Departure Chef Gregory Gourdet Taps his Haitian Roots

Top Chef’s fierce competitor takes a deep dive into the dishes of his youth on December 21.

By Karen Brooks December 16, 2014

He has made judges coo, nod with respect, and utter words that have never been applied to food before, among them “alien autopsy.” Now, as he continues an impressive run on Bravo’s Top Chef: Boston with flavor dexterity and jackfruit voodoo, Departure chef Gregory Gourdet is getting ready to pull another secret weapon from his tool kit: his mother’s hand-me-down Haitian cuisine. On Sunday, Dec. 21, as part of his new, intimate Compass Dinner Series, Gourdet will unleash the spicy, soulful, sour-oranged foods of his youth in ten family-style courses.

Eat Beat nabbed a sneak-peek copy of Sunday’s menu (below) and a birds-eye view of Haitian cooking, as seen through one man’s delicious memories:

On growing up Haitian: “My entire family is Haitian. My sister and I are first generation. My parents moved here in the 60’s to pursue an education in their 20’s. While I was born in Brooklyn, I spent 2 years in Haiti as a young child and started my first year of school there. We always ate Haitian food. My mother did not have a handle on American cuisine. My parents were social and kept their friends close. We had many Sunday dinners, church events, holidays and parties— at home or elsewhere—where Haitian food was the only cuisine served.”

Defining the Haitian table:Haitian food is simple, soulful. It is also clean. There are not many dishes. Haitian cuisine stars root vegetables, plantains, chicken, pork, beef, fish. Rice and beans, one type of mushroom, one type of chili. All meats get a marinade in citrus, thyme, scallions and scotch bonnet. When I think back to the flavors of my youth I remember tender meats and interesting root vegetables, all brightened with pickled scotch bonnets (hot peppers) and lime. There was always rice and a good gravy of chunky aromatics, meat juices and herbs to pour all over it. You always wanted seconds and there was always something sweet to end the meal.”

Drop-dead favorites: “This is the first time I am cooking Haitian food in a restaurant setting. One of my favorites is the ‘legumes,’ a rich and savory stewed vegetable dish. The eggplant and spinach are really reduced and caramelized so it makes a very full-flavored dish. With the addition of turkey meat this could be a meal itself best served with rice. For the Djon Djon, my mother shipped me some Haitian black mushrooms. We make a pilaf with the steeped mushroom juice, shrimp and lima beans. This isn’t the most common Haitian rice dish but it is earthy and delicious.” 

Gourdet’s Haitian Menu 

Malanga Fritters

Bannann Peze
Fried Plantains

Pate Mori
Salt Cod in Puff Pastry Patties 

Crab and Beef Soup, Taro, Yam, Clove

Slow Braised Turkey, Spinach, Cabbage, Eggplant, Pepper

Fried Pork Shoulder, Onion, Sour Orange, Lime

Diri ak Djondjon
Black Mushroom Rice, Shrimp, Lima Beans

Poul en sòs
Stewed Chicken Legs, Scotch Bonnet, Citrus, Thyme

Poudin Manyok
Cassava & Coconut Custard Cake 

Spiced Rum Milk Cream                  

Dous Makòs
Haitian Vanilla Fudge 

Compass Dinner Series at Departure
525 SW Morrison St
Reservations required: 503-802-5370 

Upcoming: “Silk Road” (Jan. 22), a sustainable seafood dinner with Ken Norris and Flying Fish Co.; “Korea” (Feb. 19), Korean BBQ, pot stew, and banchan, with Kim Jong Grillin’s Han Ly Hwang.

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