What Makes Gregory Gourdet's Kann Restaurant In Portland Special

Chef Gregory Gourdet made it to the finals in two separate seasons of "Top Chef," so you know he's got cooking chops. But, before Gourdet rose to culinary TV fame, he was already a James Beard semifinalist three times over and worked in celebrity chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten's restaurants. During his initial "Top Chef" run, Gourdet was in part known for his prowess in pan-Asian cooking. He had previously served as executive chef of Departure, a modern Asian restaurant in Portland, according to Robb Report

When Gourdet's mother, who is from Haiti, came by for an episode of the show, the chef's mentality changed. Gourdet tells Parade, "That ignited the motivation to start making Haitian food on the show." In one memorable "Top Chef" episode in Season 17, Parade reports Gourdet successfully pitched a concept for Kann — a Haitian wood-fire restaurant — during the show's infamous "Restaurant Wars" challenge. Not only was that restaurant a favorite of the judges, it became a brick-and-mortar reality this year and earned a spot on The New York Times' list of "50 places in America we're most excited about right now."

Putting a spotlight on Haitian cuisine

Chef Gregory Gourdet's Kann finally opened to fanfare in Portland four years after his "Top Chef" debut, which follows several successful, mid-pandemic pop-up experiences. The restaurant means "cane" in Haitian Creole, an homage to Gourdet's childhood memories of sugarcane vendors. After his first season on "Top Chef," Robb Report says Gourdet returned to Haiti to learn more about the cuisine and made it his goal to use his national platform to showcase the country's flavors. "Haitian cuisine is so underserved in America, outside of Miami or New York," Gourdet tells Robb Report.

With Kann, Gourdet demonstrates that Haitian food is as deserving of the fine dining treatment, which is often equated with French or Italian cuisine. PDX Monthly calls one of Portland's most anticipated restaurant's of the year with a vibrant menu featuring versions of dishes made famous on "Top Chef" — like a hearth-grilled whole fish covered in pepper confit. Of course, Kann is based in Portland, not Haiti, and Gourdet's love for the Pacific Northwest is also on display at the hotspot through dishes like soursop ice that highlights locally grown berries, PDF Monthly reports.

Other highlights include peanut-creamed greens, honoring cuisine that enslaved West Africans brought to Haiti, and twice-cooked pork, otherwise known as Haiti's unofficial national dish, reports the Portland Tribune. Another novel element of Kann's menu is its focus on zero-proof cocktails. Gourdet, who is sober, is a vocal advocate for health and wellness in the restaurant industry.

Equity is on the Kann menu

When dreaming up his new business venture, Chef Gregory Gourdet wasn't only thinking about which dishes should be on his menu, but also who deserved a seat at the table. The pandemic highlighted inequities in the restaurant industry and sent shocks across Portland's culinary scene, which the chef called a "reckoning" in The New York Times. The news outlet reports that some criticized Gourdet for not doing anything to stop discriminatory practices in his previous positions, and that the chef listened to accusations and reflected on what he could be better in the future. 

"When I look at what makes a great restaurant, it's not just about a beautiful dining room and great food," he tells the Robb Report. "It's about the entire holistic experience. Is the team happy that works there?"

So, how to achieve this lofty goal? For starters, to make Kann more equitable, all staff (besides managers) make the same wage and split tips, per The New York Times. Gourdet, who is gay and black, also focused on equity in hiring in an industry known to be dominated by white men. His female sous chef, who he previously worked with at Departure is from Thailand, and the majority of the staff are women, says The Times.