus, but what the book does is actually dive into the historical source of some of these ingredients," Gourdet says. "Food is far more than just ingredients on a plate. [There’s] the relationship between the farmers and the people growing it. There’s a reason why there’s ginger and soy sauce in Jamaica… because of Chinese immigrants. I think it’s important to tell these stories.”
A voice for seafood sustainability
If all of those projects didn’t make for a full enough plate, Gourdet was also recently named the first U.S.-based ambassador for global sustainable seafood non-profit Marine Stewardship Council (MSC). Through a variety of initiatives, the non-profit aims to end overfishing. Their mission of conservation is one that resonates with Gourdet—he studied wildlife biology prior to becoming a chef, and with the Oregon Coast providing a bounty of seafood, he counts it as one of his favorite things to cook.
A version of his Top Chef-challenge winning chowder joins a collection of recipes sourced from chefs around the world in MSC’s digital cookbook Healthy Oceans Too. Gourdet works with the MSC to educate the public through (virtual) events and he also hopes to inspire fellow chefs to make sustainable choices in their restaurant kitchens.
“Oftentimes the most popular fish are the most overfished and unsustainable,” says Gourdet. “To help be a voice to guide people to make smart decisions that are healthy for our oceans and ourselves… I’m very honored to be a part of that.”
Top Chef: Portland is currently airing on Bravo. Kann Winter Village is now booking reservations for their final month of service (hot tip: they’re playing new Top Chef episodes every Thursday through the weekend inside each yurt). Everyone’s Table will be available at booksellers on May 11.