For Gregory Gourdet — a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, a James Beard Award nominee and finalist in the television series Top Chef — life is a balancing act. “Life is just so unpredictable,” says Gourdet. “I have my hand in so many different projects. Cooking has allowed me to do so many different things. From feeding those with less, to writing cookbooks to doing tv.” Gourdet, originally from Queens — the multicultural epicenter of New York City — wouldn’t have it any other way. “I love waking up at different times every day and having different things to do.” These days, those things include working on his first cookbook, Everyone’s Table: Global Recipes for Modern Health, as well as his first restaurant, Kann, a wood-fired Haitian concept inspired by his own heritage. Both projects are slated for 2021.
Gourdet’s parents moved from Haiti to the United States in the 1960s in search of opportunity. “They worked multiple jobs and went to school all the time and wanted better lives for me and my sister,” says the chef. Their hard work and focus rubbed off on Gourdet, who thrives on having a clear sense of purpose. “Some of the best mornings for me are when I have a list or a game plan: knowing exactly what I need to do and what times I need to do them,” he says. “Then I make time for myself within that. That’s the best way for me to get my day going and take care of myself at the same time.”
Gourdet, who is sober, knows the value of taking care of himself, both physically and mentally. “I had a huge awakening about 10 or 11 years ago,” says Gourdet. “I wanted to get healthier and live a better lifestyle. I stopped drinking and I’m in recovery now. That was a big part of making some healthy choices for myself. Choices like what I put in my body, about how much sleep I get. And I’ve been a runner for the past 11 years.”
Running serves as a metaphor in Gourdet’s life. “I’ve been able to climb mountains one step at a time,” he says. “Literally. I run into the woods and climb mountains. It’s literally putting one step in front of the other. Just getting out the door and having to self motivate. I love to think about big projects and big challenges in terms of running now. So when I’m thinking about long, arduous projects and painful situations I know I can break it up in my head like a run. There are these mile markers. That’s mile 1, mile 2, mile 3. And I love the halfway point in a race; you’re halfway through and you know can start heading home. You can see the finish line. It’s really something that helps me get through a lot of life.”
Gourdet cut his teeth within celebrity chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s restaurant dynasty. He believes making food is about nourishment but it’s also about creativity. “For me, as a cook, food is more of a creative expression than anything else,” he says. “As an artist, I truly do see ingredients as tools to create this art. My dishes are constantly evolving and I will tinker with things until I believe I have the perfect recipe. Food has to be dynamic. It has to be a symphony of textures and flavors.” But Gourdet is also no stranger to keeping it simple. “One of my favorite toast meals is super simple and super classic — it’s just a fried egg, some chili pepper, lean turkey bacon and a great piece of toast with olive oil.”
To get the tastes you want, Gourdet recommends keeping your fridge and pantry filled with the best ingredients. “So when you do have to eat,” he says, “it’s just really easy. In Portland we have amazing seasonal ingredients. You can have a great local apple, or local salmon.” He’s also a firm believer in seasonality and locality. “They go hand in hand,” says Gourdet. “Seasonality ensures you’re getting the most delicious product; you’re getting something at the peak of its flavor. And locality is important because you’re guaranteeing that your food has traveled the shortest distance to get to you, which means it’s fresher and tastes better. And both are important for supporting our local economy.”
When Gourdet was cooking at a restaurant full time, as was the case for the past 10 years, he would get off work at midnight, getting home at 2AM. Because of his late nights, his mornings weren’t super early. “I would wake up around 8 or 9,” he says. “I’d meet a friend and go for a run. Sometimes we’d go on a short run throughout the city. On the weekends we’d go to Forest Park, which is beautiful and has thousands of acres where you can run for miles. Then I’d have a smoothie and rush off to work. I didn’t have much free time then.” But once Covid19 hit the U.S., things changed. “With the current situation of the world, I’m not working nonstop and I’ve definitely had more free time. For the first time I have control over my schedule.
I like to wake up, water my plants. And I start my day with a pot of coffee.” Gourdet stresses the importance of a good morning routine. “As we wake up and find our place in the world and get ourselves in tune with the world for that day, all of these sensory things really help start that story of the day. That first whiff of coffee grinding. The smell of toast toasting in the toaster — that warm bread smell. Maybe you’re spreading nut butter on it or jam. And I love the feeling of watering my plants. When the water hits the dirt — it feels like being in nature. It makes me feel like I’m right outside.”
Gourdet, who recently volunteered as a chef at the Blanchet House of Hospitality, a nonprofit providing meals and housing for people in need, says: “The morning is the best time to set your intention for the day. If you are trying to have a fully productive day — a structured day — it’s really important to set that intention right in the morning. Do the things that you need to do take care of yourself, so you feel energized, awake and nourished. Then you feel ready to present yourself to the world, to communicate with other people, to get work done, to create things. And even to handle problems.”
Chef & Author
Gregory Gourdet most recently served as the Culinary Director for Departure Restaurant + Lounge, where he paired local ingredients with the bold flavors and traditions of Japan, China, Thailand, Vietnam, and Korea to create modern Asian fare. A James Beard Award nominee and native New Yorker, Gourdet honed his culinary skills within celebrity chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s restaurant dynasty. Gourdet’s global travels to understand other cultures is what drives his constantly evolving seasonal menus that are inspired by cooking methods and ingredients he has encountered during continuous trips to Asia, Europe and the Carribean. His first cookbook, Everyone's Table: Global Recipes for Modern Health and his first restaurant, Kann, a wood fired Haitian concept are both slated for 2021.
“For me, as a cook, food is more of a creative expression than anything else. As an artist, I truly do see ingredients as tools to create this art."
Chef and Author
He says, “My dishes are constantly evolving and I will tinker with things until I believe I have the perfect recipe.” Take a cue from him and turn your toast into an experimental canvas with other seasonal fruits and garnishes.