In various countries throughout the Western world, if a person’s called a "pigeon" it means he’s the fall guy, a sucker, a pushover, someone who can easily be talked into doing the dirty work. It’s usually not a good thing, being the pigeon, but at the new eastside restaurant Le Pigeon (pronounce "le" as the French do and "pidgin" like a Midwesterner), 25-year-old chef Gabriel Rucker has gracefully elevated the humble fowl’s image to new heights, in more ways than one.
From the open copper-paneled kitchen of what used to be Colleen’s restaurant on East Burnside, Rucker, former sous chef at the now-defunct Gotham Building Tavern, is willing to do whatever dirty work it takes to spin the freshest ingredients he can find into culinary gold. He might transform simple radishes and peas into an elegant mint-spiked salad drizzled with melted butter and moscatel vinaigrette, or he may caramelize thinly sliced onions and spread them on bread along with a smear of velvety bone marrow.
Rucker is just as much of a sucker for a good burger—his is served with aged Grafton cheddar, iceberg slaw and grilled, pickled onions on a ciabatta roll. "I like serving fancy food," he says, "but if people leave talking about how good the burger was, that’s what really means you’re a good chef."
For a restaurant named Le Pigeon, the ultimate proof of a chef’s worth should be, well, his pigeon. And thus far, Rucker says his maple-lacquered roasted squab served on a nest of duck confit hash and pickled cherries has sold out almost every night—a sure sign that Rucker, whose right forearm is tattooed with the underrated birds, has found his flock.