A two-time James Beard Foundation semi-finalist for Best Chef: Northwest and the runner-up on Top Chef Season 12, Gregory Gourdet got his start at the Culinary Institute of America, worked for Jean-Georges Vongerichten for seven years and eventually took the reins of Departure in Portland in 2010 (and launched a second location of the restaurant in Denver in 2016). In his nearly two decades as a professional chef, he has witnessed an evolution in fine dining, one that stresses care and concern for the environment and how food sourcing effects it—which is why he was selected to be the star culinary figure at the premiere NaplesNEXT Ideas Festival. The three-day program at the Naples Grande Beach Resort is jam-packed with more than 40 speakers and talent from the most influential corners of our country, from First Lady Laura Bush to former CIA director John Brennan to the editor-in-chief of National Geographic to the radiology department chair at Moffitt Cancer Center to the president and CEO of the Boston Red Sox. For Gourdet, he will lead a discussion on sustainability Monday, March 18, and later that evening he and a team of local and regional chefs will prepare dinner for festival attendees. Here, he gives a preview of his thoughts.
Can you please describe the “aha” experiences that inspired you to practice sustainability in your cuisine?
I worked in New York City for years for Jean-Georges Vongerichten. Most of my time was spent cooking at flagship Jean-Georges, where luxury was the theme and all ingredients were at our fingertips year-round. Chef loved spring and summer; however, and menus quickly changed to showcase the bounty of the farms vending at Union Square Farmers Market, and it was through this I realized how mind-blowing eating in-season fruits and vegetables can be. I had another “aha” moment in Oregon a few years ago as we prepared to represent the state at the Great American Seafood Cook-Off. We prepared a salmon dish and we had salmon harvested and same-day delivered to us by the Oregon Salmon Commission. I will never forget tasting that salmon. Growing up on the East Coast, farmed Atlantic salmon was mostly all we had. King Salmon would come on the menu at Jean-Georges’, and I enjoyed it, but to taste freshly caught, local wild salmon in the state it came from really changed my perspective on the fish, on eating local and just how important it is. We won the cook-off that year with our Oregon Chinook dish and rightfully so, as the fish was outstanding.
How can sustainable cuisine be integrated into fine dining?
The fine dining guest is looking for an experience that transcends the common restaurant dinner. This means education can happen through the meal, giving the diner the chance to feel closer to the ingredients on the plate and thus closer to the restaurant that expanded their scope of food and how that food was grown. Many of the best restaurants in the world champion sustainable cuisine, and it is time others with big platforms also follow suit.
What do ideas festivals bring to the global conversation, and in what way do you hope to contribute?
Idea festivals help us come together over pressing current topics and learn from others’ knowledge as well as share and broaden our own ideas on the things that help make the world go round. I hope to contribute by sharing my passion for everyday sustainability—that has a simple approach and is easy to implement.