Chef Gregory Gourdet’s creative and healthy spin on favorite dishes is well known. His attention to detail produces original interpretations and bold flavors that translate into cuisine that fits a range of tastes and dietary preferences.
It’s no wonder that Departure, the Portland restaurant he helms at The Nines, A Luxury Collection Hotel, is incredibly popular with locals and visitors alike. And now, the Top Chef: Boston runner-up is bringing his culinary talent to a new Departure restaurant in Denver.
We recently caught up with the touted toque to discuss the new venture, old chef friends and the Portland dining scene.
Congratulations on a great 2015. What’s a typical day like for a Top Chef runner-up and James Beard “Best Chef: Northwest” semifinalist?
Thanks! These days? I woke up at 7 a.m. today. I went to the gym. I commuted to work and just hit the ground running. I had a couple meetings with my cooks who had some questions, and then I started cooking.
I have things I need to cook almost every day, so that’s still a part of my life. We do lots of special menus and special events. And we just did a big menu change, so it’s really important to fine-tune all the little details and see what works when you’re trying to re-create a dish after the original concept.
We are currently running our Peking duck special, which is our biggest special of the year, and each duck takes about five to six days to prepare. They’re roasted daily. That process involves three floors of [The Nines hotel]!
What are some of your goals when creating dishes and menus at Departure?
Living in Oregon, we have so many amazing things growing here. We have 12 months of growing season, so it’s very easy to make something with amazing fresh seafood, and amazing, fresh, organic vegetables. I have a real focus on keeping it fresh and keeping it local.
Departure is such a big restaurant and we see so many different types of people that we want to be able to offer something to everyone. We’re an amazing place because the meat eater can come in and have a Wagyu steak and the vegetarian brother can have just as many delicious courses. The vegan sister can join as well. And there’s a full menu for the gluten-free aunt.
We have a little something for everyone, and it’s been fun to create a menu that offers so much to so many people.
Tell us more about some of your culinary inspirations.
Definitely the countries that I’ve visited, including all of Southeast Asia, inspire me. And Mexico is a huge inspiration for me. And Europe.
I am trained in modern French cuisine, working for Jean-Georges [Vongerichten] for many years, so that’s still a part of what I do in many different ways.
Important health trends inspire me. I’m always trying to bring to light things that can make you healthier, and I try to incorporate that into our foods.
The seasons inspire me, too. I just travel around Oregon and see what we’re growing. A trip to the beach will inspire my next oyster dish. A trip to the vineyards will inspire my next dessert.
I’m also inspired by what other people are doing. We work with the same farms, the same purveyors and, oftentimes, we share the same ingredients, so it’s really cool to see what other people are doing and what techniques they’re applying to the same ingredients. You can learn from that as well.
Is there one food you’re secretly obsessed with having at home?
My number one go-to food is Sunbutter and fruit preserves. It’s my version of a Paleo peanut butter and jelly. I eat sunflower seed butter and all fruit preserves with a spoon standing at my kitchen counter every night when I get home from work. This usually takes place at 1 a.m.
Are there any ingredients that you’ve tried to work with but weren’t able to master and given up on?
Goose! I had cooked it once and found it a bit toothsome, especially the breast. After my epic fail cooking it on Top Chef at the Thanksgiving challenge, I have yet to revisit! I can work some magic into the legs, but those breasts are a tricky meat. I like things tender.
You collaborate a lot with others. What’s been one of the most fun partnerships you’ve done recently?
Our Chefs Week PDX (editor’s note: this year’s event runs February 4 to 7) event is probably the most fun I have collaborating. We started the event three years ago, inspired by some of the dinner parties and food festivals and events we saw around the country — we wanted to create something that focused on the West Coast.
Chefs Week is really the pinnacle of collaboration in terms of getting West Coast chefs — from Vancouver, Canada, all the way down to Baja Mexico — into the kitchen, all with one focus: to make one delicious meal.
For the final night of Chefs Week PDX, we have about 30 chefs all cooking at Departure. So you want to talk about collaboration, that’s really the pinnacle of collaboration on the West Coast.
It’s really a fantastic dinner composed of 30 courses. It’s four hours long. Anything goes. Chefs are encouraged to cook anything they want to, to pick something that represents them best and where they come from on the West Coast.
And we’re all under the roof of Departure, hanging out and helping each other plate food. It’s fun.
When you dine out in Portland, where do you eat?
There are so many different restaurants in Portland now that it’s hard to keep up. I’ve turned into that person who kind of just goes to the same places, whereas I was never that person before.
But I always love going to Pok Pok. I go to Ava Gene’s. I go to Imperial [at Hotel Lucia] because I love Doug [Adams, executive chef and fellow Top Chef contestant] and I love his food. I go to Harlow because I’m gluten-free and I love juice.
Ox is really awesome. They do really great vegetables there, and I love restaurants that have wood-fired grills.
Tell us more about opening up a Departure in Denver this spring.
Denver is a really great town — outdoorsy and really up and coming in terms of the food scene.
I think Portland has a lot of things on lock in terms of the resources we have and the amount of push we give ourselves in terms of being restaurateurs and being creative. But I think it’s happening now in Denver.
We’re really excited to be there, and it’s an amazing opportunity for me. I’ve never been an opening executive chef at a restaurant before, and it’s a great honor for me to be able to create everything I’ve done here on a little bigger scale with a really great team.
The kitchen will be open and part of the dining room, and we’ll have a sushi bar and also have a kushiyaki bar (a place that serves Japanese grilled skewers). I’m really excited to expand both of those programs at the new concept.
Departure Portland is extremely important to me, and we’ve had so much great success over the past six years, so I’m definitely not leaving Portland. I will be spending as much time at both Departure restaurants as possible. I’m the type of person who would do that.
Any other big plans for 2016?
My five-year plan for the past five years has been to open up a second Departure. So, now that that’s a reality and it’s happening fast, I want to get it off and running in Denver — have it be a smooth and successful beginning. And continue our success here, cooking good food. That’s really my main focus.
I also definitely want to go back to Asia and Europe. If I’m in charge, my travel plans always revolve around food.