Two Portland Chefs, Two Vegetable Dinners, One Leap Forward

Vegetable whisperers Joshua McFadden of Ava Gene’s and Gregory Gourdet of Departure get to the root of culinary collaboration.

By Karen Brooks April 23, 2014

Image: Drew Tyson

Portland is in a think-tank period. Across the city, chefs are collaborating together like jam bands, creating mix tapes of Portland dining trends. Chefs Week PDX, for example, brought 20 West Coast chefs to the same table in February, letting diners experience dozens of cooks and styles in one meal.

In most dinner collaborations, chefs alternate courses to show off their personal style. The future, instead, may put different perspectives on the same plate. 

That’s why Josh McFadden and Gregory Gourdet’s new Vegetable Dinner Series caught my eye: two nine-course menus from a pair of chefs pushing vegetable creativity in very different ways. On July 17 and Sept. 25, PoMo Restaurant of the Year Ava Gene’s rustic Italian-leaning McFadden and Departure’s playful Asian innovator Gourdet will sync their styles to maximize the season’s best plants, vegetables, and fruits.

McFadden, who recently inked a vegetable cookbook deal with Artisan Publishers, has a singular take on vegetables, blending plants, nut butters, and unexpected condiments into uncommonly good and down-to-earth dishes. Gourdet is an out-of-the-box creative, and his annual, sell-out vegan dinners are legendary.

So what might they do together? Judging by a sneak peek at the menu, McFadden-esque grilled spring lamb with fava bean salsa verde will wave hello to Gourdet’s coconut yogurt raita and Oregon wasabi. I’d like to see where they go from here.

The meal’s conclusion looks most intriguing, an effort to get “as many vegetables as we can get into one dessert,” as Gourdet puts it. The focus is on sweet, tender, young vegetables, prepared in various states of dried, candy, chips, and curds. It’s all paired with carrot ice cream made from carrot juice, carrot puree, and coconut milk. Gourdet says they’ll semi-dry beets to get them chewy, add candied fennel for licorice tone, make sweet, pickled rhubarb for pop and crunch, then add vegetable chips and leather. Herbal notes will come from cilantro syrup and Ava Gene’s stash of fine Katz olive oils, rich and green. It might be a disaster or an eye-opener, a taste of things to come.

“Applying technique or unusual combinations is an exciting way to explore this,” says Gourdet. “Anthony Cafiero (Racion), Justin Wills (Restaurant Beck) and Kristen Murray (Maurice) have done unique things with vegetables. Collaboration dinners like this help us chefs experience things with a different perspective, through a colleague’s eyes. If we can form new relationships with farmers and help diners understand the story of the season a bit more as well we have done our job.” 

Here’s a sneak peek at July’s menu:

Frito Misto, Wild Ginger-Young Garlic Mayonnaise, Black Garlic-Chili Dipping Sauce

Snap Peas, Asparagus, Broccoli, Artichokes

English Peas & Carrots

Vietnamese Coriander, Young Coconut, Carrot-Ginger Vinaigrette

Cucumber & Oregon Shrimp XO Sauce

Spring Onion, Cilantro, Parsley, Chili Oil

Shaved Collard Greens, Peanut Sauce

Rosemary, Puffed rice 

House Made Rice Noodles, Spring Raab, Garlic Chives

fried chicken skin, pickled choy

Salt Cod Fried Farro, Pickled Ramps, Duck Egg, Colatura

Grilled Spring Lamb

Shoulder, Shank, Sausage  

Smashed Peas, Fava Bean Salsa Verde, Coconut Yogurt Raita, Oregon Wasabi

Candied, Dried and Marinated Spring Vegetables and Fruits

carrot sorbet, olive oil

Spring Cream Panna Cotta, Strawberries, Anise 

The Vegetable Dinner Series kicks off July 17 at Ava Gene’s, 3377 SE Division St, 971-229-0571. A second dinner is scheduled Thurs, Sept 25 at Departure, 525 SW Morrison St, 503-802-5370. Dinners are $75, reservations required.

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