Name: Gabriel Rucker
Restaurants: Le Pigeon (Portland, OR), Little Bird (Portland, OR), Canard (Portland, OR)
Hometown: Napa, CA
Favorite Jacobsen Salt: Chili Lime Infused Salt
First Album Purchased: “Some Great Reward”—Depeche Mode
First Culinary Experience: Putting tortilla chips in between a Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich. “It was my first ‘chef’ experience, adding texture and saltiness to something. Without really knowing what I was doing, I made the meal more pleasurable.”
At 7:45 a.m. on a Monday, Gabriel Rucker works in his newest restaurant alongside his staff, preparing his menu’s signature sweet pastry, Paris-Brest. Canard opened its doors in April of this year as Rucker’s newest project, alongside Little Bird and the award-winning Le Pigeon. Even on a rainy Portland weekday morning in October, there was a steady stream of people coming in for breakfast from the one of the most decorated chef in food-obsessed Portland.
“I want to be hands on,” he said, cracking eggs into the choux pastry batter. “I don’t like the idea of just walking around, telling people what to do. I want to do what I love—create food.”
Rucker’s life has been increasingly busy since 2011, when he won the James Beard Rising Star Chef of the Year Award at his flagship restaurant, Le Pigeon. With another James Beard Award for Best Chef: Northwest in 2013, as well as too-many-to-count “Best of Portland” awards in various categories, Rucker has been on a tour-de-culinary-fame—releasing a cookbook (Le Pigeon: Cooking at the Dirty Bird) in 2013, and opening two more restaurants with his business partner Andy Fortgang.
“I don’t sleep much anymore,” Rucker said. “When you have kids, you’re just always tired. The difference is, you don’t realize it anymore because you’re used to it. You just learn to function that way.”
The life change isn’t only attributed to his accolades; Rucker’s life drastically changed with the addition of three children into his family. At seven, five, and one-and-a-half years old, the three mini-Ruckers encouraged the Chef to swerve away from late nights and long hours to early mornings, with Rucker managing the home kitchen and his kids playing prep cook.
“It’s easy for parents to say, ‘Hey, I’m cooking, get out of the kitchen,’” he said. “I think it’s so much better to have them pull up a stool and cook with me—share the experience.”
Which wasn’t the case for Rucker; as a self-described “latchkey kid” growing up, he made a lot of his after school snacks, like microwave nachos and tuna salad, but for the most part wasn’t in the kitchen. At one point, his parents included cooking for the family on his weekly chores. After making a spaghetti and tomato sauce recipe from an old cookbook, his parents quickly removed that from weekly list.
“I made this spaghetti with tomato sauce from an old wine country cookbook my parents had,” he said. “The sauce was rich, almost more like a tomato paste. I loved it. My parents were really into...soupy sauces. So, they hated it.”
He hopes to do things differently, enlisting his children to crack eggs, peel vegetables and slice ingredients. Including them in the process, he said, is a great way to build a connection and encourage good habits around the house, eventually inspiring the basis of his upcoming Elemental Class Series, “Cooking with Kids”.
“It’s going to be so fun for me,” he said about the upcoming class. “The plan is to teach kids how to make a mother’s day-style breakfast. Every kid at some point has served a bowl of cereal with eggshells in it to their mom, and every mom still loves it.”
The class will feature basic cooking and prep techniques, teaching children how to make everything from fruit salad to pancakes. While the focus is on the education, Rucker is almost more excited about encouraging parent-child interaction over a daily practice that can tie a family together.
“What can we do to get kids to turn off iPad and get in the kitchen? Teaching a kid to get excited about cooking gives them something to do with their parents. It forces a great interaction.”
For more information and tickets to Gabriel Rucker’s class on November 3, please visit here.
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