Steve’s Chef Cuisinternship: Days Four and Five
Editor’s Note: Our Chef Cuisinternship Winner, Steve Loh, recently completed his week long adventure with Chef Gabe Rucker at Le Pigeon. Steve has graciously agreed to let us peek behind the scenes of his week in Portland. We’ll be posting his recaps over the next several days. Read Part One and Part Two. Enjoy!
Today was a special day. First, it was another day interning for Chef Gabriel Rucker. Second, the girlfriend flew into town. Third, I finally got to be a Le Pigeon customer.
I worked all day again, prepping and learning, and come nighttime, my girlfriend and two of our local Portland friends showed up for an 8pm reservation. I changed out of my official “In Foie Gras We Trust” Le Pigeon t-shirt and into a nice button-down, and we sat down for a culinary odyssey.
The tables at Le Pigeon are communal. In Los Angeles, some people think that idea’s a bit weird, since we’re taught to not like each other. But here in Portland, it was not only not weird, it was downright warm. We chatted up the diners beside us, who only reinforced my observation that Portland is a small, genuinely friendly community of genuinely friendly people. And I’m happy to be experiencing it.
All the days up to today, I’ve been watching Team Rucker prepare the dishes, keeping notes of which ones to order for my dinner. Of course, that quickly became “which ones I’ll also force the girlfriend and our friends to order,” since I wanted everything on the menu. Luckily, I didn’t have to be the dictator because Chef Rucker hooked us up.
He did a special tasting menu, and we had just about…everything on the menu. Chantarelle Soup, Beef Cheek Bourguignon, Ricotta Gnocchi, Sweetbreads, Lamb Neck, Bread Pudding, and Albacore Tuna with the brunoise of fall vegetables that I’d spent the days preparing. After the dishes came dessert: Foie Gras Ice Cream Profiteroles, and Honey Bacon Apricot Cornbread with Maple Ice Cream (and more bacon). Coupled with wine pairings chosen for us by resident sommelier and G.M. Andrew Fortgang, we had the meal of our lives.
My last day in the kitchen. The highlight had to be stripping luscious meat from all the nummy, normally unused, nooks and crannies of a roasted goat. There I was, my hands elbow deep in goat spine, goat neck, and unnamed goat parts that had been marinated and slow cooked in the oven overnight. Not for the wary vegetarian, I cracked the spine and gouged my finger between the bones to pull out quite a bit o’ tasty morsels.
In the main dining kitchen, every burner was covered with a big pot or pan, simmering some kind of deliciousness that I wanted to just dive right into. The largest stockpot had the aforementioned goat meat slowly bubbling away with veal stock, parmigiano cheese rinds, and cream. That was the ragu for the ricotta gnocchi.
Come nighttime, I packed up my newly sharpened knives and headed out with the girlfriend to go see a show. On my first day here, one of the chefs mentioned that Blind Pilot was playing this week at the Wonder Ballroom. So we snapped up some tickets and checked out the local scene. Before the show, we ate dinner at Ned Ludd, a place that Chef Rucker recommended. When a chef recommends another restaurant, it’s gotta be good. Or run by friends of his. Or both.
And it was. And is. Good.
At Ned Ludd, they pride themselves on not using modern cooking technology (the restaurant’s named for the man from whom the Luddites took their name). Good handcrafted food from a wood-fired oven. They were straight-up accommodating too. We were in a bit of a rush, since we wanted to get over to the venue before the opening band finished. I know restaurants must hate when diners demand special treatment over all others… but Ned Ludd helped us out. With a smile. I heartily recommend them.
We then got to the Wonder Ballroom. Portland’s own Blind Pilot had done its road travels and was back for this show. Good time had by all.
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