‘I didn’t want to put fried chicken on the menu.’ Seattle’s Edouardo Jordan wins top prize | KUOW News and Information

‘I didn’t want to put fried chicken on the menu.’ Seattle’s Edouardo Jordan wins top prize

May 8, 2018

Seattle Chef Edouardo Jordan kept one item off his menu when he opened Salare in 2015.

“I didn’t want to put fried chicken on the menu,” Jordan said in the Netflix documentary series, “Ugly Delicious.”

But seeing white chefs elevate Southern food got him thinking that maybe he should.

“I’m like, what happened to Willie Mays and Leah Chase?” Jordan said. “Why aren’t they getting that same highlight as these new, up-and-coming hipster stars who have been cooking the same food that we’ve been cooking for years?”

In 2017, Jordan opened JuneBaby, where he serves fried chicken on Sundays only. It was an instant success, and on Monday, he took home the 2018 James Beard award for "Best New Restaurant" in the country. The restaurant is in Ravenna, two blocks from Salare. Jordan also won the James Beard award for "Best Chef: Northwest" for his work at Salare.

When Jordan opened Salare three years ago, he said he wanted to be seen as a chef, not a chef of color.

“It’s obvious I’m a chef of color, but respect me that I can be one of the best chefs, point blank. Not the best chef of color, but one of the best chefs,” he said.

But his Southern roots kept calling. He named the restaurant for his father.

Jordan said he cooks fried chicken on Sundays only as an homage to the past.

Edouardo Jordan makes a beet salad on Wednesday December 6, 2017, at JuneBaby in Seattle.
Credit KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

“The roots of it start with West African slaves coming over and cooking it with palm oil over an open fire,” he said in the documentary. “It didn’t happen every day. These franchise restaurants make us assume that fried chicken can be enjoyed every day, and it shouldn’t be.”

Not that he’s trying to be an activist or teacher for Southern cooking – he’s trying to live up to the tradition.

On his menu are pressure cooked chitterlings. JuneBaby's Facebook page explains: 

In the South, slaves were eating undesirable parts of the hog to help nourish themselves to give them strength. Our pressure cooked chitterlings are made with onions, jalapeño, pork stock, and carrots. If you haven’t tried this dish before, JuneBaby encourages you to try this dish that is very historical, unique, and most importantly delicious! 

Of the boiled peanuts with Cajun seasonings, JuneBaby's Facebook post offered this historical footnote: 

In the 19th century, peanuts were grown by slaves for their own sustenance, as they were not considered worthy to grace the tables of the white Americans in the South. The cultural creativity that embodied the South's favorite ingredients such as a okra, rice, and beans, continued on with peanuts, as they were also used in many dishes and cooked in numerous ways. Here at JuneBaby we will offering boiled peanuts, that are cooked in a Newsome’s country ham broth along with Cajun seasonings. Come in and get your fingers dirty and indulge in these addicting peanuts.

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. 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.”

At JuneBaby, Salare 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.

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.”

Edouardo Jordan poses for a portrait on Wednesday December 6, 2017, at JuneBaby in Seattle.
Credit KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer