Why Edouardo Jordan is the 'It' Chef Right Now
Edouardo Jordan is it. In four short years, the chef opened three Seattle restaurants: Salare in 2015, JuneBaby in 2017, and Lucinda Grain Bar in 2018. Each is seasoned by Jordan’s extensive culinary know-how and imbued with layers of purpose.
His efforts have not gone unnoticed. In 2018, Jordan won the James Beard Foundation Best New Restaurant award for JuneBaby, as well as Best Chef: Northwest for Salare.
The result of the foundation’s May 2018 announcement was a flurry of excitement over the diversity of the winners, with Jordan leading the pack of deserving chefs of color.
“I know the significance of them,” Jordan says, but he doesn’t dwell on the awards. “If I didn't win, I would have felt it more, I think.”
Jordan realizes that the foundation’s recognition extends beyond his food, but encompasses the healthy workplace he’s built for his 60 or so employees and his role in shaping Seattle cuisine. “We’re bringing a whole different body of people to come experience what we’re doing here in Seattle,” he says.
It also means that his young restaurants—each bearing a different but equally deep portion of his soul and experience—have a chance of sticking around for many years to come.
Favorite dish growing up: Crab-stuffed shrimp
Seattle in a phrase: Most exciting new food town
Dish you can’t stop eating: JuneBaby’s pimento cheese
Act One: What he can do
Salare is Jordan’s culinary journey, bringing together everything that he’s loved to eat and cook as a student, professional, and journeyman—as much as one menu at one restaurant can.
The name, Salare, comes from his time studying cured meats in Italy, meaning to salt or cure, and those preserved elements developed in his own charcuterie program is what Jordan firsts points to as a highlight. “The restaurant's all about being sustainable and utilizing every part of vegetables, meats, and grains through an Old-World technique,” he says. Guests can order a Salumi & Charcuterie plate in small, medium, or large portions, and it includes his choice selection of meats plus pickles and mustard. Marinated Olives and a dish of Pickles and Ferments are also available as small bites.
From there, Jordan directs down the menu to his pasta program, which changes all the time but features selections such as a Lumache dish with lamb merguez, broccoli raab, leek confit, English thyme, and garlic cream to a Cavatelli pasta with squid ink, scallops, Calabrian chile, treviso, ginger, and cilantro. “We highlight ingredients that we find here in the Pacific Northwest and incorporate them into classic traditional dishes,” Jordan says. There’s no particular, signature dish that makes Salare great, he adds, as his goal is to continue to upgrade the menu to the best of the team’s ability.
There is a dish that catches one’s eye, however. Beneath the intricate bites, salads, pastas, and mains, one will find the Kid’s Dinner featuring duck confit, broccoli raab, and hummus. With Salare, Jordan wanted a neighborhood spot where families could dine together over a really good meal. His son was born around the time it opened, and Jordan wanted to offer food that he would actually feed to his child—one of his favorite people to cook for.
Act Two: Heart and soul
Two years after getting Salare up and running, Jordan felt finally ready to open JuneBaby, a restaurant named after his father’s nickname and inspired by Jordan’s Southern upbringing. “The significance and importance of that restaurant is that it came second, rather than first,” he says. “From a racial standpoint, I didn't want to become a ‘black chef.’”
As near and dear as Southern cuisine and his interpretations of such are to his heart, Jordan felt it important to first flex his culinary muscles in the differing techniques and cuisines influencing Salare. “I wanted to show the world that I was a chef,” he says. As someone focused on building complexities in his projects, he was afraid of being classified as singular.
But singular JuneBaby is not. The concept is packed with food memories inspired by time spent in the kitchen with his grandmother and mother in St. Petersburg, Florida. “We cook simple food for the most part,” he says, but the hospitality of that food and time together is what shines the brightest in Jordan’s memories. “That thought process kind of followed me throughout my life,” he says. “I always had an interest with food and entertaining people.” Ultimately, this drive to feed and entertain led him into restaurant work. After landing a job using his dual degree in sports management and business administration with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, Jordan realized food was actually his passion. He made a decision to go to culinary school, which set him on the path to work for esteemed restaurants like The French Laundry and—ultimately—to move to Seattle to open his restaurants.
With one successful, studied restaurant under his belt in Salare, Jordan was ready to tackle the long history of Southern cuisine, to educate Seattle diners about the sometimes dark origins of these dishes.
One such dish is chitlins, which are pig intestines that are either fried or braised to be made edible and are offered as a side on JuneBaby’s menu. “No one ever talks about chitlins,” he says. “I ate it as a kid and also ran away from it as a younger adult because it represented so much dark past. It became hard for me to explain.”
Chitlins are essentially slave food, Jordan says. “It was good for me to be able to put that dish on my menu with open arms, highlighting it, and exposing a lot of people to the deep history of the South through food,” he says. “When someone asks the question, ‘Where do chitlins come from?’ That opens up the door for us to have an extended conversation.”
Another impactful dish for Jordan is Momma Jordan’s Oxtails served as a main at JuneBaby with mustard greens, turnips, and king trumpet mushrooms and utilizing Jordan’s mom’s technique for the tough cut of meat.
Beyond placing these ingredients on the menu, Jordan has developed an online encyclopedia to educate, outlining the informed and sometimes personal origins of everything from the name of the restaurant to American bison, barbecue, jam, kola, Mason Dixon Line, and rye.
In general, however, Jordan says his Seattle guests have reference points for the Southern cuisine that he has broken down into breads; snacks, like his favorite Pimento Cheese with house mixed pickles and saltine crackers; starts, like Smoked Carrots with collard greens, tahini sauce, and benne seeds; mains, like the oxtails; sides, like the chitlins; and desserts like Old Fashioned Prune Cake with peach jam and cream cheese frosting. For many guests from the South, his food brings them home.
Act Three: New passions
Taking a look at Salare and JuneBaby’s menus, one might notice the strength of the restaurants’ bread and pastry programs. Salare features House Sourdough and Cougar Gold Cheddar & Chive Biscuits as bites, as well as a slew of sweets that can’t help but tempt. Think Yuzu Crème Brûlée with vanilla crème fraîche, candied ginger, and a dark chocolate green tea macaron or the Chocolate Bomb, which may seem basic by the name, but is layered with complexity in the peanut caramel, chocolate tonka bean ganache, banana mousse, and feuilletine crunch.
Similarly, JuneBaby offers breads like Antebellum Wheat Buns with honey butter and Cast Iron Flint Cornbread with sorghum molasses alongside desserts like Spiced Apple Cranberry Betty with lemon curd and vanilla bourbon ice cream.
These menu items are the work of Jordan’s long-time pastry chef Margaryta Karagodina. His third restaurant, Lucinda Grain Bar, is the result of Karagodina’s need for a central pastry kitchen located between JuneBaby and Salare.
With the room left over in this central building, Jordan decided to bring to life a bar-centric restaurant that would be an intimate and welcoming space for, say, a date night.
The focus of this endeavor? Whole, heirloom, small-batch grains.
Jordan’s first ancient grain eye-opener came with einkorn, a tiny, sweet, and nutty grain that originates from Africa. It opened the door to all kinds of applications for him, from grinding and drying it to make bread, to making risotto or a grain salad from it. Today, it’s featured as the base of a smoked trout and roasted radish grain bowl on Lucinda’s menu, as well as in an ice cream that also includes oats, red quinoa, and sorghum porridge.
Jordan’s excited by this new challenge to teach people about different grains and educate their palates. “A lot of these ancient grains aren’t the most palatable. They do have a lot of flavor, but the flavor can be aggressive. They could be mild, the texture could be chewy ... the texture could be hard like a rock.” His, but mainly Karagodina’s, challenge is to coax out those flavors and textures so they can be appreciated by guests and tell the story of sustainability.
Act Four: Passing the plate
No, there isn’t another restaurant up his sleeve right now, but Jordan is working on putting his ideas for a nonprofit or foundation together on paper. “It will definitely focus on food, nutrition, and educating people on food,” he says. Childhood hunger is certainly something he thinks about, too.
Beyond this new project that’s just beginning to brew, Jordan is taking a moment to focus on and keep fostering the personalities of the businesses he’s already built. “Everything’s been intentional and deliberate,” Jordan says of his restaurants. “It’s me doing what’s good for me, what’s good for my family, what's good for my lifestyle … doing what I actually want to do and how I want to impact people”
His biggest challenges, he admits, are time and balance. “I really enjoy being a plumber, an electrician, a counselor, and then, oh yeah, I’m a chef,” he jokes. “But, really, I love that I'm well-rounded enough that I can wear the many hats,” he says. He took a lot of time to become well-versed in all aspects of his business and encourages his staff to do the same. “We challenge our service staff to always treat their job like it’s their profession,” he says. And, from working with him, he hopes his employees come away with an understanding of what it takes to run a successful restaurant. “It may seem like I’m an overnight success to some people, but those who actually know me know that I put a lot of time before cooking and during cooking and will continue to do that after cooking,” he says.
In his success, Jordan pays what he’s learned forward, to those he mentors and to the community on a larger scale. At both Salare and JuneBaby, an addendum published at the bottom of the menu lets the diner know that a 20 percent service charge is added to every bill, with about 60 percent of that distributed to the employees working directly with guests, 15 to 20 percent distributed to the back of the house, and the remainder retained by the restaurant to provide higher wages and benefits to employees.
Jordan’s philosophy, really, can be summed up in the portion of his 2018 James Beard Award acceptance speech dedicated to his son: “Daddy wants you to know that if you can dream it, you can achieve it. The future is yours, but don’t forget to pass.”