Gregory Gourdet’s wood-fired Haitian whole fish

One sure-fire reason that Kann, a Haitian dining concept, recently won Top Chef's most difficult challenge, the Restaurant Wars—which puts quickly imagined restaurants concepts to the test, design to food to service. For Portland chef Gregory Gourdet, a returning contestant for season 17, it wasn't a game. It was personal.

As PoMo first reported last fall, the acclaimed Departure chef and pan-Asian experimenter was ready to put his Haitian roots front and center in a new project—his first crack at restaurant ownership. Glimpses of his mom's hand-me-down flavors—simple, soulful, sour-oranged—were already turning heads at Departure as occasional specials, including a gorgeous whole fish awash in hot peppers, lime juice, and herbs. But Kann first “debuted” on Top Chef: LA All-Stars this spring, when Gourdet, who lost by a few crumbs in 2014, made another run at the trophy. He didn't bring home gold… but he won the only challenge that really mattered, introducing even seen-it-all judges and a big TV audience to genuine Haitian dishes, a cuisine deserving of greater exposure in the United States.

Now, Gourdet is ready to “debut” Kann in Portland. In pandemic terms, that means a pop-up—two nights only, August 10–11, with outdoor seating only, on the patio of Mama Bird's (2145 NW Raleigh St). The nine-course menu will boast four of the dishes that won judges' hearts—Gourdet's soulful oxtails, grilled ripe plantains, that whole flame-fired fish and charred pineapple upside-down cake. Also in the mix: playful summer dishes, ranging from frozen melon soup to a salad of tomato, corn and peaches, dressed in coconut milk and makrut lime. Staffing for the meal, says Gourdet, will be POC, mostly women.

The name Kann ("cane" in Haitian Creole) is Gourdet's homage to Haitian cane sugar vendors, “their wheelbarrows overflowing with the sweet, freshly harvested snack.” That memory, says Gourdet, inspired this meal, with most dishes cooked over fire. Kann's opening date has been pushed back to 2021, but for now, a deep-dive sneak peek seems pretty sweet. 

The deets: $120 per person, 20 percent gratuity included. Reservations are required. Additional wine or zero-proof beverage pairings are also available. Pandemic rules: tables are socially distanced eight-feet apart; forehead temperatures taken upon arrival; masks are a must. Tickets can be found right here.

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