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GREGORY GOURDET
IT WAS ANOTHER CUTTHROAT SEASON
on Bravo’s Top Chef as contestants battled
it out in Boston and beyond for the
$125,000 grand prize and, more importantly, bragging rights. Chef Gregory Gourdet,
the openly gay chef from Departure (525
SW Morrison St. Tel: 503-802-5370.
(www.departureportland.com) in Portland,
Oregon, was a lead contender throughout
the season, but fell just short of snagging
the win in the grand finale in Mexico. While
he may not have walked away with the title,
Gourdet proved himself a fierce competitor
and role model to thousands of gay youths
pursuing careers in the culinary arts.
The native New Yorker picked up his
passion for cooking from a college roommate while studying at the University of
Montana. Gourdet quickly started plotting
his culinary career and moved back to New
York City to work in the restaurant industry
before enrolling at the prestigious Culinary
Institute of America, where he was the first
student to land an internship with the
Jean-Georges Vongerichten Restaurants.
That experience eventually led to his chef
de cuisine role at Restaurant 66,
Vongerichten’s modern Chinese eatery,
where Gourdet developed his passion for
Asian ingredients—a trademark for many
of his dishes on Top Chef.
With Top Chef behind him and a whole
new world of opportunity at his doorstep,
Gourdet chatted with us in the VIP Lounge
about what’s next.
In Top Chef’s season finale, you said: ‘I
think it’s very important to live in the
moment. You can’t hold onto the past.
That’s the way I live my life.’ How does
that resonate with you in regards to the
show’s outcome?
Obviously you want to move forward in life.
I spoke a lot about my recovery this season
and wanting to move ahead. It consumed
me for the past year. I worked hard to get on
the show. I have a great sense of pride, but
at the end of the day, I learned a lot about
myself. I wasn’t sure how I’d feel watching it
live, but all of the texts and tweets brought
up some emotions. I took major risks in
cooking a fully Mexican menu [in the finale],
but it spoke to me about wanting to be in
the present and not hold back anymore.

16

PASSPORT I APRIL 2015

somewhere where that exists. There will
always be prejudice and inequalities but
we’ve taken a lot of strides for gays. I’ve
never felt uncomfortable in the kitchen.

Top Chef pushed the boundaries outside of
your Asian-cuisine comfort zone. You
embraced each challenge with a sense of
wonder and joy—often faced with unfamiliar ingredients or scenarios (cranberry bog,
pilgrim feast). How do you think recovery
from drugs and alcohol informed your ability to take on these experiences in stride?
From someone who is going through and in
recovery, what I’ve learned is that some things
just don’t matter. You can’t sweat the small
stuff. I’ve experienced a lot of horrible things. I
didn’t win Top Chef, but my life could be worse.
The other side is that I’m aggressive and competitive, and I play to win. I’m grateful for all the
opportunities. Everything will be okay.
The series portrayed you as the nice guy
who never seemed to lose his temper.
Were there any off-camera moments
where you just unraveled?
They would have shown it if I did! I was very
focused. Mei (this season’s winner) was the
same way. We were playing to win. We didn’t
even talk to each other for the first half. You’re
stripped of the outside the world and focused
on the competition. It takes a lot to get my
blood boiling. I knew I had to focus my energies on the competition and keep my cool.
We’ve seen lesbian chefs like Anne Burrell
and Cat Cora break the mold of queers in
the kitchen. Do you see it as more of a challenge for a gay male chef to come out?
I don’t. I’m pretty sure there’s still the old
school “super bro” kitchen, but I don’t live

You cut your teeth in the New York restaurant scene and have been in Portland,
Oregon, since 2008. What’s the difference
in the cities’ food culture?
In New York you have a little of everything.
There’s a sense of fine dining. There’s nothing at
that level in Portland. Also in New York, to
choose to make a cook’s wage and live in the
city shows a commitment—they want it a lot
more. It’s comfortable and easy to live in
Portland. Cooks see it as an opportunity but
don’t see how hard it is, even though I’ve had
some great success with my staff. It’s a different
playing field. [In Portland] it’s about the connection with farms and farm-driven menus, growing
things yourself, and knowing where your product is from—it’s what drives cuisine there.
You’re known as a fitness enthusiast, particularly Bikram yoga and long-distance
running. Are you excited to get back to your
exercise regime?
It’s slowly coming back! I’m really looking forward to my two days off and reconnecting with
my coach, who’s been hounding me for weeks.
You’ve mentioned the desire to be at the
helm of a restaurant group with many different concepts. Any teaser as to what the
near future holds for you?
Sage Restaurant Group is opening a
Departure in Denver in 2016. It will be my
first opening as an executive chef, and I’m
really excited about that.
How about we let someone else cook for a
change. What are your top three dining
destinations?
I’ve been to Japan and want to go again. I want
to finish up Southeast Asia. And China. Lots of
Asian countries! Paul Qui (Austin, TX) does a
really fun take on Asian flavors and ingredients
to create modern and approachable food.
Tell me about your fox necklace.
Ah! I wore it in most of my Top Chef interviews.
It’s chiseled silver, and I got it in Vancouver,
British Colombia.
—Matthew Wexler