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An Interview with Gregory Gourdet of Kann Winter Village

All photography: Carly Diaz / @carly.e.diaz

In December, while most restaurants were closing shop or strictly offering takeout, James Beard Nominated Chef Gregory Gourdet created Kann Winter Village at the Redd on Salmon. Kann brings together a truly innovative concept, translating the challenges of pandemic dining into an elevated, COVID-19-safe culinary experience that feels like a much needed escape.

The concept pays tribute to Gourdet's childhood memories of the bright colors and textures of Haitian culture and cuisine. The revolving menu of family-style dinners are served in private yurts, made in Seattle and thoughtfully appointed in a hyperlocal, comfy-cool aesthetic. Safety protocols are tight, creating a safe environment for both guests and Kann employees.

Kann Winter Village is the first solo operation of Chef Gourdet. A few months in, we sat down with him to learn how his time at the Redd on Salmon is shaking out.

Jeanne Kubal

It’s been such a wild ride. You opened the doors to Kann Winter Village in December. How are things going?

Gregory Gourdet

We’ve had a lot of ups and downs, navigating something so specific. We put a lot of pressure on ourselves, as we really wanted to create something magical and special. Every detail was important, from the decor, to the food, to obviously safety, [to sharing] Haitian cuisine and global flavors, to the social justice mission behind this restaurant.

We've served hundreds and hundreds of people, and overall, I think it's been extremely successful. We were excited to hear that people are feeling safe in this environment and tasting things they’ve never tasted before. Our team also feels good. So there are a lot of great things happening here.

Elsy is showing baking skills to a group of children and their parents.


Where did you come up with the vision for Kann?


Having studied and worked in so many different types of restaurants, doing so many types of cuisines, it was really important that I get back to my roots. When I think of my oldest memories, they all revolve around Haitian cuisine, [but] I didn't grow up cooking Hatian cuisine, so it was something I had to go back to learn, absorb, and teach myself. Kann is also inspired by global flavors that I love, including flavors of Africa and its diaspora.

[The vision was shaped by] what we saw last year with Black Lives Matter and the industry reckonings. A lot of things came to light about how people in the industry were being treated. To me, it was important that we tackle these issues head on.

I think about the story of Haiti, as the world's first Black republic, one of the first countries to abolish slavery, and how resilient the country is. It is very important to me that the Kann staff represented that resilience of Haiti.


What does a more just and equitable service industry, restaurant industry, and food industry look like to you?


I think the first thing is representation. We live in a very white town, so when searching for teammates, I couldn't wholly rely on the same people I've worked with over the past few years. Our staff at Kann is 90% BIPOC and 75% women. Women's leadership in the kitchen is something that was top of mind.

We pay everyone the same at this restaurant. From the server to the steward, everyone makes the same. I know how hard the servers work, I know how hard our stewards work, and I understand it’s back-breaking work to do. I also understand they are putting themselves at risk coming to work. [Also,] we make sure that there's a clear path for success for people. I think it's really important that people understand that, if you work hard, and you commit to something, there's more opportunity.


Gathering people of any size is incredibly difficult right now. Can you give us a snapshot of what the experience of starting a restaurant in a pandemic is like?


It’s not easy. My best friend and [business partner] Tia is extremely organized and detail-oriented. She has project-managed events with thousands of people in unique spaces, and is 100% amazing at producing things. I’ve never owned my own restaurant, so we called on colleagues and friends. This is a huge community project for us. It took about 200 people to create this whole experience from the ground up.

Our priority is to keep our team safe. With an outdoor dining experience, we feel we’ve been able to do that, along with safely serving those that come out for our dining experience. We don’t plan to loosen up our safety protocols anytime soon.


What do you think BIPOC entrepreneurs need to continue building community and increasing justice within the food system?


Yeah, I think there's a lot to it. I think bringing the community together is always important.

I think talking about the things that we need [in our industry] is also extremely important. I think it would be great if there was a space where people in the industry could talk about what they needed.

There are amazing leaders in the BIPOC community in Oregon that are extremely smart and talented and have done so much for the community. There are groups out there that are really resourceful and have a plan. And then there are some smaller groups and organizations that could use some help. I think getting people together in an open forum where we talk about what we need, and what could help us, would be great.

The Redd could offer space for that.


How has the Redd worked for you? Is your plan to bring Kann to life, “brick and mortar” style?


We definitely feel grateful for the partnership with the Redd, the space is absolutely amazing. It’s worked out well for social distancing. The staff and the guests feel, and having an area for guests to wait to be seated, that protects them from the weather has been very helpful. This is a beautiful historic building, which just adds to the experience.

The Winter Village itself is a partnership with American Express and Resy. Space is always a challenge in the restaurant industry, because restaurants are traditionally extremely small. We were able to transform the parking lot into our little wonderland and be in this huge, beautiful space that feels safe and allows us to social distance. So it seemed like a really great fit, and it's working out pretty great so far. But, this 100% a COVID design concept.

I'm definitely using it to learn as much as I can about what the Kann concept will look like in 2022.

Grab a reservations for Kann Winter Village at the Redd on Salmon Street through Resy. Not ready to head out just yet? "Kann At home" details can be found here. Gregory Gourdet has a book hitting the shelves soon called Everybody's Table—check out the details and grab pre-order info.

Follow @kannpdx to stay in the loop.

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