Top Chef’s Gregory Gourdet on sourcing, sobriety and fairness

In June, Portland chef and Top Chef star Gregory Gourdet’s lavish new cookbook won a James Beard Award, and it’s easy to see why. At the table for all: global recipes for modern health, co-authored with JJ Goode, offers a dizzying array of dishes – from Haitian “legim” (a rustic vegetable stew with thyme, scallions and fruity, fiery chilies) to a rich Vietnamese duck curry and a classic recipe French roast chicken. (The latter came from his time working for Jean-Georges Vongerichten in New York.)

Gourdet follows a paleo diet, and the book is written with that diet in mind, but it’s so plant-centric that one could be forgiven for thinking it’s written for vegans on the first pass. Stunning shots of Brussels sprouts with chilies, lime and mint follow images of a “summer salad” (heirloom tomatoes, berries, and nectarines) with coconut vinaigrette and a raw butternut squash salad with chilies smoked, pomegranate and seeds.

Gourdet, who opened his own Haitian restaurant, Kann, in the Central Eastside of Portland in early August, is fond of supporting local farms. Civil Eats asked him about the farms he sources from, his sobriety, and his hope to build an inclusive and fair business where every employee can shine.

Tell us about your new restaurant. How long has it been under construction? What does Kann mean?

It means “cane” in Haitian Creole, as in sugar cane. I started planning it four and a half years ago. Honestly, I was happy in my old job [executive chef at Departures] and stayed there for 10 years. But eight and a half years later, I realized it was time to do my own thing.

In 2020, I was planning to travel and go to Haiti and do a bunch of research around the country. Then I was stuck at home like everyone else, so those plans were thwarted. But I was able to finish my cookbook! And I was able to focus on that.

During the [early days of the] pandemic, we had to do pop-ups and experiment with some methods and content, but we only found our space last summer. It took all this time to get things to where we are now. Everything happens for a reason.

You have long been committed to sourcing from local farmers. Which farms do you source your produce from in Kann?

Much of the cuisine is based on traditional Haitian flavors, methods and dishes.

As a chef living in Oregon, I’m 100% in love with our products and ingredients – it’s one of the reasons being a chef here is so great. Summer is my favorite season. Berries, cherries, stone fruits, melons, peppers, these are all the things I love, love, love in Oregon!

We will be ordering from Gathering Together Farms, Groundwork Organics and Maryhill for the berries. It’s a combination of a few farms delivering, and then obviously trips to the Wednesday and Saturday markets, like everyone else.

“One of the great gifts we’ve received during the pandemic has been being able to listen to the changes that need to happen in our industry to make workplaces better and safer for everyone.”

Do you work with any farms to custom plant particular vegetables or spices that are commonly used in Haitian cuisine such as okra or taro root?

It’s definitely something we’ll be working on next year. At the moment we have a hydroponic garden we’re working on in our private dining room, in a small space – I’d say it’s 16ft by 8ft. Farmer Evan Gregoire helps us. We’re going to be growing Scotch bonnet peppers—it’s the traditional pepper from Haiti, and they’re hard to find in Oregon. And then we will have five more “library units” [vertical shelving units] where we will grow lettuces, micro-herbs and edible flowers.

I read that you are committed to fairness in the workplace at Kann. What do you do to ensure that sexual harassment does not occur or is promptly addressed if it does occur?

Equity, diversity and inclusion are part of our core values. Obviously, by creating a restaurant that showcases Haitian culture, any African diaspora [cuisine][…]diversity is very important to us, because we want it to be reflected in the culture. One of the great gifts of our hiatus during the pandemic has been being able to listen to what changes need to happen in our industry to make workplaces better and safer for everyone.

We are committed to having women in leadership positions. Our entire kitchen management team – my head chef, my sous chef and my pastry chef – are all women. So we are a female-centric, queer, BIPOC-led team. They are fantastic women. It is an honor for me to help them all take the next step in their careers. My chef, Varanya [Geyoonsawat], was a line cook at Departures, she was a sous-chef at my at pop-ups. I gave him a sous chef job and I gave him a chef job. It’s great to see someone take those opportunities and run with them. I’ve had great mentors who have always stood by me, and I just want to be that person for my team members. Then it’s the little things, like making sure people have insurance.

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