Greg and Gabi Denton of Ox Restaurant in Portland pretty much live the culinary dream: they're a couple of amazing chefs, they co-own a restaurant named for the hardworking work animal, and they have co-published a cookbook called Around the Fire. Read more to learn their story in our interview.
Greg: At four years old I got an EasyBake Oven as a birthday gift. I was hooked! The next step was a job as a prep cook at the age of nine at the restaurant my dad managed called Lums. After that, all I ever wanted was to be a chef.
Gabi: I developed a love of cooking when I was in college. My roommates and I were vegetarian, and I became the one who would most often cook at home for all of us. I wasn't yet ready to commit to cooking as a profession, but that changed after I took a summer job waiting tables. I realized that I really enjoyed restaurant culture and decided to enroll in culinary school.
Greg: 31 years
Gabi: Since 1999
Greg: I love cooking for, teaching, and managing people because no day is ever the same as the last. I don't think I would be happy at a 9 to 5 style job, no matter how much it paid.
Gabi: I love how multifaceted this job is. I get to be creative and work with my hands, but then I also get to interact with guests and manage employees. And when I'm in the mood for none of those aspects of the job, I can sit down at my desk and focus on paperwork, recipe writing, and coming up with new dish ideas.
We met in 1999, working together in the pantry station at a restaurant named Terra in Napa Valley. It wasn't so much love, but rather teamwork and respect at first sight, which is almost more important in the long term.
Ox Restaurant finds inspiration in the wood-fired grilling tradition of Argentina, and with it, the culinary heritage of Spain, France and Italy. Showcasing prime local meats and fish, Ox also features seasonal produce in distinctive preparations.
The name Ox pays homage to the work animal that pulls the plow, tilling the soil and replenishing the land’s ability to produce its fruits, vegetables, and grains.
Ox is a friendly and comfortable neighborhood restaurant with an energetic vibe and creative menu designed to appeal to the palate of the Pacific Northwest.
When we met at Terra Restaurant, we both were attracted to the fire of the grill. We found the simplicity of cooking items over coals and flame very pleasing and have always wanted to share that passion.
The most memorable night at Ox was our very first night of service. Our nerves were on edge, and we were exhausted and beyond scared that people wouldn't like what we were offering. After that night we knew that we were doing something special, and we couldn't have been more excited and proud of each other.
The greatest challenge of working with your spouse is making sure you leave any issues with the day at work and not bringing them home with you.
We will sit in the car if we have to and talk about anything that may be bothering us before we walk into the house. Never going home angry has helped us stay happy and in love throughout the years, and it has also made us very forthright in our communication with each other.
Greg: Our Around the Fire cookbook is different from other grill cookbooks because it doesn't focus solely on grilled foods. While it has a very large section dedicated to the grilling of meat, fish, and vegetables, we also wanted to feature other dishes that help balance out a meal cooked over fire. By adding recipes that highlight contrasting flavors, temperatures, and cooking techniques, your palate can recover from the char and smokiness, and you can get back to enjoying more of those delicious grill flavors.
The most exciting part about creating a cookbook is the idea that you get to share what you love to do with other people, many of whom may never have even eaten at Ox.
Greg: Yes, my favorite recipe from Around the Fire is the Maple-Glazed Heirloom Carrots. I grew up in Vermont, so any chance I get to use maple syrup in a recipe I will. It is a great accompaniment to pork, chicken or lamb. It is also a really fun dish to cook for the holidays.
Gabi: My favorite dish in Around the Fire is the Grilled Bone-In, Skin-On Halibut with Toasted Garlic Lemon Oil. Cooking halibut this way turns it into such a beautifully meaty, tender, and juicy fish. And if your fishmonger won't butcher the fish for you as the recipe dictates, no worries! There's a step-by-step tutorial with photos to show you how to do it yourself.