In a city where citizens pride themselves on being different,it’s hard to stand out from the crowd. Chef Gregory Denton manages to do just that with his take on Argentinean cuisine at OX Restaurant in Portland, Oregon. To open his second restaurant, Denton and his wife, Chef Gabrielle Quiñónez Denton, combined their formidable talents and created a neighborhood spot featuring the wood-fired grilling traditions of Argentina. Both the vibe of the restaurant and the menu are designed to appeal to residents of the Pacific Northwest, or as the menu says, “Argentinean-inspired Portland food.”
The Road to Culinary Fame
Among his many accolades, Denton has been a nominee for Best Chef from the James Beard Foundation, and OX made the Top 50 Best New Restaurants list from “Bon Appétit.” Other accomplishments of note include:
- Best New BBQ and Grill Masters, Food & Wine
- 2012 Portland Restaurant of the Year, Eater.com
- People’s Choice Best New Chefs finalist, Food and Wine
- Best New BBQ, Travel and Leisure
- 2013 Restaurant of the Year, The Oregonian
So how does a boy from Vermont end up being famous for his Argentinean-style/Pacific Northwest cuisine? Hard work and a love of cooking are the main ingredients in Denton’s impressive career.
From the age of four Denton wanted to be a chef; by nine he was already cooking in his family’s restaurant. He was a top student at The Culinary Institute of America, and after an externship in the CIA’s Executive Dining Room, Gregory studied under Richard Blondin, a classically trained French chef. After returning home to Vermont, Denton quickly moved up the ranks at Hemingway’s Restaurant in Killington, where he became that establishment’s youngest sous chef on record.
Like many talented chefs of his generation, an interest in food and wine pairing eventually led Denton to Napa Valley, California. He worked at some of the most acclaimed eateries in Napa, including Bouchon in Yountville and Terra in Saint Helena. It was at Terra that Gregory earned the title of Chef de Cuisine; even more important, it was while working at Terra that Denton met his future wife, Gabrielle Quiñónez.
A great chef never stops learning. Denton’s desire to widen his scope and learn more about Pacific Asian cuisine took him to Maui, where he had the unusual privilege of preparing meals for His Holiness the Dali Lama. By 2009, Denton was finally ready to launch his own establishment. He chose Portland, Oregon as the home for Metrovino, where the rustic but refined menu showcased local, organic products and Denton’s spin on New American cuisine.
The ox is a work animal: it pulls the plow that tills the land where food is grown. In naming their restaurant OX, the Dentons pay homage to the humble beginnings of all great meals: the seed, the soil, and the toil. Intentionally or not, the name also pays homage to the sacrifices Gregory Denton has made along the way. His rise in the culinary world has been one made from honest labor and natural talent
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At OX, Denton’s focus is on meat: smoky, savory, and braised meat. Vegetarians will find a salad or two to enjoy, but OX is a carnivore’s heaven. From braised beef and octopus empanadas to fried oxtail and beyond, the variety of meat preparations is almost dizzying. In the tradition of Argentinean grilling, entrees are bathed with a mixture of natural drippings, lemon juice, and other seasonings as they cook. The menu features grass-fed Uruguayan beef ribeye, beef short ribs, maple-brined pork chop, house-made Charcuterie, and chorizo and morcilla sausage—both made in house. With the palate of Pacific Northwesterners in mind, OX also serves fresh local seafood like the Oregon Bay ceviche and wild-caught halibut.
The future is bright for Chef Denton. At a young age he has already accomplished what it takes many chefs a lifetime to do. Perhaps starting at the tender age of four gave him a head start. That is something to contemplate while you sit at Whey, the cocktail bar at OX, and sip on a “Things Done Changed” or a “Dirty Grandma Agnes.” Yes, Denton is doing his part to keep Portland weird—delicious, but weird.