Gabriel Rucker has always been candid about his affection for fast food. His White Castle–inspired, slider-sized steam burgers at Canard became one of Portland’s biggest food obsessions and were named one of Food and Wine’s best bites of 2019. Now, he’s taking his love for Taco Bell—in particular, the chain’s Crunchwrap Supreme—to new heights with a Taco Bell–inspired dish of his own.
The story of the Double Duck Crunchwrap Supreme, as Rucker calls it, began when Mark Tarlov, founder of natural, direct-to-consumer winery Alit Wines in Dundee, approached Rucker with a request to create an exclusive dish for Tarlov’s tasting room based on one of his favorite pairings, which also happens to be charmingly alliterative: Peking and pinot.
At the time, both Le Pigeon and Canard were closed due to the pandemic; both restaurants reopened last week for dine-in service, and Canard is also offering takeout. Rucker has also recently begun offering his services as a private chef in clients’ homes. But during the shutdown, he jumped on the opportunity to create a new dish designed especially for these quarantine times.
Despite his culinary skill, Rucker knows when something’s totally out of his wheelhouse, he says, like Peking duck. Traditionally, Peking duck can take days to make and involves inflating the duck like a balloon for the crispiest possible skin. For hundreds of years, debates have erupted in China over whether roasting the duck in an open or closed oven creates a better-tasting bird. In China, centuries-old restaurants like Quanjude and Bianyifang have gained international fame for their Peking duck, and today the restaurants operate branches across China devoted to the dish. In Portland, at least in the prepandemic days, you could find Peking duck at several restaurants, including the Cantonese banquet-style restaurant Happy Dragon and at the brewpub-meets-Sichuan spot Duck House. For the past several Decembers at the Asian fusion restaurant Departure, chef Gregory Gourdet has prepared a version that requires four days of air-drying and a staff of 10 cooks, according to the restaurant. In short, it’s not a dish to be taken lightly.
“Peking duck is a very traditional, exacting dish,” Rucker says. “I have no training in formal Chinese cuisine. I have not studied it, and I should not be the person to make Peking duck.”
Rucker, of course, has other tools in his wheelhouse. He describes his signature style as “French techniques without boundaries.” French confit was another natural match for duck, so he used that technique to prepare the bird rather than attempting a traditional Peking duck. Then, Rucker turned to Taco Bell’s Crunchwrap Supreme for inspiration. It certainly isn’t the first Crunchwrap-inspired spinoff on the market, but Rucker draws from his strengths to create his own version. “Like most chefs, I have a penchant for some junk food,” Rucker explains. “I just had a vision of a Crunchwrap Supreme.”
The Double Duck Crunchwrap Supreme is a handheld creation that combines elements of French technique like confit with Chinese ingredients like XO sauce (made with shiitake mushrooms rather than the usual seafood, and used to flavor the sour cream), plus Oregon marionberry hoisin sauce, Japanese miso paste, and ginger-stewed black beans prepared with brown sugar for “classic Americana,” as Rucker describes it. Sausage and pickled coleslaw with ginger sauce also make their way into the mix, all wrapped in a hexagon-folded, toasty golden-brown flour tortilla.
Rucker’s take on the Crunchwrap will be available only at Alit Wines starting this Friday, July 17, until September. The pop-up runs Wednesdays through Sundays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the winery’s expanded outdoor tasting area, which is arranged to allow for social distancing. The wine tasting menu includes plenty of Alit’s signature Oregon pinot noir—guests can order a flight consisting of three different vintages of pinot noir—as well as other options like sauvignon blanc, rosé of pinot noir, and Champagne.
The Double Duck Crunchwrap Supreme might be more along the casual, playful lines typical of Canard rather than Rucker’s artfully composed dishes at Le Pigeon. But in a way, the dish is fitting for the times. Rucker says he missed the constant buzz of the dining room during the months his restaurants were shut down, but also remarks that while he was cooking at home, it “was very refreshing to be relieved from the fanciness.”
Whether elegantly plated or handheld, Rucker says, “food should be fun.”
Alit Wines Tasting Room, 531 OR-99W, Dundee, 11 a.m.–5 p.m. Wed–Sun. Visit alit.wine for details.