An Ode to Haitian Cuisine Opens in Portland Thanks to 'Top Chef' Alum Gregory Gourdet

An Ode to Haitian Cuisine Opens in Portland Thanks to 'Top Chef' Alum Gregory Gourdet
Courtesy of Carly Diaz

The interior of his new Portland, Oregon restaurant Kann. 

There are many beginnings to Gregory Gourdet's story.

As a child, Gourdet split his time between New York, where he was born, and Haiti, where his ancestors were from, and that was one of those beginnings. As he enjoyed all the spices and comforting dishes from his family's kitchen, he snacked on sugar cane that he purchased from street vendors.

Courtesy of Eater Portland

More than 500 years ago, when Christopher Columbus and the Spaniards anchored to the same land, they learned how to cook seafood and meat over a barbecue, which is similar to how indigenous people did. It is believed that this may have contributed to the spread of barbecuing throughout the world, according to scholars.

Gourdet's vision for a wood-fired Haitian restaurant won Bravo's "Restaurant Wars" challenge on Season 17 of Top Chef: All-Stars in 2020.

Despite its many beginnings, Gourdet will open his first solo project, Kann, in Portland, Ore., on Aug. 4.

Gourdet was an executive chef at Portland's Departure before opening Kann, as well as an alumnus of Jean-Georges Vongerichten's empire in New York.

As part of his vision for Kann, he envisioned it as a restaurant where he could have total control and concentrate on his true passion, Haitian cuisine, the cuisine his family grew up eating, while honoring Oregon's ingredients, the cuisine that he had called home since 2008.

Courtesy of The New York Times

In 2018, the endeavor hit a major roadblock, so instead of scraping it, he visited New York City and LA and explored the Caribbean communities there. His next step was to do pop-ups throughout Portland, including a “yurt” village. This helped him narrow down the flavors and techniques he would ultimately bring to Kann.

This time also gave him an opportunity to reflect on the opportunities he had received in his career and clarify his core values. His chef de cuisine at Kann is Varanya Geyoonsawat, a native Thai who worked with him at Departure. Diversity is important. Women should hold leadership positions. There should be a voice for everyone on the team.

His restaurant reflects this ethos. In order to teach his staff about Haiti's history and culture, he brought in a Haitian scholar. The dining room and wood-fired kitchen have no walls, so everyone in the building is part of the whole thing. There's an eight-foot hearth and an island with a chef's counter for 13 people.

Kanan's menu includes traditional Haitian and Haitian diaspora dishes such as Diri ak Sos Pwa and Griyo, as well as Pacific Northwest cuisine. 

With smoked peanut-coconut vinegar, black pepper, lime juice, habaneros, and thyme, the tomato, summer berry, cherry, gem lettuce, and young coconut salad is paired with plantain brioche and chile-garlic-herb butter.

With a spicy African pepper sauce spiked with ginger and Scotch bonnets, he serves tomato and smoked herring over charred red cabbage, a popular Haitian breakfast item. Several of his dishes make use of the hearth to the fullest extent. In addition to grilling fish with citrus, herbs, and chiles, he has also smoked beef ribs rubbed with Haitian coffee. He also drizzles cane syrup on Pekin duck and decorates it with pineapples and tamarinds.

A Haitian black mushroom rice pilaf with lima beans, grilled pineapple upside-down cakes with rum raisin ice cream, and collard greens creamed with peanuts and coconut cream are some of the sides. There are fun desserts like soursop ice topped with coconut cream and berries, and charred banana tarts.

As an added bonus, the restaurant offers a wide variety of zero-proof cocktails to those who avoid alcohol like Gourdet. The whole menu is dairy- and gluten-free. 

Ultimately, he wants to create a destination where tourists will experience both the bounty of Oregon and the beauty of Haiti.

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