Interview with Chef Daisley Gordon of Campagne - Seattle, WA

October 2011

Heather Sperling: How did you get into cooking?
Daisley Gordon: I graduated culinary school in 94, but had worked a few years – I was a career changer. I had a degree in religious studies and speech communication. Well, I guess I hadn’t really had a career…I had sold some yellow pages advertizing and got canned because I was horrible at it. My boss told me I should find something to do that I liked. I had always loved food, so I did extensive research on culinary schools and decided on CIA, Hyde Park.

HS: How did you end up at Campagne?
DG: I had a really memorable externship with this place called Actuelle in Dallas with a certified Master Chef that made a great impression on me. After culinary school I went back home to Kentucky for a year because I had no money, then I picked up and moved to Seattle to be with my future wife. I worked at Tom Douglas’s 2nd restaurant for a month, and then an opportunity came up at Campagne, where I had wanted to work.

I started as lead cook [in 1995], then became sous chef, and then became chef [in 2000]. It’s remained a dynamic experience because things are changing all the time. Either my job is changing, or the culinary environment or the world is changing…so there are always new challenges.

HS: How do you stay inspired? Do you travel to France?
DG: I try to travel pretty regularly to stay fresh with things. I go to France at least every year and we spend lots of time in Paris, but have been getting out to the countryside. We took a long trip to Provence and Bordeaux. We’ve always had an affinity towards food from the South of France.

HS: What is your favorite resource – cookbook – for French cuisine?
DG: Joel Robuchon’s Cooking Through the Seasons. It’s a book compiled from a newspaper column that he wrote about a variety of products used through different seasons. I love that book because it’s an in-depth exploration of product and careful approach to it. You see why this guy was famous – for making mashed potatoes! It reminds me and reinforces my conviction that simple things done really well can create an extraordinary eating experience.

HS: How do you define French cuisine?
DG: There are certainly traditional, signature dishes that you can replicate. But really it’s about the approach to the product, and the approach to putting things on the plate for balance, texture, complexity, harmony. Once you learn that approach, wherever you are, you find whatever the best product is close by, and you apply that approach to whatever the product is and you get something fantastic.

We’re not looking to reinvent the culinary wheel – we want to use great product in sensible way, and give you a dish that comes together in a way that is executed well and is delicious and memorable.

HS: What are you doing for the holidays?
DG: For December we have a special 4-course menu that we’re serving in the dining room. About 3 years ago for our 20th anniversary we did a special prix fix menu called the “anniversary menu,” and it took off really well – people dug it. Especially people who were doing a special occasion dinner.

It’s usually some fun different things – oysters, truffled chicken dumplings, a pork and lamb crepinette (assorged ground meat wrapped in caul fat w/ kabocha squash), and dessert is our take on a baba au rhum. You’ve got the traditional spongy savarin – we shape it like a barrel – and then there are wild plums from a Japanese farmer named Taki. We soaked the plums in rum with sugar – they’ve been sitting around since the end of August, so by the beginning of December they’ve made a fantastic color and flavor in the rum.

Last year we did an Opera cake – very traditional – but took Clementine segments, glazed them with Clementine syrup, and served them with cake.

HS: Are you open Christmas and New Year’s?
DG: We’re closed Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day. On New Year’s eve we make the menu just a little bit smaller and more focused, and put a few special items on the menu – things that are geared towards celebration, or a little novelty. A little caviar, truffles, etc. One of the traditional things we’ve done for 3 years is a chicken stuffed with truffles beneath the skin and roasted and served for 2: “Chicken in Half Mourning.” When it’s sliced and carried through the dining room the aroma gets everyone very excited, and usually a number of orders tumble in after the first one is brought out.

HS: How are truffles this year?
DG: It’s a great year for truffles – there’s a great availability for Perigords. White truffle prices are spiking though. We’re had pretty good luck with the Oregon black truffles. They’re not a replacement, but they do have an aroma and charm of their own. Those are cheap – $10/ounce. Fairly reasonable. One of our favorite ways to use them is in omelets.

HS: Tell me more about the dishes you served us, starting with the first course – the octopus. Do you work with octopus much? We had it 5 times in one week in Seattle.
DG: I just started serving it this summer – I had always liked it but not really used it very much. One of my fishmongers – Crazy Johnny – was able to get me a nice steady supply of the baby octopus. I’ve used the marinade before with calamari, oysters – it’s a great flavor combo with shellfish, seafood, and lighter meats. The thinly sliced fennel gives a bit of crunchy wetness that breaks up the richness from the oily marinade, and the lemon supremes give a burst of nice acid. We just started experimenting with adult octopus , and will probably serve it warm.

HS: Next – the foie gras with verjus and grapes.
DG: We’ve been cooking lots and lots of foie gras at Campagne for years. It’s one of my favorite things to work with. I like the grapes and the verjus because it’s a bit of a departure from something that’s super-sweet or cloying. The combination of rich, sweet, and fatty tires out your palate and you’re done for the rest of the meal. I like this combo because of the light sweetness that you get from caramelizing the grapes, and the little zip you get from the verjus. But it’s not overly acidic because there’s a little poultry glace in there and a bit of butter.

HS: How about the sweetbreads? Is the lettuce sauce traditional?
DG: If you look through old books you’ll certainly find some sort of sauce with lettuce in it. The sauce is so easy to make: you wilt the lettuce quickly, simmer, cool and blend, so you get to capture the bright points of the lettuce. The longer you simmer it, the duller the color and flavor get – you need to be prepared to cool it right away to capture the brighter part of the lettuce flavor.

Even though the sauce is cream-based, the green balances it out on the palate – and I think your mind goes “oh, green! That’s not too heavy.” And curry goes great with cream and with green vegetables, and there is a bit of a chicken-y aspect to sweetbreads, and those things go really well together.

HS: And the duck?
DG: We took a really fun trip to Bordeaux in fall 2006, and that is duck country. There’s duck in all of its forms: foie, duck breast, duck stuffed with foie… We had duck breast so many ways, and it inspired me to put the breast on the menu. I don’t care for Muscovy, but I like the Magret (from the foie duck). Some people find it a bit chewy, so we put it in brine, because it does have a tough texture. The brining maintains a certain amount of moisture and flavor.

The other items were just seasonal things available at the moment. We’re just a few hours west of Walla Walla, onion country, so we’ll use sweet onions from Spring through the fall. We get them in fresh salad form in spring, then they get larger and larger until dry onion stage. This puree is fantastic – it’s slowly cooked onions that are pureed and has a really soft texture and deep flavor.

Today we have duck served on top of a kabocha squash gnocchi. The same guy who I get the wild plums from grows the kabochas. We make a gnocchi with ricotta, kabocha puree, flour and egg, and they’re beautiful – a vibrant pale yellowy orange color. They sit below wilted lacinato kale and red wine jus with a bit of poultry glace.

HS: If our menu was served as a prix fix, what would you serve for dessert?
DG: The Baba au Rhum. I really like a bit of strong alcohol at the end of a meal. Certainly you could have something sweet, like a Cognac or Armagnac, but this kills two birds with one stone. The rum is fantastic because any heaviness you may have at the end of the meal is completely wiped away.

I was born in Jamaica and I grew up on the flavor of rum. I love it. I wasn’t having shots as a kid, but when you have a cold you get rubbed down with a little Jamaica white rum instead of Vick’s Vapor Rub.