When you think of cities known for southern cooking, you might think of Savannah, Georgia or Nashville, Tennessee. You wouldn’t think of Seattle.
But Seattle chef Edouardo Jordan is putting Seattle on the map with his southern cooking.
That wasn’t his plan.
“I had few people whispering things in my ear, like, are you sure?" he said. "Seattle? It’s so far from the south!”
Jordan was born and raised in Florida where his early food influences were his grandmother and mother. But he didn’t set out to become a chef. He majored in sports management and business administration in college. But after an internship with the Tampa Devil Rays, he decided that wasn’t the career for him. It was food that excited him. And he wanted to share that passion.
“My grandmother always had open doors, and she fed anyone that was hungry,” he said. “We had pop-up dinners that she made a little money for the church. She basically sold dinners from our house. And that was our form of entertainment, our form of hospitality. And I saw it, I experienced it, I was part of it.”
He applied for restaurant jobs, but was told he didn't have the technical skills. So he went to culinary school. He then realized he wanted to explore other foods outside of Florida and ended up in California.
With some persistence, he got an internship at the French Laundry, the altar of fine dining. That was followed by jobs in Seattle, New York, and Europe. But he returned to Seattle because he was drawn to the seasons, the region's proximity to the sea, and its emphasis on sustainability.
In 2015 Jordan opened Salare, a restaurant that tells the story of how he came to be a chef.
"It’s a taste of my culinary journey,” he said. “We use Northwest ingredients … and it’s my take on those ingredients done from a French standpoint, Italian standpoint, and my southern background.”
A year and a half after Salare, he opened JuneBaby. Here, he decided to feature foods from his childhood — his grandmother's fried chicken, chitlins, and her pound cake.
“This is my grandmother’s expression," he said. "If my grandmother was cooking back there with me, this is what the food would still look like.”
Well, almost. There might be some Northwestern touches, like adding foraged mushrooms.
Jordan realized that when it comes to fine dining, the food he grew up with was missing. Yet when you look at history, he said, the birth of American cooking started with African slaves.
“I want to educate people that we were in the kitchen,” he said. “We may not have wanted to be in the kitchen to a certain degree, but we are a very important aspect of what American food is.”
Reflecting on his culinary path, he said opening JuneBaby after Salare helped him break some stereotypes.
“If I would’ve opened a JuneBaby first, it would’ve been easy for people to stereotype my food right away and my talent as a chef," he said. "Oh yeah, black chef opened up a southern or black food restaurant.”
Jordan said he’s glad it didn’t work out that way.
“I think the path I was on helped me to express myself as a culinarian first rather than a black chef first, which I’m fine with either way.”
Update 3/15/2018 7:55 a.m.: JuneBaby in Seattle's Ravenna neighborhood is a finalist for the James Beard award for best new restaurant. This story was originally published Dec. 17, 2017.