For Gabriel Rucker, the more in the kitchen, the merrier.
For most preschoolers, digging in sandboxes, breaking crayons and putting on all the dress-up clothes rank near the top of the to-do list. But when your dad’s a two-time James Beard Award-winning chef, priorities can shift. “I like to chop,” says 4-and-a-half-year-old Babette. She also likes to make pasta dough, mop restaurant floors and belt out “Corner!” every chance she gets. Her 6-year-old brother, Gus, can prep pounds of fruit and cut his own bagel, thank you very much.
“I was shooed out of the kitchen by my grandma,” says Gabriel Rucker, the chef/co-owner of Portland’s Le Pigeon restaurant and Little Bird Bistro, and whose new, all-day cafe, Canard, opens this spring. “She was stressed by having people in there, so I never learned to cook from her. That’s why, in my kitchen, nothing’s off limits.”
For the Ruckers, home life has become a kind of restaurant immersion school, where things like bubbling stock pots, sharp knives and butane torches are all part of the toy box. It’s a comfortable atmosphere for Rucker, who thrives on cooking with others, and not just in the open kitchens of his restaurants.
“He cooks constantly, wherever we are,” says Rucker’s wife, Hana. “It’s the full-meal deal any night he’s home.”
It helps that his home kitchen is perfectly positioned — an open floor plan with the kitchen right at the heart of the house — to indulge his social side, allowing him to do his favorite things at once: cook, watch sports and spend time with his family.
“I can be in the kitchen cooking and still be watching the game on TV, and they can be running around and coming in and out,” he says, speaking of his kids, including the youngest, 1-year-old Freddie James. “They love to cook and they’re right there with me.”
Rucker leads the team at Le Pigeon four nights a week and gets home early enough to make dinner for his family the other three evenings. But he doesn’t often bring home duck confit, foie gras wontons and braised pork belly from the restaurant. In fact, the self-avowed health nut focuses on seasonal vegetables and lean protein.
“A lot of times we’re on the Whole30 diet, so it’s a little bit more rigid,” he says.
The menu? Sometimes it’s Oregon rockfish fajitas with onions and bell peppers sauteed fajita style with a side of shredded red-cabbage salad, or a cauliflower Mediterranean salad with a little herb pesto, olives, artichoke hearts, green onions, sun-dried tomatoes and lemon juice.
“You have to think ahead, plan, make extra and eat leftovers,” he says. “But most of all, have fun while you’re cooking. If you love someone, cook with them.”