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23 Jul - Chef Gabriel Rucker on running and his love of Foie Gras

Le Pigeon is over a decade old — that’s ages in restaurant years — and yet the timeless French-inspired spot remains one of the most sought-after reservations in Portland. It was a no brainer for us to bring chef Gabriel Rucker and his team to New York as part of our “The Neighborhood” dinner series. We sat down with Gabe to talk about his favorite ingredients, French cuisine, and what he loves the most about New York.


FREEHAND NEW YORK: What is it like having a sommelier as a business partner?

GABE RUCKER: Having Andy [Andrew Fortgang, Le Pigeon co-owner] be my business partner is amazing because he’s one of the top sommeliers in the country. When I drank wine frequently, it was awesome because I got to drink some really killer wine, and now that I don’t drink, it’s great because I just want to focus on the food. I don’t need to worry about what the wine program is like because I know that I have essentially the best person that could possibly be doing it in charge of it.

FH NY: Does it necessarily make your restaurant fancier?

GR: It’s fancy for Portland, but in New York it would not would not be fancy. The food is fancy, but the environment is relaxed. It’s the kind of place where there could be a couple from New York sitting at the counter having a tasting menu wearing suits and Chanel and then two guys that are stoned out of their minds in tie-dye shirts that just got done listening to the Grateful Dead eating cheeseburgers and having Port.

FH NY: Where did you get into French food?

GR: I didn’t really have that much time cooking around. I kind of fell in love with The French Laundry Cookbook when I was a kid, and then when I moved to Portland I got a job in a kitchen at a restaurant called Paley’s Place, which was very into French technique. It was kind of all I knew.
Le Pigeon is French technique, but the cuisine is worldly. Like, one of the dishes I’m serving at the pop-up is foie gras fajitas.

FH NY: That sounds intense.

GR: It is, you’re right!

FH NY: I think if I saw that on the menu I would definitely be interested. You seem to love foie gras. It’s frequently on your menus.

GR: That’s what we’re known for, for sure.

FH NY: Where do you source it from?

GR: I use Hudson Valley foie gras.

FH NY: Do you have any advice for making foie gras?

GR: Do your research and just have fun cooking it. The best advice I could give someone who wants to cook foie gras is buy my cookbook. There are a bunch of recipes for it.

FH NY: What other ingredients do you like to feature?

GR: Salmon is one of my favorite fish to cook and eat. Porcini mushrooms — all the mushrooms. The local produce we get in Portland is amazing. Oregon strawberries are the best in the world. We have a variety called Hood strawberries. The minute you get them they don’t stay good for that long, but boy are they amazing.

FH NY: What do you like to do when you’re in New York?
GR: I love to go out to eat, obviously, but my current favorite thing to do is just go run throughout the city. We’re staying at Freehand NY and yesterday we ran over to Chelsea Piers and ran up the West Side highway, then this morning I ran down Broadway through Soho and back. Every time I travel, the first thing I do, if I can, is go for a run. A lot of times I just go and get lost, but I’ve been in New York enough times that once I got down to Houston and Soho I knew enough to know what was going on.

Interview by Tammie Teclemariam, portraits by Lyz Olko