Gregory Gourdet May Be an Award-Winning Chef, but He Still Feels Like a Little Kid Getting in Trouble

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The James Beard Award-winning chef goes deep about mental health, second chances, swimming, and De La Soul.

<p>Eva Kosmas Flores</p>

Eva Kosmas Flores

Gregory Gourdet and the Epic Swim

Welcome to Season 1, Episode 9 of Tinfoil Swans, a new podcast from Food & Wine. New episodes drop every Tuesday. Listen and follow on: Apple Podcasts, GoogleSpotifyStitcheriHeart RadioAmazon MusicTuneIn.

Content warning

This episode contains mentions of substance use disorder and suicide. If you or someone you know is struggling, call or text 988 or chat at to connect with a trained crisis counselor 24/7. Food & Wine has a list of free and low-cost mental health resources at FW Pro.

On this episode

It has been a particular joy over the past few years to watch the world fall in love with Gregory Gourdet. You might know him from his excellent stints as both a competitor and a judge on Top Chef, a challenger on Iron Chef, or playing himself on Portlandia. You might be a massive fan of his bestselling and award-winning cookbook Everyone's Table: Global Recipes for Modern Health. Perhaps you have read the incredible story that Korsha Wilson wrote about him in the August issue of Food & Wine, or you have spent months scheming to get into his Portland, Oregon, restaurant Kann, which won the 2023 James Beard Award for Best New Restaurant.

Gregory Gourdet is — and should be — at the forefront of restaurant cuisine in America. He's pretty surprised to be here — and takes none of his life for granted. I'm so grateful to have gotten a chance to sit down with him to talk about being a chef in recovery, pushing himself to learn to swim, his nerdy passions, and why De La Soul is so important to both of us.

Meet our guest

Gregory Gourdet is the chef-owner of Kann, a live-fire Haitian restaurant in Portland, Oregon, that the James Beard Foundation named Best New Restaurant in 2023. In 2020, he won a James Beard Award for his cookbook Everyone's Table: Global Recipes for Modern Health. Gourdet has appeared as a contestant and a judge on Top Chef, competed on Iron Chef America, and appeared as himself on the show Portlandia. He is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America and holds a Bachelor of Arts in French from the University of Montana.

Related: Gregory Gourdet Wants America to Respect Haitian Food

Meet our host

Kat Kinsman is executive features editor at Food & Wine, author of Hi, Anxiety: Life With a Bad Case of Nerves, host of Food & Wine's podcast, and founder of Chefs With Issues. Previously, she was the senior food & drinks editor at Extra Crispy, editor-in-chief and editor at large at Tasting Table, and the founding editor of CNN Eatocracy. She won a 2020 IACP Award for Personal Essay/Memoir and has had work included in the 2020 and 2016 editions of The Best American Food Writing. She was nominated for a James Beard Broadcast Award in 2013, won a 2011 EPPY Award for Best Food Website with 1 million unique monthly visitors, and was a finalist in 2012 and 2013. She is a sought-after international keynote speaker and moderator on food culture and mental health in the hospitality industry, and is the former vice chair of the James Beard Journalism Committee.

Related: The 'Top Chef' Guide to Portland

Advice from the episode

Perfectly imperfect

Some people call me a perfectionist, but I don't think I'm a perfectionist. This is the perfect example: 10 of the spaces in my apartment are spotless, everything's lined up, there isn't a speck of dust. Three of the spaces are completely cluttered, stacks of papers, I can barely walk in the room. So there's a little dichotomy that lives within me.

Sink or swim

I want to be an Iron Man. I need to run, swim, and bike. I knew how to bike, I was a decent runner. so I just decided I need to learn how to swim. I took swimming lessons for a year. I worked up to my first swim race, and we go out to this lake up by Washington. I jump in, and and my a-- is dead last. My coach is with me, there's 14 year olds who are beating me. I am dead last and I get out of the water, and the entire heat — there's multiple races after me — every single person there is like clapping, "You can do it. You can do it." Everyone on the shore's like, "You got this!" You know what? If I really want to be a swimmer, I'm gonna have to really, really, really work at this to make the cutoffs. So that was the beginning, middle, and end of my swimming career, but through it, I learned how to swim, and I gave up on trying to be an Iron Man.

Falling down

I was given multiple chances. My mentor, Greg, I was by his side the entire time. But there's only so much love you can give someone if they don't show up for life. In addiction, we have to fall. It has to be bad enough to make us wanna change or else we won't stop.

Related: Communal Table Podcast: Mental Health Webinars for the Industry

Take a chance on me

I truly believe in second chances because a lot of people gave me a second chance and it worked out. I will always give someone a second chance. The challenging part about this is that there are resources out there, but it truly has to be that person wanting change, and sometimes change can be inspired by being called out by other people. Like for me, "Hey, you keep showing up for work at 5 p.m. We open at 4. You can't work here anymore until you go to rehab."

Still here

Some days I feel like I'm still a kid and I'm still getting in trouble. I feel like my chef is mad at me, like my business partner's mad at me. I've done some things in my life I completely regret. But there are huge things that kind of have led up to where I am today. If I didn't have this personality, would I be as driven and as passionate as I am now? If I didn't have vivid memories of being the worst employee to people who really cared about me, would I be as compassionate as I am now to the challenges some of my teammates give me? Would I want to mentor my team as much as I want to and hold hands and really push some of them into a stratosphere as much as my mentors have mentored me? I don't know if I would change much because everything that we've done in life takes us to where we are. I've made some mistakes, but at the same time, I'm here today. I have my health. I have my tenacity. I have my passion. There's not much that scares me.

About the podcast

Food & Wine has led the conversation around food, drinks, and hospitality in America and around the world since 1978. Tinfoil Swans continues that legacy with a new series of intimate, informative, surprising, and uplifting interviews with the biggest names in the culinary industry, sharing never-before-heard stories about the successes, struggles, and fork-in-the-road moments that made these personalities who they are today.

Each week, you'll hear from icons and innovators like Guy Fieri, Padma Lakshmi, David Chang, Mashama Bailey, Enrique Olvera, Maneet Chauhan, Shota Nakajima, Antoni Porowski, and other special guests going deep with host Kat Kinsman on their formative experiences; the dishes and meals that made them; their joys, doubts and dreams; and what's on the menu in the future. Tune in for a feast that'll feed your brain and soul — and plenty of wisdom and quotable morsels to savor.

New episodes drop every Tuesday. Listen and follow on: Apple PodcastsGoogleSpotifyStitcheriHeart RadioAmazon MusicTuneIn.

These interview excerpts have been edited for clarity.

Download the Transcript

Editor’s Note: The transcript for download does not go through our standard editorial process and may contain inaccuracies and grammatical errors.

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