Changing of the Guard: Pastry Edition

In a sweet shakeup, talented pastry chefs Lauren Fortgang and Nora Antene switch kitchens, menus at Le Pigeon and Little Bird take on new shape, and everyone wins.

By Allison Jones and Kristin Leigh November 26, 2013

Amelia Lane, Nora Antene, and Lauren Fortgang

Attention fans of Gabriel Rucker's high-flying empire: up-and-coming dessert star Nora Antene—recently featured as one of Portland Monthly's Next Top Chefs—has winged from her current perch at Little Bird to work closely with Rucker at Le Pigeon, and award–winning pastry chef, Lauren Fortgang, is back to crafting classic desserts at her old haunt, Little Bird. Also joining Fortgang at Little Bird? New pastry assistant Amelia Lane, former pastry chef of Olympic Provisions.

After successful dessert-crafting stints around the country (including New York City’s Craft and Hearth) Fortgang kicked off her Portland pastry reign in 2007 at Paley's Place, then jumped on board at Gabriel Rucker’s East Portland hot spot Le Pigeon, and eventually launched the dessert program at his spin-off downtown bistro Little Bird in 2010.

For two years, Fortgang managed managed pastry programs at both Le Pigeon and Little Bird close–knit team (including her pastry assistant Antene), but with a baby on the horizon, the tectonic plates at both restaurants began to shift. Fortgang took her maternity leave with Antene at the helm at Little Bird, and Eli Gregory working with Rucker at Le Pigeon.

Returning to work with a packed schedule—two bustling kitchens and the Le Pigeon Cookbook project underway—Fortgang picked up where she left off, crafting desserts with Nora with the familiar, seamless give and take of two humble, down-to-earth professionals.

But with Rucker looking for a new direction for desserts at Le Pigeon, the opportunity for the young pastry assistant to step up to the plate was too good to resist.

“I was getting really comfortable here [at Little Bird] and wanting to do a little bit more, doing something new,” says Antene.

“At Le Pigeon, people go there to be adventurous," says Fortgang. "They’re ready to try out new things. It’s nice because you can put out a flavor combination that you think is really good, but sounds unfamiliar.” In short, a perfect nest for Antene's signature brand of deliciously weird sweets, like brown-rice frozen mousse with green apple, warm chocolate cake with parsnip ice cream, and salted lemon tarts with olives.

In a transition that is as smooth and elegant as a classic crème brulee, it’s a game of musical chairs for two landmark restaurants that’s guaranteed to enliven both menus.

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