Interview: chefs Greg Denton + Gabrielle Quiñonez Denton (Ox + Superbite)
Greg Denton Gabrielle Quiñonez Denton are the partners behind Ox and Superbite in Portland, Oregon. The duo met at Terra in St. Helena, became Food & Wine Best New Chefs in 2012, and recently released Around the Fire, which spotlights wood-fired cooking at Ox and at home. I met the couple at Republique in Los Angeles, where they shared culinary insights.
Josh Lurie: What are your goals with “Around the Fire”?
Greg Denton: Our goals for “Around the Fire” have never been to make money on a book. For us, it’s a way for us to put what we do as a living, and what we love to do, we get to put those things in somebody’s hands. They get to take something with them, not just an experience in a restaurant. Now they’re able to be inspired at home with what they might have had at our restaurant.
Gabrielle Quiñonez Denton: From a business point of view, we’re hoping that we’re enticing people to come to Portland, or when they do come to Portland, hopefully they seek out one of our restaurants based on what they’ve seen in the cookbook and hopefully what they’ve attempted to cook for themselves. From a more romantic point of view, we hope we don’t have to force people to use their grills, but we wanted to show people how many great opportunities there are to pull out their grill throughout the year. In the middle of winter, any time of year, there are so many great different vegetables and proteins that lend themselves to being cooked on the grill.
GD: It’s one of those things, too, the way the book is set up, we always think about inspiration. It could be this egg sandwich that I’m eating, or it could be by a very fine dining experience we’ve had. Or it could just be walking into a grocery store and looking at a Twinkie and something happens. You don’t know exactly what happens, but we wanted to show people, and express to people, when you look at something, it doesn’t just have to be the recipe. We want you to play around with the recipes and combinations that are in there. When you do that, you really start to explore your creative side. We wanted to share our creative process, and hopefully inspire them to be creative as well.
How did you decide which recipes to include in your cookbook?
GD: We didn’t hold anything back. A lot of people thought that we wouldn’t put in the chowder, which is a very popular dish. People thought we may not put the beef tongue in there because it might be a little too difficult. Or the chimichurri. “Did you put the right recipe in there?” Yeah, we don’t have anything to hide, and we really want to share our signature items plus more creative grilling items that maybe we haven’t even served at the restaurant. Things we’ve done at home and wanted to share based on the grill.
JL: What are the criteria for a dish at Ox versus a dish at Superbite?
GQD: At the starting point, it’s the same criteria. The dish has to excite both of us. Usually one of us will start with a concept for a dish, or maybe it’s an ingredient that we’re craving or want to see on our menu that we haven’t featured in awhile. So it will start with the bare bones, the basics of an idea. One of us will basically pitch it to the other person. It’s not until both of us are completely enthusiastic about the development of the dish that we go into the kitchen and start playing around with fine-tuning. That’s how it is at both restaurants.
GD: At Superbite, we have to consider portion sizes a little bit more. At Ox, portions are a little bit larger. A lot of things are more family-style. Our small is meant to be shared. Our large plate is meant to be shared among 4-5 people. At Superbite, a portion of the menu is actually bites. We can go a little more aggressive when it comes to ingredients and seasoning and even creativity, a little bit more. People aren’t committing much money or time or room in their stomach for that section of the menu. They can really taste their way through and make better decisions on how they’re going to complete their meal, whether it be plates or platters.
JL: Tell me how you collaborate on dishes. What was the process for the most recent dish you added to the menu at Ox or Superbite?
GD: There are a couple ways we create. The way Gabi described it is one way. One of us has an idea and we bounce it back and forth, kind of like tennis, until we get to a point where we’re both really excited about it. There are also times when someone’s just really excited or inspired by something and we go with it. Sometimes we really get excited about the same thing.
One recent thing we did, at Superbite, we do a duck liver scramble. That has caviar, chives, and brioche croutons. The way that came about, Gabi was just testing our duck liver pate, which is egg and cream, duck liver mousse. She sautéed it in a pan to fry it before we cooked it off. I tasted it and was like, “Whoa, that tastes like scrambled eggs.” Boom! Suddenly, I’m running to grab caviar. I put the caviar on. Gabi’s like, “Chives.” Now we need a toast. It just happened really quickly, and very organically.
Then other times, it’s a seasonal things. Strawberries, what do we want to with strawberries? It becomes more of a back and forth that way.
JL: What were the first dishes you each remember cooking individually, ever?