Many Asian restaurants rely on imported dried and canned ingredients to create dishes close to the originals. But that’s not the way chef Gregory Gourdet cooks at Departure, a modern Pan-Asian spot in Portland, Oregon.
“I take advantage of the bounty around me, walking the line between traditional Asian ingredients and local,” he explains. A good example is his Crispy Pork Belly with pickled cherries, ginger and pumpkin seeds (right)—a Departure signature. In its first incarnation, the pork belly was paired with watermelon, but as summer turned into fall, Gourdet turned to pickled cherries.
“Cherries are a natural fit—they’re a native product of Oregon,” he points out. Local fresh fruit is abundant throughout the summer and the kitchen preserves the cherries to take them through the colder months. “Canning and pickling is a big part of what we do here,” Gourdet adds. What’s more, pickling adds the right sweet-sour notes to the dish.
Luckily, Oregon farms also yield indigenous Asian produce. Kabocha squash and Asian pears, two items grown locally, both go into Departure’s Roasted Kabocha Squash Soup; Asian greens, lemongrass, young ginger and shiso are other local crops.
“The fields and greenhouses go year round here,” notes Gourdet. An initiative called “Eat Oregon First” is another good source of local products. Gourdet also harvests sea lettuce, nori, sea beans and sea peas for the menu.“My goal is to put a fresh, focused spin on Asian cuisine—infusing it with Oregon style,” he says.