As told to Cassandra Landry | Photograph ChefsFeed
For die-hard food people, Portland, Oregon's Le Pigeon and its bistro sibling, Little Bird, have been reigning favorites for just over a decade. The food is vivaciously French in all the right ways, self-aware and playful in others — foie gras profiteroles and fried chicken "coq au vin" come to mind — and for a long time, it was presided over by a chef who played just as hard as he worked. When we spoke during a rare out-of-town visit, Chef Gabriel Rucker was candid about his personal evolution over the lifespan of his restaurants; how settling into the life you always meant to have strengthens your conviction. For Rucker, that meant changing his habits, focusing on his family of five, and saying no—emphatically—to protect his process. It turns out there's peace to be found in the grind after all. —CF 
 

I wasn't ready to become a chef and to own a restaurant, it just happened to me.  


You're never ready for anything that happens in your life. I wasn't ready to get married, but I met someone. I can guarantee you that no one is ever ready for kids. I'm not necessarily even ready for what's going to happen when I walk in the doors of my restaurant. Sometimes the fish isn't good and I have to be ready to adapt. It's about that journey, not the destination.  

At Le Pigeon, which is a pretty well-known restaurant, I think there's a certain level of intimidation because there's a standard now. Even as the owner—if you’ve got James Beard Awards on the wall, then there's an expectation. The expectation of someone that's flying from New York to eat food in Portland, whose number one meal is at Le Pigeon, and you’re cooking dinner for them and they’re sitting across from you at the counter. It’s the difference between "I can't believe we stumbled on this place, and it's so good!" versus, "I flew across the country to try this restaurant." There's a bigger expectation now than in 2006 when we were the small fish. It was different. Now, I've got my shit zipped up even tighter. 

My real goal is to just continue cooking dinner three nights a week, behind the counter at Le Pigeon, until I can't do it anymore. It’s to do less out and focus on staying in. I say "no" every day. Every single day. "No, thank you. No, thank you." People sometimes don't take it well, but isn't there something to be said about a chef who cooks dinner at their restaurant? There are two paths: It's easy to be lured into the spotlight, to be traveling. That's a very legitimate thing. It's a business of its own now.  

But there are also the chefs who are just in their kitchen, and their food is the one that's speaking for them. That's what I would very much prefer to be. I'm one of three people that are cooking, prepping, setting up, and breaking down the station, and expediting the restaurant. That's when I'm the happiest.





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