Chef Gabriel Rucker of Le Pigeon and Little Bird Bistro

Chef Gabriel Rucker of Le Pigeon and Little Bird Bistro
November 2011

Le Pigeon
738 East Burnside Street
Portland, OR 97214

Little Bird Bistro
219 Southwest 4th Avenue
Portland, OR 97204


You might not picture the king of haute comfort, 2011 Portland Rising Star Gabriel Rucker, as a dropout. But that’s exactly how he began—by dropping out of the Santa Rosa Jr. College’s culinary program when he was 18. Good thing he did; the decision gave him the freedom to find restaurant jobs in his Napa Valley hometown and begin to develop a culinary style of sophisticated, technique-driven comfort food. In 2003, Rucker moved to Portland, Oregon, where he worked at Portland icon Vitaly Paley’s Paley’s Place for two years. Rucker was then hired as the sous chef at The Gotham Building Tavern, where he connected with Bunk Bar Chef Tommy Habetz and his future Sous Chef Erik Van Kley.

Rucker and business partner Paul Bradyegan began working on their own intimate restaurant, Le Pigeon, back in 2006. And nowadays, this is where you’ll find Rucker, practicing his foie gras worship and celebration of decadent, upscale bistro-style dishes, like his incredible foie gras profiteroles. Since the restaurant’s opening, Rucker has received a slew of accolades. He was named Portland Monthly’s Chef of the Year 2006, The Oregonian’s Rising Star 2006, and Restaurant and Hospitality Magazine’s Rising Star of 2007. Food and Wine named him among the Best New Chefs of 2007. More importantly, his business was so successful that in December 2010, Rucker expanded his culinary vision, opening his second restaurant, Little Bird. With more seats than Le Pigeon, Little Bird makes Rucker’s patented style comfort food accessible to even more people.

Interview with Portland Rising Star Chef Gabriel Rucker of Le Pigeon - Portland, OR

Antoinette Bruno: What inspired you to pursue cooking professionally?
Gabriel Rucker: I didn’t like my math class in junior college.

AB: How are you involved in your local culinary community?
GR: We're all friends. We do lots of events together. There’s not too much competition between us. Portland itself has been riding such a wave of popularity.

AB: What’s the biggest challenge facing your restaurant?
GR: The fact that Burnside Street is about to go into major construction for two years to go one-way, and a major transit station will go in front of our restaurant.

AB: What’s the toughest thing you’ve had to do in your job?
GR: I just got back from St. Croix at the Virgin Islands Food and Wine Festival. None of my food showed up with my baggage. I was cooking two meals, where people were paying $1,000 a piece. I had four hours of sleep in 48 hours. It was 90 degrees in a super humid kitchen.

AB: What trends do you see emerging?
GR: Next to Napa, Portland is more obsessed with offal than any other city. We kind of got that going two years ago. I don’t want to take credit for that, but we definitely had a big part.

AB: How do you keep abreast of the latest trends?
GR: I travel a lot. Also tons of chefs, when they travel, come here and sit at the counter so I get to chat.

AB: What chef would you like to cook for you?
GR: Martin Picard from Au Pied du Cochon. I'd like to eat his food.

AB: What is your proudest accomplishment?
GR: Being open for four years and having the same staff the entire time.

AB: What’s next for you? Where will we find you in five years?
GR: Probably right in the same spot, as long as people keep coming to Portland to eat food. I'm really happy here. I'm going to stay here.