All of chef Gregory Gourdet's food is personal, a story, a journey. And Kann, his wood-fired Haitian dinner house—the most anticipated Portland restaurant in 2022—will be no exception.
The project has been gestating over four years, with test-drives at pop-ups and the epic yurt dinners at Kann Winter Village last year.
But many crucial details have been under wraps, including the look and location. Now, as Portland Monthly has learned, Kann will open mid-July at 548 SE Ash St, with 80 seats and an eight-foot hearth at the center of a wide-open kitchen that will occupy nearly half of the space.
At Kann, Gourdet aims to put his family's Haitian food culture on equal footing with a world that has largely ignored it. Don't expect a thumping bar scene or kooky Portland food-geist (though who wouldn't kill to see Gregory Gourdet take on either one?). Kann will skew high-end Portland with a serene vibe, a gold-brushed ceiling, and a menu that is pure Gourdet—big, bright, and herbaceous, at once traditional and original, celebrating what grows in Oregon with flavors that can surprise and haunt you, all backed by intriguing desserts like soursop shaved ice with fresh berries or charred banana tarts.
Expect new twists on signature dishes that helped make Gourdet a Top Chef fan favorite and a star chef, including grilled whole fish enveloped in citrus, herbs, pepper confit, and chiles. Also watch for Pekin duck, a cult dish at Departure that tapped techniques gleaned from cooks at New York's modern Chinese restaurant 66, which he headed up early in his career under famed chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten. At Kann, Gourdet will take the duck into a Caribbean space, lacquering it in cane syrup with spikes of pineapple and tamarind, a variation he's been pondering for some time.
A little back story: Gourdet, a first generation Haitian-American born in Brooklyn, arrived in Portland in 2008 with his swanky Jean-Georges resume, a giant mohawk, and a drug habit in tow. He rehabbed himself into a chef unlike any other in Portland—a sober, gay, Black, marathon-running cook fronting a glam hotel kitchen, Departure, where he flaunted his own brand of Asian-fusion cooking, free of gluten and dairy. Overlooked for years, Gourdet emerged as a bold, singular voice and an advocate for sobriety, healthy eating, and racial equality.
For years, we wondered: When will Gourdet open his own restaurant? What would it look like if he called all the shots? Now we know.
A sneak peek at the renderings shows a sleek, white-mod, naturalistic space framed in white oak floors, pillar-climbing tropical plants, metallic accents, and a quartzite stone counter set with fabric-padded, pointy-legged chairs. I want those primitive-futuristic pottery plates in cobalt blues and pinks. The kitchen, a live fire cooking island, will be the main show, with a row of seats in front of the action. A private dining room, equally handsome, will have seats for 34.
The design does not overtly reference Haiti—it's meant to be more of a canvas to showcase Haitian food. “The food is so textural, so dynamic and layered, we didn't want it to compete with the décor,” says Gourdet. “The goal is to create a comfy space that feels luxe but lets the food pop and speak for itself.”
The origins of barbecue have been traced to Haiti by some culinary historians. Gourdet is a believer, which is one reason an open fire is the linchpin of Kann's menu. Flames will ignite or at least kiss most dishes including desserts, among them a pineapple upside-down cake.
A charred note might shimmy into cocktails, too. Kann aims to rethink classics, not just incorporate Haitian and Caribbean fruits and ingredients, but, as Gourdet puts it, to “break away from how traditional cocktails are made, to keep it fun and interesting.” The game plan includes a strong zero-proof program, in keeping with Gourdet's sobriety.
The first-draft menu, about 20 dishes, subdivides into starters, plates from the hearth, classic side dishes, and desserts—everything dairy and gluten free. I'm curious about the spicy salt cod pate in flaky pastry and the challenge of creating buttery, flaky dough without butter, though Gourdet says he's found a good plant-based option. A Gourdet salad is always a must, with combinations and dressings unlike any other. At Kann, that means young coconut, summer berries galore, cherries, and little gem lettuce dressed with smoked peanut and coconut vinegar—a similar salad turned up at a Kann pop-up, and it was fantastic.
A few vegetables jump out from the hearth section, including a whole head of jerk-spiced cauliflower as well as grilled carrots paired with smoked herring, a Haitian breakfast favorite, and African-inspired pepper sauce. For his smoked beef ribs, Gourdet will merge the slow cook of Texas barbecue with Haitian spices, all garnished with Ti-Malice, a hot Haitian condiment bright with red pearl onions, Scotch bonnet peppers, and lime.
Humble side dishes could be the sleeper stars here. Powerfully earthy Haitian black mushroom rice, fat with lima beans, nearly stole the show at Kann Winter Village.
Kann's philosophy includes a “deep commitment to diversity and a diversity of genders,” says Gourdet. For his chef de cuisine, he hired Bangkok native Varanya Geyoonsawat, one of his Departure cooks that he stayed in close contact with through the birth of the restaurant.
Before Kann, Geyoonsawat never cooked Haitian food, but the two bonded over a shared tropical food cabinet—the pineapples, tamarinds, and chiles native to Haiti and Thailand. Gourdet calls her “a total bad-ass, with a fantastic palate and amazing drive.” Chatting with Geyoonsawat, she calls her gig at Kann, her first time running a kitchen, “a dream come true.”
During the pandemic, Gourdet had a revelation: he has everything he wants in life. Now, he tells me, he wants to give opportunities to his staff—the kind of growth and door openers he had working for Jean-Georges, who set New York afire with high-end new French cooking in the 2000s. “I look back now and want Kann to offer that. I want it to be less about me, and more about the team and our collaborative efforts.”
For his part, Gourdet could be doing anything, anywhere right now. He's entered the national celebrity chef conversation. Last December, Oprah hired him to cook for her holiday festivities with three other star chefs. In January, he popped up shirtless in Google feeds as his path to shedding 40 stress-eating pandemic pounds went viral.
But Portland is his place. At 47, he's willing to gamble everything on an ambitious project in a battered food scene and uncertain world.
“We're honored and excited to do our part to help rebuild the city,” says Gourdet. “I believe in Portland. As someone who has lived here for 15 years, I just designed the restaurant I always wanted. I want it to be a place that brings people from all over the world back to Portland.”
Maybe he should be running for city council?
For more information on Kann's summer opening: kannrestaurant.com