Before pursuing his culinary career, Departure Restaurant Chef de Cuisine Gregory Gourdet was a dreadlocked vegetarian and pre-med student, who ended up earning a degree in French. Years later, he’s a Bikram yoga devotee. Cyclist. Marathon runner — and now, aspiring triathlete. These aren’t necessarily the traits one might expect from a native New Yorker from Queens who honed his culinary skills within celebrity chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s famed New York restaurant dynasty. But once you meet Gourdet in person, it all starts to make perfect sense. Adorned by a mohawk hair style and his signature oversized glasses, Chef Gourdet is an exciting rising star who embraces complexity as much as he does simple preparations, and someone who enjoys layering Oregon’s bounty and farm-to-table ingredients with the flavors and traditions from Japan, China, Thailand, Vietnam and Korea to create the restaurant’s signature modern Asian fare.
Born to parents who both work in the medical field, Gourdet grew up enjoying traditional Haitian cuisine emphasizing fish, rice and beans, roasted pork, pickled chiles, coconut and plenty of herbs. One family dish made a particularly strong impression on him: conch meat made tender by slow braising with tomatoes, tons of lime juice and, as he says, lots of scotch bonnet peppers — among the world’s hottest. It’s a labor intensive dish that Gourdet says offers a bright and spicy flavor profile he still treasures today.
Gourdet discovered his culinary passion while rooming with an avid cook and studying at the University of Montana. Inspired, Gourdet took a job as a dishwasher at a Missoula deli that emphasized vegetarian fare. Almost immediately, he began making plans to attend culinary school after completing his undergraduate studies.
After graduating from Montana, Gourdet returned to New York to work in the restaurant industry before entering the prestigious Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in Hyde Park, NY. Working at a small East Village bistro, he was named Sous-Chef before even beginning his studies at CIA. Once at CIA, he became the school’s first student to land a highly coveted internship with the Jean-Georges Vongerichten restaurant empire. The experience there proved invaluable; he trained on a wide variety of stations and ultimately earned a Chef de Partie (line cook) position after graduation. For the next six years, Gourdet worked his way through the ranks, eventually becoming Sous-Chef at Jean-Georges, the group’s flagship restaurant — and then as Chef de Cuisine at Restaurant 66, Vongerichten’s modern Chinese eatery. It was here that Gourdet cultivated his affinity for Asian cuisine’s flavors and traditions.
Gourdet left the Vongerichten group in 2007 to join two Jean-Georges alumni in opening Mercat, a New York restaurant specializing in Spain’s Catalan cuisine. After serving as Mercat’s Sous Chef, Gourdet moved west to San Diego to join another former colleague at Jack’s La Jolla, a multi-venue dining complex featuring three restaurants, five lounges and a nightclub; he worked as Sous-Chef at the complex’s “Dining Room,” a fine dining and Mobil 4-star rated kitchen.
In 2008, Gourdet arrived in Portland, Oregon, where he helped open Urban Farmer Restaurant in the Nines Hotel, and then served as Executive Chef for Saucebox Restaurant. In the spring of 2010, he took the helm at Departure Restaurant, the Nines’ modern Asian rooftop restaurant. He’s already at home turning out new dishes and specials such as chile prawns, pork belly with pickled watermelon and a Thai-inspired papaya salad accented with tamarind candy, candied peanuts, mint, cilantro and, of course, plenty of Gourdet’s beloved lime. Even though he’s only been at Departure for a few months, he’s already experienced one of his prouder professional moments: an occasion where a guest got up and hugged the server because she loved the chilled tomato watermelon soup — a special summer offering accompanied by pickled cantaloupe and jalapeno oil.
“That’s a good feeling,” he says. A moment, we’re sure, that will be repeated many times in the future.