Telling Life Stories in the Culinary Arts with Chef Gregory Gourdet

Chef Gregory Gourdet’s culinary taste comes from a melting pot of influences. From his familial Haitian roots to the formative time spent working for the legendary French chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten to his love of Asian food to the women in his family that cooked when he was just a child, to tell Gourdet’s story through food is to tell countless other stories along the way, and that’s exactly the way he’d prefer it. 

Gourdet’s first foray into the culinary arts began in college, when he and a roommate fell in love with cooking. Eventually, he found himself back in his hometown of New York for culinary school, cutting his teeth in perhaps the greatest city in the world. 

He also found himself struggling with addiction, and eventually moved to Portland for a chance at a fresh start. A year into sobriety and west coast life, he connected with Departure, and over nine years later, he is the executive chef for Departure Portland, as well as the culinary director for the Sage Restaurant brand and the Departure Denver location adjacent to Cherry Creek’s Halcyon Hotel. 

Gourdet has a lot on his metaphorical plate. Between Denver and Portland, he has two sets of staff to bring together, two different food scenes and cities to fit into, a variety of seasonal and regional ingredients to work with, and plenty of hungry customers to feed. 

But all the different nuances and details with each city and job title contribute to Gourdet’s ever-evolving perspective on the cultural impact of food and how it has taken him all over the world. 

“Food is the one place where different cultures can shine. I think it’s important that things branch out and some traditional things happen and some new energy is brought into the fold. It’s good for any city. Food brings people together, and through food, we’re able to tell stories of culture,” says Gourdet. 

“For me, being able to make amazing food, and then travel to Asia or any other country really, and learn about a different culture, about how different dishes were created, the history of dishes in certain countries, and to be able to use that as inspiration and tell a story in a restaurant—it’s just crazy.” 

For the Departure Denver fall menu, Gourdet has his eye on warm flavors reflective of the season. Highlights include roasted lamb chop, duck fried rice, a creamy pine nut dressing made from fermented pine nuts, and even duck fat ice cream—all of which he envisions to be “great on a chilly fall night while celebrating with friends.” 

In an ever-expanding city like Denver, maintaining cultural diversity and a balanced representation of a population’s food and beverage taste seems to become trickier by the minute. Gourdet is not from here, but his unique and uncommon blend of influences and taste are reflective of some people that are. 

Gourdet says, “there’s a lot of opportunity in the city, and I think Denverites are excited about the surge happening right now. They’re excited about all the food options available, and what it does for the culture of the city in terms of elevating it both for the people living here and the people visiting.”

A single dish or seasonal menu cannot tell anyone’s full life story, but Gourdet hopes to continue trying to tell his own while his Departure serves up some of the tastiest food in town. He’s not from Denver, but he’s becoming an influential part of its culinary scene—one nuance layered on top of another at time.