Inside Le Pigeon's High-Flying Cookbook

Gabriel Rucker's new tome reveals stories and recipes from his James Beard Award-winning East Burnside kitchen.

By Karen Brooks and Benjamin Tepler August 16, 2013 Published in the September 2013 issue of Portland Monthly

Gabe Rucker liberates a butter clam from Netarts Bay on the Oregon coast. (Image reprinted with permission from Le Pigeon by Gabriel Rucker & Meredith Erickson, ©2013. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House Inc)

In 2006, a failing restaurant with a small cult following hired Gabriel Rucker, 25 and a virtual unknown, to save the day. Almost overnight, the tattooed college dropout from Napa defined the playful attitude, communal tables, and palate-pushing originality that helped turn Portland from a provincial dot to a capital-city star on the nation’s gastronomic map. Swaggering foie gras profiteroles—foie gras ice cream, drizzled with foie gras caramel, and finished with (of course!) foie gras powdered sugar—set the tone, then and now. Seven years and two James Beard awards later, Le Pigeon still conjures Portland’s most riveting ever-changing menu: dishes that don’t look or taste like anything, anywhere. 

If you ever thrilled to Rucker’s monumental burger or coveted the secrets of his smoked rabbit pie with cheddar and mustard ice cream (hint: Miller High Life, Beaver Brand hot mustard, and “rabbit hearts chutney”), the book for you arrives in stores September 17. In Le Pigeon: Cooking at the Dirty Bird, coauthor Meredith Erickson prowls the underbelly of the restaurant’s madcap culture. She manages to concisely translate what Rucker calls his “refined, cracked-out mountain food” philosophy. The book also introduces Le Pigeon collaborators, among them contributors Lauren Fortgang (dessert chef) and Andy Fortgang (co-owner, ace sommelier, and the only guy rocking seersucker suits in a sea of tattooed cooks). But the real selling point is a definitive catalog of Le Pigeon recipes: more than 160 dating back to the beginning, from a guy who famously cooks on the fly. 

“Absolutely nothing was written down,” admits Erickson. “I had to extract it from his crazy brain.” We offer thanks—someone had to do it. 


Image: Nomad

Four “holy crow” highlights: 

1. Inspired Chapters

“Rabbit” and “Fat Liver” capture the heart (and tongue and claws) of Le Pigeon, while “Lettuce and Such” and “Veg” leave no doubt: Rucker knows his way around the garden.


2. The Le Pigeon Pantry

A catalog of the “vinnys” (vinaigrettes), mayos, ketchups, and other flavor boosters that make Le Pigeon’s kitchen fly 

3. The Purveyors

Essays include the ultimate “killer cheese case” imagined by Cheese Bar’s Steve Jones, and tromping through the underbrush and the obsessive world of truffle hunters with forager Lars Norgren. 

4. LP’s Greatest Hits

Defining recipes from Le Pigeon’s history include the famed beef cheek bourguignon, as well as the simple things Rucker loves, like a perfect Caesar, or the decadent barbecued celery root we detail below. 

BBQ Celery Root with Mâche and Délice de Bourgogne

(Serves 4) 

Recipe reprinted with permission from Le Pigeon by Gabriel Rucker & Meredith Erickson, ©2013. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House Inc

Only Gabriel Rucker could imagine grilling meaty slabs of celery root in a Beaujolais-barbecue sauce under melting swirls of luscious triple-crème cheese. On the side: fresh mâche leaves dressed in a tangy homemade currant vinaigrette. It’s classic Le Pigeon, and Rucker’s favorite fall salad—highbrow French decadence flirting with lowbrow Americana. The inspiration for this particular bit of Beaujolais-BBQ poetry? “I love alliteration,” Rucker jokes. “I always tell my cooks: if the words flow together, the flavors probably will, too.” 

  • 4 slices celery root, cut ¼ inch thick and skin removed
  • Extra-virgin olive oil for brushing
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • BBQ sauce*
  • Currant vinaigrette**
  • 4 1-oz pieces Délice de Bourgogne or other triple-cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 2 large handfuls of mâche

(1) PREHEAT a gas or charcoal grill at medium heat.

(2) BRUSH celery root slices with olive oil, and season with salt and pepper.

(3) GRILL until just cooked through, about 5 minutes on each side, occasionally brushing with BBQ sauce.

(4) TRANSFER to plates and top each slice with a piece of cheese. 

(5) TOSS mâche with currant vinaigrette and place a handful next to the celery root. 

*BBQ Sauce

  • ½ cup ketchup
  • ½ cup red wine vinegar
  • ¼ cup honey
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 bottle Beaujolais

(1) COMBINE ketchup, vinegar, honey, paprika, black pepper, and all but ½ cup of Beaujolais in a small saucepan over medium heat.

(2) COOK about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the sauce is sweet and thickened. 

(3) REMOVE sauce from heat and let it come to room temperature.

**Currant Vinaigrette

  • ½ cup Beaujolais
  • 2 tbsp dried currants
  • ¼ cup vermouth vinegar or red wine vinegar
  • 1 tbsp minced shallot
  • ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

(1) COMBINE Beaujolais and currants in a small saucepan over medium heat and simmer until currants are plump and liquid has evaporated, about 5 minutes.

(2) REMOVE from heat and stir in vinegar and shallot, letting the flavors mingle for 5 minutes. 

(3) STIR in oil, and season with salt and pepper. 

Recipe adapted from Le Pigeon: Cooking at the Dirty Bird 

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