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If you’ve ever watched BravoTV’s “Top Chef”, chances are you’re familiar with Chef Gregory Gourdet – he was a finalist on Top Chef season 17 All-Stars in LA and the runner-up on Top Chef season 12 in Boston. Chef Gourdet stood out for his healthful takes on global flavors with seafood a frequent feature on his plates. 

headshot, chef gregory gourdet

Chef Gourdet is a man of many talents; from Chef and restaurateur to fitness devotee and cookbook author. One of his more recent ventures is becoming an MSC Ambassador. A lifelong sustainability advocate, Chef Gourdet wants to spread the word about the importance and approachability of sustainable seafood, and how Americans can—and should—include more seafood into their cooking rotation. 

Jackie Marks, our senior PR manager, had the opportunity to (virtually!) sit down and chat with Chef Gregory about his cultural relationship to seafood, his upcoming cookbook, and his fierce commitment to sustainability.

MSC: You are a Chef, first and foremost, but also a strong health and sustainability advocate. What led you down this path and inspired your worldview? 

Chef Gregory: I grew up in Queens, New York but went to boarding school in a very small rural town in Delaware. The school is on a lake and we had great blue herons flying around and cornfields—having that experience and then going back home to New York City was such a stark difference in surroundings. Being exposed to that in my youth made me appreciate the outdoors and instilled a passion and love for nature for me.  
Both my parents worked in hospitals and I always thought that I wanted to be a doctor when I grew up;  after about a year of pre-med courses, I switched gears and headed to the University of Montana to study wildlife biology. That’s where I started cooking to feed myself, which led me to switch gears again and decide to become a chef.

MSC: Seafood is a frequent and familiar protein in your kitchen, and you were crowned the winner of the 2012 Great American Seafood Cookoff. Why do you enjoy working with seafood, and what do you want people to know about eating seafood?

Chef Gregory:
Growing up in a Haitian household, fish was always on the table. Because my family cooked fish and I ate seafood early on, it instilled in me a love of eating fish. I also remember some pretty defining moments in my early culinary career like getting king salmon for the first time when I worked at the restaurant Jean-Georges in New York City, and when I realized certain seafoods have seasons. When I go out with my friends who fish for albacore tuna, I’ve been lucky enough to eat fresh albacore the same evening.

I’ve had a lot of career defining moments around fish. It is a versatile ingredient. It takes some technique to cook, but I don’t think it’s hard to cook. And showing that it’s approachable for home cooks is something I hope to be able to do with my upcoming cookbook and through working with the MSC. For a chef it’s fun to cook because it’s versatile, fast, and the health benefits are super important. I’m a big fan of leaving the skin on, getting it nice and crispy, and getting all of those Omega 3’s in. Fish is a food that combines so many different cultures that I love - island based, Caribbean, south east Asia, etc. - there’s a world of recipes inspired by seafood and the possibilities are endless.

MSC: You’ve had the amazing opportunity to see the fish come fresh out of the water, and eat it the same night. How can we better tell the stories about the fish and fishermen and make that connection directly from ocean to plate?

Chef Gregory: I think it’s important to share the stories. We as a nation need to better understand where our food comes from. Over the past 20 years that’s been developing, and our relationship to the land has improved. I believe people are generally eating better in this country, but there’s still a lot of misinformation and unknowns. People are still mystified by certain ingredients and certain products, and don’t know what it takes to procure certain items. 
We talk about supporting local fisheries, being able to seek out local relationships, and being super transparent and sustainable. We can do that by listening to fisherpeople’s stories; both the good and the bad. 

MSC: Sustainability is front and center on many American’s minds, especially how they can leave a lighter footprint by the food choices we make. What does sustainability mean to you, and how does that translate to your kitchen, especially when it comes to sourcing and serving sustainable seafood?

Chef Gregory: Working in a restaurant it is extremely challenging because restaurants produce a lot of waste. Right there, you know you’re going to have to work pretty hard to have a sustainable restaurant. Just from what you order, you need to think about if everything comes in a plastic bag or a cardboard box. Even if they are recyclable, there’s still quite a bit of waste. The other end of that is making sure no food goes to waste. We try to be as resourceful as possible with scraps and bones, we use fish trims for stock or staff meals. I always make sure the seafood on my menu is sustainable and I’m working with groups who are sustainable. I make sure to talk to my purveyors - there are some ingredients that I’m lucky enough to live in the PNW that are green and sustainable by nature because they’re local. For myself, I shop at reputable grocers and when buying seafood, the MSC blue fish label is a simple way to trust a product. There’s no thought behind it. 

MSC: We are thrilled to have you as the first MSC US Ambassador and look forward to working together to educate and inspire Americans to cook and eat more certified sustainable seafood. What does being an MSC Ambassador mean to you? 
Chef Gregory: I’m passionate about food, and one thing I’ve learned as a chef is there are so many ways that we can  embrace our professional relationship that we have with food—food is 100% based on the environment. 

I’ve been very lucky to live near farmers and fisherpeople in the PNW and be able to dig deep. The mark of the modern chef is offering their diners and their guests something that’s wholesome and good for the environment. And that takes a lot of digging. Not everyone has the luxury of living in Oregon or living near the coast, so that makes it a little harder. It’s even more important that we source the right things and making sure that our guests know about these best practices, including sustainable fishing and why it matters to look for the MSC blue fish when choosing seafood.

MSC: You launched your first restaurant, Kann, in 2020 (in the middle of a pandemic!) which focuses on global flavors inspired by your Haitian upbringing, and you have a cookbook coming out soon. Congratulations on both! What’s next for you, and what do you hope to see from the restaurant industry moving forward?

Chef Gregory: I think a lot of things in 2020 are helping shape my experience.  
Kann is a concept I’ve been working on for the last 3 years. Pre-Pandemic, this restaurant would have been opening around Feb 2021, but we got an opportunity to work with American Express and Resy to launch the Winter Village concept, so we took it. A lot of Kann is an homage to my culture which I felt was really important after having cooked so many different kinds of foods from around the world for so long. It was also a response to the social justice causes that came up in 2020. For me, Kann really stands for representation, people of color, global cuisines of Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) folks representing the food.

I want that to be represented in the staff, and I think equity is an important part of how we pay the staff. I want to make sure that everyone feels that we’re working as a team toward a collective goal, and that no position in the restaurant is higher or lower than others. I also to see Womxn leadership and I’ve been so lucky to have been surrounded by so many womxn as part of my team. It’s really about me trying to give them the resources so they can run the restaurant at some point, and so they have the tools to success.

I think giving back is extremely important, especially during these times. I think it’s important to use your platform and use your resources to help others. I’m happy cooking and eating and I want to see growth around me. I believe it is important to give back to the community in any ways that we can. It feels good to have a team that creates these visions and executes these programs. 

MSC: Bonus Question, because we have to ask – what is your favorite seafood dish and why?

Chef Gregory: Salad Niçoise! I have always liked it – I like the canned tuna version and the one with fancy tuna steaks. I lived in France for a few months when I was in college and it was a go-to when I went to a bistro. I just love canned tuna. 

Chef Gregory will be demonstrating two simple and sustainable seafood recipes in an MSC and James Beard Foundation co-sponsored event on March 11. One of the recipes he is preparing, smokey cod and clam chowder, is featured in the MSC Healthy Oceans Too cookbook. Chef Gregory’s own cookbook “Everyone’s Table: Global Recipes for Modern Health” is expected in May 2021. Follow Chef Gregory on Instagram @gg30000.