Cook finds opportunity to innovate in Portland, Ore.

Kathryn Rem

Talking with Cory Hopper — cooking in the renowned Portland, Ore.-restaurant Le Pigeon with a colleague named by Food & Wine magazine last year as one of the nation’s top 10 chefs — it’s hard to believe he didn’t realize at an early age that he belonged in the culinary trenches.

“The kitchen of our house has always been the center of things,” said his mother, Ruth Hopper, who taught her only child basic cooking when he was a youngster.

After a year at Lincoln Land Community College and a year at Southern Illinois University, Cory Hopper was working at Illini Country Club in Springfield, Ill., when he decided to give culinary school a whirl.

His dad, Mitch, and mom were a bit surprised.

“We just looked at each other when he told us,” Ruth Hopper said. “He was good in math and was studying architecture. He said he didn’t want a 9 to 5 job.”

Cory Hopper knew immediately after starting at the Cooking and Hospitality Institute of Chicago that it was the right decision.

“I was drawn to everything. I took all the baking and pastry classes and learned how not to overcook foods. I wanted answers to everything,” said Cory Hopper, 32.

After graduation, he returned to Springfield to ply his new skills at Sebastian’s, Panther Creek Country Club and the former Soire. He yearned for more adventurous cuisine than is typically found in central Illinois and moved to Portland.

“Portland is a very food-savvy city. The farms are right here. There is so much farm-fresh produce and organic food. Every day I learn something,” he said.

The young chef heard about an opening at Le Pigeon, an open-kitchen bistro known for inventive combinations of flavors. It’s run by Gabriel Rucker, named in Food & Wine’s 2007 “Best Chefs” issue as an up-and-comer because “he’s talented and bold enough to play with classic dishes that might include esoteric animal parts, like tongues and feet, or an entire field’s worth of vegetables.”

Rucker also is a nominee for the prestigious 2008 James Beard Foundation Awards, one of six in the running for “Rising Star Chef.” The awards will be presented in June.

Cory Hopper worked a 12-hour shift for Rucker at Le Pigeon for free and basically “talked his ear off,” after which Rucker offered him a job.

“It’s a small restaurant and everything is cooked right in front of you,” Ruth Hopper said. She and her husband try to visit their son in Portland twice a year and have eaten several times at Le Pigeon.

“There are three cooks on duty at all times. It’s like a choreographed dance. They can see from across the room when someone is done with their appetizer or salad. It was amazing that every single person who finished their meal would go up to them and thank them.”

Cory Hopper, who prefers the title “line cook” to “chef,” thrives on the opportunity to innovate.

“Gabriel tries to find parts of the animals that people don’t know much about. He crosses boundaries. The menu changes every week.”

That menu suits Cory Hopper, who says he likes all kinds of foods and will sample anything. He also likes Portland, calling it “a good fit.”

“I like to live in the moment. Everyone out here has a garden and I grow my own greens. The weather is right up my alley. I like the rain.”

When not working, he is devoted to his almost-2-year-old daughter, Matilda. She’s eaten her dad’s grilled cheese, scrambled eggs, homemade pasta, roasted chicken, mashed potatoes and braised pot roast.

For young people thinking about becoming a chef, Cory Hopper has this advice: “It’s a great career, but it’s not to be taken lightly. You can’t just step in it and expect to work 30 hours a week. But if you like food and like to cook, go for it.

This recipe comes from Le Pigeon restaurant. Parisienne gnocchi are made without potatoes, Cory Hopper said.

“They are more akin to pate a choux dough than the Italian gnocchi dough. At the restaurant, we make a marrow butter in order to give the gnocchi a deeper and richer flavor. However, the dish would be delicious made with regular butter as well.”

Bone Marrow Parisienne Gnocchi With Snails and Garlic

Marrow butter (optional):

3 ounces softened bone marrow

3 ounces softened butter


6 cups loosely packed parsley

6 eggs

24 ounces water

6 ounces marrow butter or butter

Salt and pepper

2 cups all-purpose flour

To finish:

4 tablespoons butter

7 cloves chopped garlic

1 (12-ounce) can high-quality snails, drained

Fleur de sel (sea salt) and freshly ground pepper, to taste

1 lemon, juiced

3 tablespoons chopped parsley

Marrow butter: Whip bone marrow and unsalted butter together until evenly incorporated.

Gnocchi: Bring a pot of water to a boil. Add the 6 cups parsley; after 10 seconds in the water, shock the parsley in a bowl of ice water. Once the parsley is cold, squeeze dry. Put in a blender with the eggs and puree.

Next, combine water, marrow butter (or regular butter), salt and pepper in a heavy bottomed saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and add flour all at once; stir rapidly with a wooden spoon until the dough pulls away from the sides of the pan and the bottom of the pan is clean with no dough sticking to it. Continue to stir for a minute longer.

Transfer dough to the bowl of a mixer and let cool 5 minutes. Using the paddle attachment, work the dough. Slowly add the egg mixture, roughly a sixth each time waiting for the egg mixture to incorporate fully before adding the next bit of egg mixture.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.

Fill a pastry bag fitted with a medium (5/8-inch) tip with gnocchi dough.

Turn the water down to a simmer. Holding the bag over the side of the pot with one hand, and holding a small knife in the other, squeeze out 1-inch segments into the water, cutting each with the knife as they come out of the pastry bag. The gnocchi will sink to the bottom. When they rise to the top they are done. Transfer them to an oiled cookie sheet to cool.

To finish, melt butter in pan; add garlic and saute. Add snails, then toss in gnocchi. Cook until everything is hot. Add fleur de sel and pepper and a big squeeze of lemon. On the plate, garnish with parsley.

Makes 6 servings.

Kathryn Rem can be reached at