An Interview of Leather Storrs, via Nancy Rommelmann
Holy shit, Rocket is my restaurant and I’m already sick of hearing about it. Why would a restaurant exist in the firmament for so long without materializing and why should anyone care? These questions have a number of answers and I’ll try and touch on all of them.
1. Have I really been reading about this “Rocket for 2 years?”
Yep, and here’s why: Rocket has been two things. In its first incantation Rocket was a joint venture between me and Kurt Huffman, a childhood friend. It was to be a big, bustly, salad-driven bistro. We were negotiating with Bob Gerding at the Ten01 space, but for $30 a square foot, triple net, we couldn’t make the numbers work. Back to the drawing board and Huffman decides to take a job in Canada. He’s out. Version 2.0, its present form, is a direct result of a conversation I had with Kevin Cavenaugh, the wunderkid behind the Rot and Fife’s building. Kevin showed me a rendering of this futuristic 4 story jewel and asked if I wanted in. I love Cavenaugh, but he doesn’t love schedules. This building is 1 year behind. The reasons for the delays, however, have positive ramifications for my restaurant, so I can’t be too pissed. Maybe I’ll learn to keep my mouth shut…
Anyway, this building is sweet. It’s what’s called Leed Platinum, which means that it uses 50% less energy than code, it has a green roof (with raised garden beds for us and room for chickens), it has its own well (free water, bottle water quality) and about 45 other aspects that make it enviroriffic. All of these innovations take lots of time, lots of permit revisions and lots of money. I believe the wait is worth it. We have an extraordinary view down Burnside of Portland. It’s what I call the Brooklyn view. [NR: I’m from Brooklyn! And he’s right; the view is incredible.] Further we have a big, uncovered, deck that hangs out over the street (6 months of wrangling with the city). For 2 months of the year this will be the coolest tree fort in town (and the only one with liquor).
2. What and who is Rocket?
Rocket the restaurant borrows meaning from both Rocket (the ship) and Rocket (arugula). In my mind, the restaurant represents the juncture of the natural and the technological. It is an exploration of the friction that occurs when technology is applied to natural ingredients. Our symbol is the rocket flower: It is four-petaled and looks like a propeller. The idea that the natural symbol has such a mechanical quality is nifty.
I own the restaurant with Mukund Devan, a long-time cook and former sous chef at Noble Rot. The Chef de Cuisine is Henry Kibit, also a former Rot sous. Henry has spent quite some time with Jeff Cerciello, the chef of Bouchon and Ad Hoc (both Keller properties in Yountville), perfecting techniques and soaking up genius. The bar manager is Chris Abbot, most recently of Ciao Vito. Chris is a subdued, but polished pro from the old school. He will not make drinks named after body parts. The general manager is Kami French, a whip-cracking tough who dots her i’s and cleans up nice.
3. And the food?
Our food will be high-tech American, or rather “American Sly.” We will push on the idea of molecular gastronomy a bit while trying to keep kookiness to a minimum. A premium will be placed on severe and spare presentation. Is it cute? It’s out. The first question is always, is it American? The second, is it delicious? Our entrée section is a matrix: 10-12 proteins, 10-12 sides. Pick one protein, pick 2 sides.
4. Now what?
Thanks for being patient and I apologize for this protracted opening. We want to be serving food by the 1st week in April. I’m honored that people are curious. I am, too. Would you like a job, a spot on our email list, or an outlet for your thoughts? Send it all to Rocketpdx@gmail.com
Thank you, Leather Storrs
The New York Times Dining Out section has a ton of interesting articles today. The front page has a huge piece on BBQ, but two other articles really caught my eye. One is called “Trans Fat Fight Claims Butter as a Victim. To make a long story short, butter contains a small amount of naturally occurring trans fat. Some research shows these natural fats are actually a good thing, but the F.D.A., in their infinite wisdom, has decided that processed trans fat, and natural trans fat are the same. Therefore, any product that has over .5 grams must be labeled as containing that unpopular ingredient. Enter city ordinances banning trans fat, and the biggest player of them all, Starbucks, who wants to be able to say their foods contain no trans fats.
Edict to their bakers: all foods made for us must be zero trans fats. That has sent bakeries, like Schwartz Brothers, which do all the Starbucks baking for 600 stores in Washington and Oregon scrambling to develop new recipes using trans fat-free margarine. Gack!
We’ve gone back and replaced all of the nice, good butter with supposedly trans fat-free margarine,” said Rick Doyle, the Schwartz regional manager. “The hardest one for us was the croissant. We replaced butter with palm oil. From my perspective, it’s not a croissant any more. It’s lost all its lamination and flavor.”
Why do I have a feeling that five years from now all these margarine’s and whatnot will be found to cause cancer?
Finally, The Times also has an article on food critics that have been sued over bad reviews. It’s a rather interesting article, boiling down to this happening more and more often, but never going anywhere:
“But American judges have apparently never punished even tough, mean and wrongheaded restaurant reviews. As the federal appeals court in Manhattan put it in 1985, “reviews, although they may be unkind, are not normally a breeding ground for successful libel actions.”
Other than Ken & Zuke’s, Rocket is the first restaurant you’ve reported on in quite some time that has got me excited. Hopefully they’ll do lunch so I can do some strategic scheduling and get my butt in there.
Food Dude says
Well-Seasoned, They tested well with the ten foodies I keep in the basement!
I just want to lighten things up around here. People take this stuff way too seriously sometimes. Did you notice the change in tone once we got a few days of sun? Wow.
I just wanted to see what kind of icon I am… ;) I like the new look.
Great new look! Nice new features and layout.
New site looks good!
Very excited for Rocket.
Any one see the NYTimes article about algae? They mention that alternative energy investment is reaching a critical mass…With a little luck an earth friendly fix for our energy jones will result.
‘Til then, three cheers for those who design efficiently!
As regular guests of this site well know, I tend to accentuate the
positive. Keeping it on the sunny side of the street and all.
But I worry that the first daze of sunshine may have blinded some people, or perhaps put a twinkle into their eyes.
Weeds sprout next to the daffodils.
Soon, EVERYONE will be wearing shorts, not just that handsome devil that is Food Dude.
Smileys, emocons and the like may seem like a good idea, like a challenging haircut, or a new tattoo.
I was sad to hear that Kurt ran North after returning to the States. I met him in Lyon (his dad was the dean of my law school) and enjoyed his bit o’ Portland in France. He had a successful handful of brewpubs called Ninkasi that looked and felt like the Lucky Lab meets discoteque meets French modern design, with excellent beer and food. My favorite of his locations was near the Opera House where all the transvestite hookers hung out (totally serious). What I was most impressed with was that Kurt had been able to win over the French with a “chain” restaurant that focused on beer instead of wine. I think his old partner bought him out and the pubs are still alive and kicking.
He was talking about Rocket way back then (2003) and I’m excited to hear that the restaurant is still in the works, even if Kurt isn’t involved.
we are all excited about rocket opening. i for one am excited that when i go to rocket it won’t be a salad bar in the pearl!! the view looks tremendous, worth the price of admission alone. i do have one question about the food though…..what the hell are you talking about??!! give me dish either by name or description please….i like the menu idea though the word matrix is an odd one….is there any molecular gastronomy here in portland?? i personally would like to taste this high tech cuisine(??) before i go to rocket and experience what pushing it is like. leather is always one for a good comment or two but something a bit more concrete would whet this appetite. can’t wait to drink in the view!!
molecular gastronomy is a bit past it’s time for Portland. Too much of a logging town and it will be way over the head of most diners in pdx anyway.
Food Dude says
I do! I also know someone that has been playing with molecular gastronomy. Do I think Portland is ready for it? Um… hmm. Depends how far they take it. There does seem to be a tendency to take it a bit too far, just because of the novelty of it all.
Do any one of you actually know someone that is a logger?
Let’s see, um, I’ll start with a non-alcoholic beer, have the seared
Minotaur salad, some Frankenfries, maybe the Flash in the Pan and the Diet Pepsi and Mentos Sorbet. Oh, and several glasses of that Eau de Burnside just to keep my liver flukes looking fresh. I’ll eat anything that glows.
Passing Go? $200.00
Passing Gas? Priceless.
Passing Gas That Glows? Restaurant Concept.
Sorry, I’ve been working a lot lately.
Cuisine Bonne Femme says
I think that Leather’s press release is one of the best and funniest I have read in a long time.
And honestly, is Portland ready for Molecular Gastronomy? Well, it depends on how it’s done and if the overall execution sucks or not. And like it or not, MG is now sneaking its way into mainstream American foods, and really it’s mostly about techniques anyway isn’t it? I think some of it will work in Portland as long as it isn’t too, as Leather said, “Kooky,” or too precious. Easy on the foams though, please. Also, well, if a chef doesn’t have the basics down for regular cooking, then chances are that MG dishes will also be poorly prepared.
A great Toronto blogger Hungry in Hogtown has been experimenting with molecular gastronomy at home and, honestly some of the stuff looks like it might be quite good. Although his El Bulli experiment of fried rabbit ears is spooky
MG or not, Leather has mad skills and anything he touches comes out delicious. What I want to know is: Are there going to be any gauchos in the house?
I am excited to experience this new restaurant..
Yesterday they cooked an amazing lunch at Stoller winery with Plate and Pitchfork…and now I am definately going to visit asap.
I love fresh, creative cooking and it seems to be what this place will be about.