PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Celebrity chef Justin Sutherland, who earlier this year opened a downtown Portland restaurant called Big E, is back in the Rose City to support the local economy, his friend Gregory Gourdet and his new cookbook.
Sutherland, who’s been on Top Chef and Iron Chef America, is a Minneapolis resident but a big fan of Portland. His eatery, Big E, shines a spotlight on egg sandwiches. It’s around the corner from where the downtown Portland food carts used to be at SW 10th and Alder in a spot called Food Cart Alley inside the Moxy Hotel.
“I love Portland. Just the culture, the community, amazing restaurant scene. It feels like Minneapolis a little bit, just in the way people are connected. I do have a lot of chef-friend connections here and I’ll take any excuse to come back here,” he recently told KOIN 6 News.
One of his friends, Gourdet, just opened the renowned Kann in Portland’s Central Eastside.
Instead of cut-throat competition, he sees more bonds than before — and he loves that.
“I think back in the day there was this competitive chef reign, but I think that’s changed,” he said. “The pandemic helped with that. I think this new wave of chefs that’s emerging, this new class is running restaurants. We all do better when we all do better.”
His attitude comes from gratitude and ovecoming challenges, including a July boating accident that nearly killed him.
“It was a pretty wild accident. After learning how severe it was, I just treat everyday like a blessing. I’m just blessed to be here, to be doing what I love,” Sutherland said.
He loves cooking, music and combining both. All the sandwiches at Big E are named after some of his favorite songs, artists or lyrics.
“‘It Was All A Dream,’ which is our cheese, eggs and Welches grapes (is) the Biggie Smalls tribute,” he said. “The Rocket Man” is a sandwich tribute to Elton John.
Sutherland said he will expand Big E to other cities — Minneapolis, Oakland, Denver, Miami to name a few. Portland’s version is a food-hall style while others will be larger and have a bar. Some may show up in stadiums.
He’s keen on using local ingredients. In Portland, it’s Tillamook cheese and milk buns from Beaverton-based Japanese bakery Oyatsupan.
“I think the best thing, especially with these sandwiches, a lot of them with the sunny-side-up egg, the sauces and what not, the biggest thing you want with an egg sandwich, or any kind of sandwich, is you see that nice crust it gets, it encases everything and also light and airy. It’s got that sweetness,” he told KOIN 6 News.
Sutherland also just released his first cookbook, Northern Soul, a project he said was more difficult than he thought it would be.
“It’s a two-and-a-half year process. You think you have all these recipes and you’re doing all that, but it’s so much more than putting recipes on pages. It’s telling the stories that go along with those, making them more approachable for the home cook.”
The dishes in the cookbook pull together his bold flavors and family inspirations from his “very, very diverse background.”
“Grandma from Japan, Norwegian grandfather. Then the other half with roots in Mississippi – that’s where my love of soul food came from,” he said. “I went to culinary school in Atlanta. I think all those different perspectives and parts of my family influence my cooking and my book.”