Gregory Gourdet has become one of Portland’s most beloved and defining chefs while fronting the most un-Portland of restaurants for the past 10 years: a high-volume, space age glam lounge on top of downtown’s Nines Hotel. Sure, his star-turn as a Top Chef finalist in 2015 didn’t hurt. But make no mistake: Gourdet has transformed Departure into a destination for tourists, locals, and yes, the Blazers. His annual December “duck dinners” have a cult following. Earlier this year, he inked a major cookbook deal with Harper Wave Books. At 44, he’s hot-wired into everything essential in American eating today: veganism, sober-chef culture, personal food root journeys, community voice, and pan-Asian cooking experiments. He’s not only in on the conversation—he’s ahead of the curve.
So naturally, we’ve all been wondering: when will he open his own restaurant, something intimate, completely independent, and free of tourist considerations?
Now we know. Gourdet tells Portland Monthly that he will step away from day-to-day operations at the end of the year to focus on his own concept: wood-fired cooking, global influences, and most importantly, traditional Haitian cooking—the iconic dishes, and the food of his youth.
“It’s gonna be signature Gregory,” he tells us. “Lots of influences from around the world, big flavors and cultural references. Lots of birds, whole fish, and marinades from around the world, finished on fire. Lots of balanced heat, herbaceousness, and funk.” But Haiti is the centerpiece. “My family is entirely Haitian,” he says. “We always ate Haitian food. My mother did not have a handle on American cuisine. I want to bring the Haitian narrative to the table.”
The plan calls for dinner only, 60 seats with a bar, and a tentative opening date in late 2020. Currently, he’s actively looking for a space and raising money.
Gourdet plans to stay actively involved with Departure as culinary director of menus and special events—a job he plans to keep for the foreseeable future. Chef de cuisine Jami Flatt, Gourdet’s right hand man, will take over as executive chef.
Over the past few years, Haiti has been on Gourdet’s mind, and the subject of various pop-up dinners. He’s traveled back to Haiti to cook and recently staged a major Haitian dinner at the James Beard House. For his new restaurant, he plans to blend very traditional recipes with some playful approaches.
A sneak peek at the menu’s first draft reveals all sorts of intrigues: whole duck in smoked chili marinade with plantain flour crepes, classic chicken legs stewed in Creole sauce, braised oxtails with Haitian mushroom cornmeal, wood-fired yucca with garlic, lime, and black pepper, and a wood-fired banana tart with guava jelly, peanuts, and habaneros.
Meanwhile, over the next year, he’ll continue his travels to Asia to bring back new ideas and ingredients while exploring the Haitian pantry.
And while Gourdet’s food is always handsomely presented, he promises this will not be tweezer food. “I’m thinking in a bowl—savory, rich, soulful food,” he tells me with a big grin on his face. “That’s what I want to serve. I think it will resonate with Portland.” We’re counting on it.