Interview with Rising Star Nominee Gabriel Rucker

Anna Mowry interviews James Beard Award–nominated Gabriel Rucker of Le Pigeon and Little Bird in Portland, Oregon

Nominated for the Rising Star of the Year Award for the fourth year in a row, Gabriel Rucker continues to be one of the gutsiest chefs in Portland, Oregon's thriving restaurant scene. Read on to see what he told us about his favorite local eateries and some memorable calamari.

JBF: You opened Little Bird a few months ago. What made you want to open a restaurant that serves more traditional bistro fare?

GR: It’s something that Portland needed, and we wanted to do another restaurant but something different from Le Pigeon. We also wanted to reach a broader crowd and we thought a bistro would do that.

JBF: How’s it going so far?

GR: We made the space about twice as big, hoping that the menu would attract more people. We’re located downtown, across from a big bank, and we’re packed for lunch. It’s been pretty well received, but we’re still working out the kinks, of course.

JBF: You’ve got pigeons tattooed on your arm, and birds have figured into the names of your restaurants. Why did birds become a motif for you?

GR: It’s one of those things that just happened. I had the tattoo before Le Pigeon opened, and it just seemed like a good name for the restaurant. We had actually wanted to name it Ortolan—a little bird that the French like to soak in cognac and eat whole—but we found out there was already a restaurant in Los Angeles with that name. My wife suggested that we call the second restaurant Little Bird.

JBF: Where do you like to eat in Portland when you’re not at work?

GR: The Screen Door is one of my favorites. They serve Southern food. It’s in my neighborhood, so I walk the dog there and have some brunch. Broder, a Swedish place, is also great. There’s this under-the-radar place called Roost with great brunch, too. They do an awesome Kentucky hot brown French toast.

JBF: What’s your favorite item on either of your menus?

GR: I love the foie gras profiteroles at Le Pigeon, which we’ve had for a long time. We put foie in every component: the pâte a choux, the ice cream, the powdered sugar.

JBF: What’s your favorite cookbook?

GR: Probably The French Laundry Cookbook and the Au Pied de Cochon cookbook.

JBF: What’s your earliest food memory?

GR: Eating calamari at Tra Vigne in Napa, which is where I grew up. Michael Chiarello was the chef at the time. My grandparents took me there when I was kid, and we would always get the calamari. One day they finally told me that I was eating squid and I was like, “Oh my God, this is really good!”

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