Gregory Gourdet’s Culinary Tour of the Painted Hills

September 14, 2015 (Updated December 1, 2015)


Departure Restaurant and Lounge and Portland


For one of the best cityscape views in downtown Portland, head to Departure Restaurant and Lounge, located on the 15th floor of the luxury hotel The Nines. On a clear day, you can spy kayakers and dragon boats coasting across the Willamette River. In the distance, Mt. Hood glimmers like a jewel — and when unexpected, the snow-cloaked mountain revealing itself can take your breath away. “I feel like we live in a mecca,” says Gregory Gourdet, executive chef for the sleek rooftop restaurant.


“We have such amazing bounty here.” The chef alludes to not only the surrounding natural landscape, but the profusion of fresh ingredients that influence his cooking. “Our cuisine is Asian-inspired and we look to some very traditional dishes as inspiration. But at the same time, there’s so much bounty here that we sometimes take the reverse approach and focus on highlighting the ingredient,” he says. Gourdet found his way to cooking while attending college in Montana. “I started cooking for myself; that’s where the passion started,” he explains.

Following college in Montana, Gourdet attended the Culinary Institute of America in New York, and then honed his skills in the world-renowned kitchens of Jean-Georges Vongerichten. The desire for a lifestyle change brought him back west, first to California and then to Oregon. “The opportunity came at a time when I was looking for a place to call more of a permanent home,” he says. “Everything has been great ever since.” Seven years later, and the New York-born chef has run his way to several marathons, appeared on Bravo TV’s Top Chef and has been a James Beard semi-finalist for Best Chef Northwest.

At his restaurant, you’ll find modern Pan-Asian cuisine (think smoked duck curry, Dungeness crab fried rice and crispy pork belly) made with farm-fresh ingredients. “We often use ingredients from DeNoble Farms — they are on the Oregon Coast in Tillamook and Groundwork Organics,” says the chef. He works with Flying Fish Company to source sustainable seafood and Nicky Farms/Nicky USA for wild game and meat. He and his crew even grow a mix of herbs, peppers, squash, tomatoes and edible flowers on their rooftop garden.


“I feel like we live in a mecca,” says Gregory Gourdet, executive chef for the sleek rooftop restaurant.


The Painted Hills

Since he’s running a fast-paced restaurant in the heart of the city, Gourdet seeks solace when heading out of town for a weekend. “I like to go places where there’s vastness and quiet,” he says. One of those escapes is to The Painted Hills in Eastern Oregon. “The area represents an amazing place where I can be in a natural setting and have lots of peace and quiet to just reflect,” he says. The Painted Hills are part of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, and enchant with brilliant colors that resemble voluptuous brushstrokes on a boundless canvas.

“There’s also a sense of history and geography to the space, being able to see so much plant and animal evolution,” Gourdet adds. On the way to the wonder, the chef swings by Great Earth Natural Foods Café and Market in Madras. “I definitely went through a lifestyle change when I left New York City, so natural foods are an important part of my story,” says Gourdet. “One thing I like to do when I travel is to bring camping gear or stay somewhere with a kitchenette, then shop locally and make a meal there,” he says. Also in the area, you’ll find Lake Billy Chinook, a houseboating, water skiing and fishing haven that’s fed by the Deschutes, Crooked and Metolius Rivers. Or you can channel you inner Indiana Jones and go rock hounding at Richardson’s Rock Ranch, a family-owned cattle ranch with famous agate beds.


The next stop is Smudgie Goose Farm in Redmond, a sprawling 87-acre farm on the banks of the Crooked River. “What I like to do when I go to a new part of Oregon is see what’s available at the local farms,” says Gourdet. “It’s an interest of mine to see what people are growing in different regions.” You can shop at the on-site farm stand for herbs, flowers and vegetables—the farm grows over 170 plant varieties. Or partake in a C.R.O.P. (Crooked River Open Pasture) Farm Tour to get a taste of the farm and ranch life in Central Oregon.

At Good Bike Co. in nearby Prineville, you can rent a bike and sign up for a customized travel and riding experience—Smudgie Goose partnered with the shop for their first ever Bicycle Tour and Farm to Table Dinner late summer. Other trips offer two-wheel adventures on private farms and ranches, paired with afternoon wine and cheese tastings. You can set up camp in Prineville, or forge on to Prairie City, where you can perk up with an espresso at Roan Coffee Co.

“Everyone likes to be caffeinated,” says Gourdet, “and I think coffee is an important story. This place sources coffee that’s roasted in Baker City.” The coffee shop is also a collective of sorts run by four friends. The loom you spot in the window belongs to the resident weaver — then there’s fine art from the art collector, antiques, and more. To fuel the remainder of your journey, the co-owners are happy to provide traveling tips and local lore with your fresh-baked pastry. Bonus: you’ll find a free bike repair shop in back room in case you need a bit of extra help getting back on the road.

Departure Restaurant by Justin Bailie; Painted Hills by Chantal Anderson; Smudgie Goose farm eggs by Shannon Taylor; CROP tour by Good Bike Co.

About The

Kerry Newberry
Kerry Newberry is a Portland-based writer who covers food, wine, farms and travel for a variety of publications. Her work has appeared in Forbes, Fodor’s Travel, Edible Portland, Oregon Public Broadcasting (OPB) and more.