In 2013, Portland Monthly surveyed the city’s foodscape for the city’s next top chefs. Two names rose to the top: Le Pigeon’s modern-riffing line cook Andrew Mace, and Little Bird Bistro’s savory pastry experimenter, Nora Antene. “I love collaborating with Andrew,” said Le Pigeon and Little Bird boss Gabriel Rucker. “He and Nora are going to go places … I just hope they don’t go too soon.”
And just like that, Mace, who worked his way up to chef de cuisine and admirably held down Portland’s most prestigious kitchen, will serve his last Le Pigeon dinner Tuesday, May 10. His mark on the menu was noticeable. “We balance each other out,” said Mace over the phone on Monday. “Gabriel makes the nasty, awesome stuff; what Le Pigeon is known for. My place is with the slightly more refined, more composed, more delicate dishes. That’s what made our partnership amazing.”
Meanwhile, Mace’s partner, Antene, whose jump to Le Pigeon in late 2013 was marked by endless crazy delights (Whoopie Pie with roasted red pepper “Twizzlers,” anyone?) will depart on May 17. As Eat Beat reported, Antene is joining the team behind Tusk, a Middle East restaurant opening on East Burnside this summer.
Meanwhile, Rucker is concluding his year-long focus on Little Bird Bistro, where he rebooted the menu with a new slate of French classics, made “the Rucker way.” Now, the two-time James Beard medalist tells Eat Beat he’ll be cooking at Le Pigeon again three nights a week. Making the jump with him: Little Bird Bistro pastry chef Helen Jo, known for intelligent twists on familiar desserts.
What’s next for Mace? Surprisingly, not a plum chef gig. The 31-year-old is casting his net with Garibaldi’s Community Supported Fishery, which aims to help small-boat fisherman sell fresh local fish directly to Portland restaurants. This could be a big boost for Oregon’s poor ocean-to-table track record. Restaurants will subscribe and receive—on the blind—whatever is landing on the docks. According to Mace, that includes fish rarely seen on local menus, such as local squid or bay shrimp, live and head on. The process is similar to cooks who get mystery boxes of farm vegetables via a CSA. “I’m not burned out on food,” says Mace. “My passion for food is greater than just one plate, one customer at a time. A lot of improvements are needed in quality. This is so much more sustainable. I want to contribute to that. Not to say won’t ever get back to cooking.”
A taste of Mace won’t wander too far from Le Pigeon. He’s planning to helm Local Fish, a new food cart at the corner of NE 8th Avenue and Couch Street, just a block from the restaurant. Here, dock-fresh seafood from Community Supported Fishery will be the focus of fast, simple dishes. The company’s Jeff Wong owns the property, according to Mace, and the cart is part of CSF’s beta test. “There’s no real model for restaurant-supported fishing here,” he says.
Mace says Local Fish will open in a few weeks. Already, he’s toying with dishes like salt and pepper shrimp sided by fried rice and mingled with “beautiful Oregon bay shrimp.”
As for Rucker, he planted himself at Little Bird Bistro last May, after longtime chef Eric Van Kley left to open his own restaurant, Taylor Railworks on SE Taylor. Over the past year, Rucker has groomed a new flock. Now, he says, they’re ready to fly on their own, with Marcelle Crooks at the helm, and Erin Hughes (who Rucker calls “one to watch, definitely”) taking over pastry duties. Now, he’s eager to return to the nest. While most big-name chefs have their eyes on expansionist projects, Rucker has always been a homebody. The place he calls “the Dirty Pidge,” will always be his zip code. “What I want to do for the rest of my career,” he says, “is cook at Le Pigeon.” Welcome home.