Eugene lost a culinary legend with the passing of chef Gabriel Gil last week. Known best for his influence on local restaurants past and present, including Rabbit Bistro and Bar, Soubise and Tacovore, Gil was a friend and inspiration to many in the local restaurant community.
Gil was 43 years old and died after suffering a medical crisis.
His partner in life and work, Amy Hand, says working with Gil was “challenging but rewarding. I learned a tremendous amount from him — he upped my personal game. It was inspiring to work with him.”
Hand says that Gil moved to Eugene in 2007, and she met him in 2008 at the now-closed Rabbit Bistro. She says he had a “wonderful laugh and sense of humor. He was very smart. You definitely want him on your side if you’re playing Trivial Pursuit. He was a lover of books, of opera — he just loved life.”
Steve Mertz, owner of Tacovore, says he and Gil worked together to come up with Tacovore’s menu. “He was a classic chef, well trained in the French tradition, but he grew up in a Southern California Latino household, so he also knew traditional recipes backwards and forwards,” Mertz says. “He loved to have fun in the kitchen.”
Mertz says that Gil added his own special touch to each recipe at Tacovore, and while Gil parted ways with the restaurant, his culinary style is still evident in the menu.
Despite its success, Tacovore has received criticism for not being authentic enough, which became a running joke among staff. As a prank, Mertz ordered an entire pig head from Pigs & Trotters in Portland for Gil to discover.
“The look on his face when he opened the package and saw the pig head — it was like he found his spirit animal,” Mertz remembers with a laugh. “He wore it around and chased people.”
Mertz says Gil was an “uncompromising punk rock ‘n’ roll” figure, but at the same time was sweet and caring, especially with his family and to those who took a sincere interest in food.
Jennifer Burns Bright, who runs local food blog Culinaria Eugenius and helped judge the 2010 Iron Chef Eugene competition (which Gil won), describes Gil as “gifted.” She got to know him through visits to Rabbit Bistro and then through her involvement in Iron Chef.
“I don’t think I will offend any of his chef colleagues by saying Gabe’s cooking was better than anything else in town,” she says. “His flavors were innovative, and he knew how to use high-end techniques in appealing ways. He really loved food.”
Bright wrote a column for EW in 2012 that highlighted Gil’s soups. She recommends this recipe of Gil’s as “perfect for the end-of-summer produce and a great way to memorialize him.” To help out with expenses, visit gofundme.com/4hjmxk8g.
Rabbit Bistro’s Watermelon Gazpacho
2 lbs assorted heirloom tomatoes
1 pint basket heirloom cherry tomatoes
1.5 lbs clean watermelon, no seeds
1 English cucumber, peeled and diced
1 red bell pepper, seeded and diced
1/2 baguette, diced
1 medium Spanish onion, sliced
2 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
1 cup dry red wine, preferably Spanish
1 cup olive oil, preferably Spanish
Salt and pepper to taste
In a large container, mix all ingredients well and press on the tomatoes and watermelon, ensuring that they release enough liquid to almost cover the mixture. Cover and place in refrigerator for at least 12 hours. Blend in a blender in batches, and pass through a fine sieve. Serve in chilled bowls. Serves approximately eight.