Chef Greg Perrault of June

Chef Greg Perrault of June
November 2011

Portland loves its meat, but that doesn’t stop Greg Perrault from executing his vegetable-centric vision of cuisine at his built-from-the-ground-up restaurant, June. And for Perrault, the journey from aspiring chef to restaurant owner and vegetable advocate (among a crowd of grunt-tastic Portland menus) all began with a degree in Hotel and Restaurant Administration from Washington State University. While he was there, Perrault worked for WSU catering for added practical training. After graduating in 2002, BA in hand, he headed straight for the St. Helena campus of The Culinary Institute of America for an advanced culinary arts certificate. While at the CIA, Perrault racked up work experience as a line cook in St. Helena’s restaurants, including Miramonte/Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen and Martini House.

Having worked in Washington and California, Perrault decided to give the East Coast a try. In 2004 he headed to New York as a line cook at Bouley and later as a sous chef at The Tasting Room, where he stayed for another two years. Heeding the call of Oregon’s rich produce, Perrault eventually left the Big Apple to work on farms outside of Portland. That knowledge of local produce proved pivotal when it came time for Perrault to build his own menu. He left the farms to head the pint-sized kitchen at Portland restaurant DOC, a year-long (and perfect) preparation in working in petite kitchen spaces with phenomenal local fruits and vegetables.

When it came time to open June, Perrault and his furniture-building partner Matthew Peterson built the business from scratch, using mostly refurbished materials. This is the kind of independent drive and faith in materials—from scrap wood to frikeh and black radishes—that fuels both the restaurant and Perrault’s cuisine.

Interview with Portland Rising Star Chef Greg Perrault of June - Portland, OR

Antoinette Bruno: What first inspired you to pursue cooking professionally?
Greg Perrault: I first started cooking while I was in college and was looking for more nutritious alternatives to what is commonly available to students. Then on a trip to Italy, I fell in love with the concept of Slow Food and dining out as an experience.  I had never seen anything like it growing up, yet it seemed so natural.

AB: What culinary school did you go to?
GP: The CIA Napa Valley ACAP program.

AB: Would you recommend culinary school to aspiring cooks?
GP: I think it really depends on the person. I had just finished college and was looking for a way to jump-start my career as a chef. If I was 18, I might not have gotten the same education. It’s all about your mindset.

AB:What do you think you’d be doing right now if you weren’t a chef?
GP: That's tough. I often wonder what I might do in the future after June, and I can't imagine anything. It would definitely need to be something where I could be outside. Kitchens are the only place I like inside. Maybe landscaping. You have an opportunity for creativity and you’re outside doing physical labor.

AB: Tell us about getting June off the ground. How did you go about opening your own restaurant?
GP: It was a lot of fun. We had the money lined up and spent some time looking for the right spot. It was an easy decision when we saw the space. Then it was a mad dash to finish our business plan.  

AB: How did that part work for you?
GP: The buildout was a huge learning experience. The space was blank, just an uneven concrete flour and four walls. My partner, Matthew [Peterson], and I did everything except the electrical and plumbing—all the planning and execution. It definitely helped that Matthew has a degree in architecture. He had the programs to draw up building plans for the city, and we had the time to figure things out and do it right. He also is a skilled wood worker, and I think you can feel it when you are in the restaurant. It was about doing things right from square one. Sometimes I thought it would never be finished, but we did it.

AB: Anything you wish you had known before opening your own place?
GP: Just how to better deal with employees.

AB: How are you involved in your local culinary community?
GP: I don't do a lot of extracurricular activities. We've contacted the school about getting externs.

AB: What is your philosophy on food and dining?
GP: For me, it's very important where food comes from. That's where I started. I don't say, “Oh man I really want this product. I really want peas!” It’s what do you have to offer me that’s at it best right now? That's what I do. From there I think it's try to have fun with it.

AB: What’s the toughest thing you’ve had to do in your job?
GP: Things can be challenging. Waking up Saturday morning after the last day of the week you have to say, “Get up, get to the market, get stuff, get back." But I don’t think I consider that a hard thing for me.

AB: If you had one thing that you could do over, what would it be?
GP: I would have gone to Europe while I was little bit younger. I would have gone and worked in Europe or somewhere in another country.

AB: What’s next for you? Where will we find you in five years?
GP: It's a good question. We have a five year lease, and both Matthew and I feel like restaurants have a lifespan. We want to do other things, not knowing what as of yet. He wants to pursue furniture-making. And as for me, I could do anything I want in five years. I couldn’t imagine.