Gregory Gourdet’s Inclusive, Feel-Good Cooking Is Exactly What You Need Right Now
This story is part of Eat More Plants, Kitchn’s June 2021 special issue devoted to putting the flavor and magic of plants at the heart of your plate.
Every season we go hunting for the voices and the books that clap out a fresh beat in eating more vegetables, and this summer, even in a crowded field of new plant-driven cookbooks, top honors go to Gregory Gourdet: ultrarunner, chef, James Beard nominee, Top Chef star, and entrepreneur striving for a more equitable restaurant industry. His new book, Everyone’s Table: Global Recipes for Modern Health (Harper Wave, May 2021) fills in the human side of his starry trajectory: his Haitian family heritage, and his journey through addiction to a powerful place of sobriety and health. The cookbook is tied to the Paleo lifestyle he embraced on his journey — gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free. It’s not vegetarian, and yet I have rarely wanted to cook so many vegetable dishes out of a single cookbook.
In our mini constellation of three plant stars to light a way to eating more plants this summer, Gregory and this book point to the heightened flavor only found in nutrient-packed vegetables, elevated by a chef’s gift for color, heat, and spice.
This isn’t a chef’s leaving piece, meant for the coffee table and stacked with novel ingredients. “Honestly, the majority of the book is ingredients that you can literally buy year-round,” he told me. “Broccoli, carrots, red cabbage.”
This came deep into a chat that began (I confess) with me gushing over the book’s photography, which is stop-I-can’t-even-handle-it gorgeous, pages of full-frame plates that put you eye-to-eye with food that is more often than not riotously colorful. My book is currently open to a very good example: Tomatoes on Tomatoes with Shallot-Chile Dressing, a sneaky-simple six-ish-ingredient situation that slow-roasts tomatoes into a dressing for yet more tomatoes. It’s just one recipe among many that gave me a slow, creeping sense of returning pleasure that I haven’t felt in cooking for most of the past year.
If the photos don’t hook you, however, the breezy and intriguing recipe titles will. Gregory is fond of the word “lots,” to disarmingly casual effect, as in High-Summer Salad with Coconut Dressing and Lots of Herbs, or Lots of Roasted Vegetables with Ginger and Chile.
This might be a funny compliment, but I love your recipe titling! I was paging through and saying over and over, “I want to make that. I want to make that. The name of this recipe makes it feel precise but accessible.”
Thank you! I learned that working at Jean-Georges, actually. My mentor Greg Brainin always told us to make our hits craveable, but easy to understand. In a restaurant, you want to talk in a way that attracts people to the menu, but I think for home cooks, it’s even more important that they read a title and it’s something familiar, and maybe something that’s a little bit unexpected or exciting.
Your book is certainly exciting — especially when it comes to vegetables. What has been your relationship to vegetables over the years and as a chef?
I have a history of going back and forth with diets. For the bulk of my college years, I was vegetarian. I became an omnivore again for culinary school, but I don’t eat a lot of red meat. Since I came around, and got sober, and got healthy, as the book explains, being gluten-free and dairy-free, it just led me to eating more plants.
As a chef, I’ve just always had so much fun working with vegetables. I think some definitive moments in my career were working at Jean-Georges. We had everything at our fingertips and we served asparagus almost year-round because it’s a signature dish, but every time spring came around, we immediately shifted to everything from the farmers market. It was really the first time that I saw purple scallions and strawberries still on the vine. Then moving to Oregon, I would literally just go sit in farmers market in awe of all the bounty that was here, in terms of seasonal produce and things that grow here, and how definitive the seasons are.
Are there restaurant techniques that you think can be transformative for home cooks who want to eat more vegetables?
Charring is taking roasting one step further, and just getting really good color. Cooking things whole, cooking things with the skin on. If we take the time to make a cool sauce or yogurt, I think we can skip some steps. You don’t have to peel it. You don’t have to chop it up into a million little pieces. You can cook it at a higher heat or throw it on the grill, and ease that prep time.
Okay, speaking of sauce: Impossible question, but if you could have just one sauce for vegetables …
[Laughs, groans] I think it’s the Vietnamese-style chili lime sauce. That’s in the sauce chapter. Fish sauce, lime juice, and some chilies. It’s something that does not go bad. It’s tart, it has umami, it has chili. It’s one of my favorite sauces. It goes really well with pretty much anything — especially something that’s charred or roasted. You can easily use that to dress literally anything from simple greens, to something grilled, to hearty greens. It has that great balance of salty, funky, umami, spicy, garlicky, so it’s really an all-purpose sauce.
Okay, watch: I’m bookmarking this right now. [Ed: This nuoc cham-inspired recipe is on page 302 in case you too would like to place a sticky note there.] You called this Everyone’s Table, which seems to express your sense of what’s healthy. It’s inclusive, it feels good.
Over half the book is actually plant-based and vegetarian-friendly; there are two vegetable chapters, there’s an egg chapter, but the whole back, all the desserts are plant-based or vegan, made vegetarian-friendly or vegan.
For me, it’s all about just eating a balanced healthy diet and making some smart decisions, and not feeling like you’re being forced to eat anything you don’t want to. Everything that you are enjoying is fully flavored and tastes delicious. I encourage everyone of all diets to really use the book. Although there are some specific dietary distinctions that are represented with the book in terms of no gluten, and soy, and dairy, it’s really a book for everyone.
There’s this beautiful paragraph in your introduction as you share your upbringing as a child of Haitian immigrants, and tell us about the food you ate at your family table, when you talk about your mom, and you say your mother “smells like Sundays.” I’m curious about the dishes in this book that come specifically out of the cooking you grew up with.
Oh, there’s a reason why there’s multiple plantain recipes in the book. [Laughs] There was a whole plantain photoshoot. In Haiti, we eat plantains all the time and I talk about this in the book. We have green plantains boiled starting as early as breakfast. We often have some boiled plantains and boiled taro root, and boiled saba as a side on the table. We also fry plantains into banann peze, which is the ancient version of tostones that a lot of people are familiar with, which is a very common twice-fried plantain in a lot of Spanish-speaking, Caribbean cuisines.
Ripe plantains are probably my favorite now. In Haiti, we have ripe plantains at the end of dinner because they’re always really, really sweet, and I encourage everyone to follow with the chart and let your plantains ripe up a little bit longer than you think. Let them get really, really dark and really, really soft — that’s when the magic happens. My mom would fry them up. They’d be so sweet and sticky and you think she added caramel and honey and all these things, but it’s just the natural sugars and the complexity of the plantains themselves.
It’s simplistic, but I think true: Most of us are really trying to eat more fruits and vegetables. But it can be tough to shift our defaults from the meat-centric meal options we have been taught. What helps you put plants at the heart?
Honestly, even for me sometimes it’s hard for me to really focus on eating vegetables. What I have found really helpful is I physically feel a difference when I eat a lot of vegetables. It’s really just focusing on, “Hey, I’m going to do a plant-based meal right now. Dinner is going to be all vegan or all plant-based.” Just taking a moment to stop and honor the vegetables.
I personally know exactly how I feel when I eat a big plate of fruits and vegetables, I feel the difference. It’s the same feeling when I have a really delicious nutrient-dense smoothie in the morning. I feel it go through my body. It’s energizing, it’s invigorating.
I think there are plenty of recipes in the book that can help inspire that. The recipe for the whole veggies with ginger and garlic — it’s really just a huge platter of tons of vegetables. Eating with your eyes and eating your colors, and just understanding that all those different colors represent different nutrients and vitamins that your body needs. Getting into the moment enjoying that — I think that’s really important.
And I think it’s really about just the preparedness. All those chapters towards the end of the book where I talk about stocking up your pantry: Having these great sauces and dressings that you can add to pretty much any vegetable preparation, and to instantly have a great side dish or a great starter. Fermenting something to preserve it and having that as a garnish or having that be your sauce or dressing as well.
You’ve given us one of your favorite heart-of-the-plate vegetable recipes, a whole-roasted jerk cauliflower. Why this recipe?
I think cauliflower is one of the most accessible vegetables. It’s always really affordable; it lasts in your fridge forever. I love the dramatic preparation of cooking it whole. You see it in restaurants all the time, oftentimes with a big steak knife coming out of it.
I love this preparation because if you do have the jerk sauce made ahead and in the fridge you can literally just pop it over your cauliflower. While it does take about an hour to cook, it’s just in the oven, and you can work on some other things at the same time, or just forget about it and keep having cocktails with your friends. I can’t remember how many people I say it serves, but it’s quite easy for two people to eat a whole head of cauliflower. I’ve eaten a whole head by myself.
The jerk flavoring sold me here, personally. I’d like to serve it with the Coconut-Creamed Collards.
That would be a beautiful counterpoint to that. I think the cashew hummus as well, just that creaminess and keeping it plant-based.
Thank you Gregory! Follow him here on Instagram and if you’re near Portland, OR check out Kann, his restaurant celebrating the food of Haiti. His book, Everyone’s Table: Global Recipes for Modern Health, came out in May.