In "Everyone's Table," Gregory Gourdet shares healthy recipes and an amazing story of perseverance

"Modern health to me just really means being able to make some smart choices," the Top Chef star says of his book

By Joseph Neese
Published May 22, 2021 5:30PM (EDT)
Gregory Gourdet (Eva Kosmas Flores)
Gregory Gourdet (Eva Kosmas Flores)

In many ways, Top Chef star Gregory Gourdet's new cookbook arrives on bookshelves at the perfect time. After a year in which we found ourselves grounded at home, "Everyone's Table: Global Recipes for Modern Health" presents us with a much-needed guide for eating healthier. Amid a conversation about equity in the food space, it presents us with globally inspired dishes that should be staples in every American home. At a time when mental health is top of mind, Gourdet also opens up about how his sobriety.

When Gourdet entered recovery, he not only audited his life but also his pantry. Now, he's sharing the concept of "modern health," as well as the recipes from his own kitchen, with the world. This is a healthy cookbook that isn't about exclusion; as Gourdet points out, fried chicken makes the cut, and there's even a whole chapter about dessert.

"There's a full desserts chapter in the book, and I think the fried chicken and the example of the pineapple cake, which has almost three cups of sugar in it," he recently told Salon. "It's maple syrup and coconut sugar, which are far better sugars, but at the same time, it's still sugar."

"It's about having a great alternative to some of the ingredients within that recipe and not eating it every day. Of course you can enjoy fried chicken every once in a while," he continued. "The fried chicken in the book has an African-inspired marinade. It's got some habanero. It has a nice spice to it. It's coated in tapioca starch, and it's fried in avocado oil. It's a little healthier. It's definitely still a decadent item, but with a few tweaks, you can have something a little bit healthier on the table."

What Gourdet presents us with is a way to eat healthy that not only makes us feel good but also is 100% attainable. This is exactly how Gourdet cooks in his own home, even when he doesn't feel like cooking.

RELATED: Click here to purchase a copy of "Everyone's Table: Global Recipes for Modern Health"

"When I'm at home, I'm busy. I don't want to cook. I have a small apartment. I don't want to get the kitchen dirty," he said. "The way I cook at home is really inspired by these dishes that are in the book. They're super easy to make, for the most part. You can pretty much shop at your local grocer for most of the ingredients."

When Gourdet recently appeared on "Salon Talks," we talked about the new season of Top Chef, how he got sober and tips for eating healthier at home. To learn more, read or watch our conversation below.

This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

It goes without saying that if our readers aren't lucky enough to have tried your food, they've seen you on TV. Can you tell us about your experience shooting Top Chef?

I've been on Top Chef numerous times. I've competed twice. I think my first season was about six, seven years ago. Time flies. Currently, I am featured as a judge and mentor to our current season, which was filmed in Portland, Oregon, last fall, right smack dab in the middle of the pandemic.

Is there anything you can tease us for the rest of the season?

I think I thoroughly enjoyed watching the season, and it's a little different with being a judge and not being a center figure and watching myself the entire time because I'm not competing. I get to just really dive into the other chefs, and I get to watch it as a spectator, as well. Even though we were there and seeing things happen, there's a lot that happened with the chefs that we didn't see. I'm watching a lot of it for the first time, like with the other viewers. I think we're going to see some really cool challenges come up, and we're going to see some really beautiful, iconic locations in Oregon and in Portland, and some really great ingredients being featured.

I think as it thins out, it definitely gets harder. I know that for a fact, and the critiques get a little bit more challenging. We're going to see the chefs really push themselves. I truly think Top Chef is a story about perseverance and endurance and really tapping into yourself. I think we're going to see some really great food from some of these chefs. It's a really diverse cast, and they all come from different culinary backgrounds and different ethnic backgrounds, so it's going to be really fun to see the rest of the season.

Speaking of endurance and perseverance, that's your personal story, as well. Your new cookbook starts off with a story about a car crash. I was wondering if you can tell us a little bit more about that because that's not necessarily an expected way to start a cookbook. 

The book starts at the beginning, and the beginning for me isn't memories of cooking with my mom as a child. My book is a health book, and it is based on the style of eating that I've enjoyed for the past 12 years. I wanted to explain how it came to be. It's a diet-centered book because it is geared to dietary distinctions. It's gluten-free, it's dairy-free, it's soy and legume-free, it's grain-free for the most part and it's refined sugar-free.

At the same time, it's really inspired by global flavors, having a global pantry, spices from around the world, chilis from all around the world, both year-round produce and seasonal produce. It's really a book that everyone at the table can enjoy. You don't have to be on any kind of special diet to enjoy the book. I feel like oftentimes books have said that, but you're left kind of reading the recipes or eating the recipes and you feel like something's missing or you're eating something "healthy."

For me, it really started with my story of recovery. After fighting a seven-year battle with drugs and alcohol, I decided I wanted to get my life back together. I wanted to take some steps forward to just pick myself up. That included the first step of getting sober, then kind of getting healthy. A really pivotal point in my life was this tremendous car crash that I had in California about 13 years ago. The funny thing is, that really wasn't what got me sober, but that was definitely one of those moments where you look back in your life and you realize that 100% I could have died in that car crash.

I was wearing my seatbelt, thank God. The car flipped over in the air. It was totaled. I was arrested immediately. It could have been a pretty traumatizing thing, but I walked away unscathed. It's one of those things — when you look back at your life and you take stock — you're like, "Hey, that really was something that I'm extremely grateful I'm still alive today." I'm grateful for that. It just helped trigger my recovery — and here we are.

I have been gluten-free and dairy-free for about a decade. At the same time, I'm a chef who works at different types of restaurants. I've been able to travel the world and eat all different types of foods. When I'm at home, I'm busy. I don't want to cook. I have a small apartment. I don't want to get the kitchen dirty. The way I cook at home is really inspired by these dishes that are in the book. They're super easy to make, for the most part. You can pretty much shop at your local grocer for most of the ingredients. The other ingredients, you just keep in your pantry. Maybe go to your Asian or Caribbean grocer once a month and just stock up on these ingredients, and just create beautiful, interesting food that's full of flavor, that's full of life.

At the same time, as a professional chef, I want to give people lots of tips and tricks to up their game. It's definitely written with the home cook in mind. The recipes are extremely detailed and extremely explained, a step-by-step process — because I want everyone to be successful in recreating them.

Thank you for being so open and honest with your story. Addiction is a prevalent issue in the industry. What advice you would give others who are struggling, as well?

Sure. My addiction was definitely founded working in the kitchen. I mean, it starts earlier. Since high school, I was experimenting with drugs, and in college I was a very vigorous recreational drug user. Honestly, a lot of my friends are in recovery because of that experience. We've all moved to separate states, but a lot of us are in recovery — our own recovery.

It really was working in kitchens in New York City and that period of my life that really coincided with the worst of it. The first time — the pinpoint of the start of my addiction — I consider, I remember the first day I was late for work because I had drunk too much the night before. I clearly remember that day. I really can point to that day as the first day of a seven-year battle that just got worse over time, which was really bad for the last two years. It was an era of "you work really hard and you play really hard." We would work 12, 14 hours a day, oftentimes off the clock. It was a very high-pressure situation.

I worked in fine dining, Michelin stars and New York Times stars. It was a very high-pressure situation, where perfection was absolutely expected. It was the standard. To counteract that, you go to the bar, and it's New York City. The bars are open till 4:00 a.m. To counteract working hard, I definitely played hard. Oftentimes, when my friends would responsibly go home at four in the morning, I would go back out with people who had even less responsibility than I did and maybe even more penchant for drug use than I did.

I think a lot of conversations have happened nationally over just health and wellness and mental health and addiction and recovery in the industry. I feel the counterbalance to all of that today is openly talking about sobriety in the industry, making sure that we make space for discussions about mental health and really changing the way the industry looks. I think we're still deeply in those conversations with a huge industry reckoning — with workers saying that they've been treated unfairly over the past many, many years of them working. The younger generation — that's our current workforce — and a lot of chefs who have had a lot of trauma or have come out of these crazy experiences and how that impacts their leadership.

I definitely think the conversation is changing. I think it's really important that we just destigmatize addiction in the industry. I'm very grateful to be a part of a group called Ben's Friends, which is specifically a recovery group for people in the hospitality industry.

The new book was also born out of recovery. That included going to CrossFit and adopting the paleo diet, which you still more or less follow today. The new cookbook is categorized as "modern health." Can you explain exactly what you mean by "modern health?"

Modern health is a term that came out with, I think, the paleo diet. I think the paleo diet was really, really big 10 years ago. I think CrossFit was really big 10 years ago, and that's how I stumbled into it. I think modern health to me just really means being able to make some smart choices — not feeling like you're being restricted, not feeling like you can't have some things that you enjoy.

Really, what it truly means to me is understanding that while Mother Nature makes all these amazing things that have nutrients that come out of the earth — not all of them are the best foods for you. It's really about focusing on the plants and the proteins and all the amazing ingredients that are truly the healthiest. The superfoods: kale, sweet potatoes, organic meats, all those types of ingredients that you can truly have as much of it as you want. All the ingredients featured in my cookbook are based on the top 100 superfoods.

It's understanding that when we talk about something like grapeseed oil, which is an extremely chemically processed ingredient and it's made by a harsh chemical process, and instead use something like avocado oil, which is just avocado squeezed, which is a far more natural ingredient. Making these small switches and being confident that having these best ingredients, you can eat as much of them as you want.

One of our readers' favorite foods is  not surprisingly  chicken. First, you have a fried chicken recipe in the book. How can fried chicken be healthy?

This is what I mean by modern health. It's just being comfortable that what you're eating makes you feel good or you're happy about it — and we can still enjoy the foods that we love. There's a full desserts chapter in the book, and I think the fried chicken and the example of the pineapple cake, which has almost three cups of sugar in it. It's maple syrup and coconut sugar, which are far better sugars, but at the same time, it's still sugar.

It's about having a great alternative to some of the ingredients within that recipe and not eating it every day. Of course you can enjoy fried chicken every once in a while. The fried chicken in the book has an African-inspired marinade. It's got some habanero. It has a nice spice to it. It's coated in tapioca starch, and it's fried in avocado oil. It's a little healthier. It's definitely still a decadent item, but with a few tweaks, you can have something a little bit healthier on the table.

You also have an entire section where you have different kinds of sauces and blends that we can make at home. Do you have any tips or tricks for making sauces healthier in our diets?

There's a huge sauce chapter in the book actually, and there's a huge pantry section. It's sauces, there's a fermentation chapter, there's a pickles chapter, there's a spices, spice mix chapter. I personally love those chapters because those are all things you can make and keep in your fridge. Oftentimes, they feature ingredients like fish sauce and great spices and chilis, and a lot of them are shelf or pantry-stable or fridge-safe for a week — maybe even a few months if it's a pickle or a ferment.

Oftentimes, having those ingredients on hand is an easy way to just spice up anything. If you have a simple roasted chicken or even just some sauteed chicken thighs, you can just grab the chili-lime sauce, the Vietnamese-inspired chili-lime sauce. It's fish sauce and garlic and chilis and lime juice, and it's pungent and it's funky and it's a little bit spicy. A few drops of that on your chicken, and you have a pretty delicious dinner made in just a few minutes. All my sauces — all the sauce work in the book — are definitely featured with alternative ingredients. They have that health-mindedness in mind, from using tamari instead of soy sauce, from using prunes and dates instead of sugar, to really get those nutrients in there.

 

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Joseph Neese

Joseph Neese is the Managing Editor of Salon. You can follow him on Twitter: @josephneese.

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