Home Restaurant Top Chef’s Gregory Gourdet on Sourcing, Sobriety, and Equity

Top Chef’s Gregory Gourdet on Sourcing, Sobriety, and Equity

In June, Portland chef and Top Chef star Gregory Gourdet’s sumptuous new cookbook won a James Beard award, and it’s easy to see why. Everyone’s Table: Global Recipes for Modern Health, co-authored with JJ Goode, features a dizzying array of dishes—from Haitian “legim” (a rustic vegetable stew with thyme, scallions, and fruity, fiery chiles) to a rich Vietnamese duck curry and a classic French roasted chicken recipe. (This last one came from his time working for Jean-Georges Vongerichten in New York City.)

Gourdet follows a paleo diet, and the book is written with that diet in mind—but it’s so plant-centric you might be forgiven for thinking it’s written for vegans on first pass. Gorgeous photos of Brussels sprouts with chiles, lime, and mint follow images of a “high-summer salad” (heirloom tomatoes, berries, and nectarines) with coconut dressing and a raw butternut squash salad with smoky chiles, pomegranate, and seeds.

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

Tell us about your new restaurant. How long has it been in the works? 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 at my old job [executive chef at Departures] and was there for 10 years. But eight and a half years in, I realized it was time to do my own thing.

In 2020, I had plans 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 razor focus on that.

During the [early days of the] pandemic, we got to do some pop-ups and experiment with some methods and content, but we didn’t find our space until last summer. It took all that time for things to be where we are now. Everything happens for a reason.

You’ve long been committed to sourcing from local farmers. Which farms are you sourcing produce from at Kann?

A lot of the cuisine is based on traditional Haitian flavors and methods and dishes.

As a chef who lives in Oregon, I’m 100 percent in love with our produce and ingredients—that’s one of the reasons being a chef here is so fantastic. Summer is my favorite season. The berries, the cherries, the stone fruit, the melons, the chiles, all these are the things I love love love about Oregon!

We’ll be ordering from Gathering Together Farms, Groundwork Organics, and Maryhill for berries. It’s a combination of a couple farms that do deliver, and then obviously trips to the Wednesday and Saturday markets just like everybody else.

“One of the great gifts of us hitting pause during the pandemic has been being able to listen to what changes need to be happening in our industry to make workplaces better and safer for everyone.”

Are you working with any farms to custom plant particular vegetables or spices that are commonly used in Haitian cuisine like okra or taro root?

That’s definitely something that we’ll work on next year. For now, we do have a hydroponic garden that we’re working on in our private dining room, in a small space—I’d say it’s 16 feet by 8 feet. Farmer Evan Gregoire is helping us. We’re going to grow Scotch bonnet chiles—that’s the traditional chile of Haiti, and they’re hard to find in Oregon. And then we’re going to have five additional “library units” [vertical shelving units] where we’re going to grow lettuces, micro herbs, and edible flowers.

I’ve read that you are making a commitment to equity in the workplace at Kann. What are you doing to ensure that sexual harassment doesn’t take place or that it’s swiftly dealt with if it does happen?

Equity, diversity, and inclusion—those are all part of our core values. Obviously, in creating a restaurant that’s highlighting Haitian culture, any African diaspora [cuisine]—diversity is very important to us, because we want that reflected in the culture. One of the great gifts of us hitting pause during the pandemic has been being able to listen to what changes need to be happening in our industry to make workplaces better and safer for everyone.

We are committed to having women in positions of leadership. Our entire kitchen management team—my chef de cuisine, my sous chef, and my pastry chef—are all female. So we’re a women-centric, queer, and BIPOC-led team. These are fantastic women. It’s my honor to help all of them get to the next stage of their careers. My chef de cuisine, Varanya [Geyoonsawat], was a line cook at Departures, she’s been a sous chef at my at pop-ups. I gave her a sous chef job and I gave her a chef de cuisine job. It’s tremendous to see someone take those opportunities and run with them. I had tremendous mentors who always stood by my side, and I just want to be that person for the people on my team. Then, it’s the little things—like making sure people have insurance.

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