TOP TOQUE

South­ern cui­sine is en­joy­ing an un­prece­dented boom in Amer­ica. Jes­sica Chan finds out how Africaname­r­i­can chef Edouardo Jor­dan is shak­ing up a pre­dom­i­nantly white-dom­i­nated in­dus­try with re­fined soul food at his James Beard Award-win­ning Junebaby.

Epicure - - CONTENTS -

Edourado Jor­dan of Junebaby

Men­tion south­ern cui­sine and one would con­jure im­ages of fried chicken or mac’n’cheese. You’ll find more than th­ese fa­mil­iar sta­ples at Junebaby, Seat­tle’s – and, per­haps, Amer­ica’s – quin­tes­sen­tial ad­dress for true soul food. Salt and pep­per brisket, can­died yams and ox­tails com­ple­mented by a colour­ful ar­ray of grains pop­u­late chef-owner Edouardo Jor­dan’s menu.

“What most peo­ple know about south­ern fare barely scratches the sur­face. If you look at the Amer­ica’s his­tory on slav­ery in the south, you’d see two sides. What the slaves ate ver­sus what they served their hold­ers. The for­mer was based off fifth quar­ter parts (that no one wanted) as th­ese fatty, high-caloric prod­ucts helped them sur­vive the harsh work­ing con­di­tions. The lat­ter were high-brow with a va­ri­ety of grains and beans, leafy greens and meats. It’s more than the fomer which ev­ery­one stereo­types as un­so­phis­ti­cated and un­healthy,” ex­plains the tena­cious cham­pion of the south’s gas­tro­nomic cul­ture.

Jor­dan’s per­fect as the cui­sine’s van­guard as he grew up sur­rounded by south­ern food. Sun­day sup­pers at his grandma’s were elab­o­rate af­fairs. Up to 50 peo­ple, from sib­lings to dis­tant fam­ily mem­bers, would get together just to dig into plates of fried chitlins (small in­testines), braised ox­tails and the oc­ca­sional ex­otic ad­di­tion of snap­ping tur­tles. His food ob­ses­sion con­tin­ued even after he grad­u­ated with a dual de­gree in sports man­age­ment and busi­ness ad­min­is­tra­tion from the Univer­sity of Florida. The then 24-year-old started a blog doc­u­ment­ing his favourite eats in his home­town of St. Peters­burg as well as a cook­book of his cre­ations. “I was hap­pier eat­ing the food I made, and it struck me – I can make this as a ca­reer,” chuck­led Jor­dan.

One Le Cor­don Bleu hon­ours de­gree later, he found him­self un­der the tute­lage of Fer­rell Al­varez at Mise en Place (Tampa). This was fol­lowed by a suc­ces­sion of stints at The French Laun­dry with David Knell; Per Se with Thomas Keller; Lin­coln Ris­torante with Jonathan Benno; and, fi­nally, at Bar Sa­jor with Matt Dil­lion. Not that it was a cake­walk for him. “As a mi­nor­ity, it takes a lot more. I watched oth­ers around me get pro­mo­tions. Things were never handed to me,” the 38-year-old laments. Re­gard­less, open­ing his own restau­rant was al­ways the end goal. Mul­ti­ple loans and a suc­cess­ful Kick­starter cam­paign led to Salare, which show­cases the di­verse culi­nary cul­tures of Amer­ica, in 2015. Sub­se­quently in 2017, he launched Junebaby, a restau­rant he started sim­ply to cook the food he felt good about.

The suc­cess of the res­tau­rants aside, noth­ing pre­pared him for the 2018 James Beard Awards. Not only did Junebaby nab Best New Restau­rant, he also took home Best Chef: North­west for Salare. It was an un­prece­dented first for an African-amer­i­can and, least of all, a restau­rant fo­cused solely on south­ern cui­sine.

A ca­reer in the culi­nary arts is a tough one.

If it’s some­thing I love, I would push my­self to the limit to be the best. To start, I wanted to open my own restau­rant. So, be­ing able to work with dif­fer­ent chefs and learn­ing from them is one of the big­gest fac­tors. It helped gather the knowl­edge to

craft my own voice. The op­por­tu­nity to make some­thing for my­self – es­pe­cially as I was a mi­nor­ity – is a big one too. See­ing all the chefs who I worked with, hun­gry as young cooks and pro­gress­ing to where they are now (David Bree­den, Corey Lee and Ti­mothy Hollingswo­rth) pushes me as well.

How did Fer­rell Alverez and Thomas Keller in­flu­ence you?

I’m in­cred­i­bly grate­ful to Alverez. Very early on he saw some­thing in me. He took this in­ex­pe­ri­enced (and over-aged) culi­nary stu­dent un­der his wing. He’d tell me “this is what you need to do, what you need to read and what you think to think about food.”

Keller, on the other hand, was the kitchen know-how; he demon­strated that sense of ur­gency and per­fec­tion in the kitchen and an ap­pre­ci­a­tion for food. A to­mato is just as wor­thy as a Kobe steak. Un­der­stand­ing the need for good in­gre­di­ents is the first step to suc­cess in the in­dus­try.

How has south­ern cui­sine evolved since the days of African slaves ar­riv­ing in Amer­ica to the cur­rent era?

South­ern food is def­i­nitely be­com­ing trendy. Recipes and in­gre­di­ents are be­ing shared among chefs and home cooks. More are aware of its his­tory, sig­nif­i­cance and beauty. Most of all, they are fi­nally see­ing it for what it is – the foun­da­tion of Amer­i­can cui­sine.

We need to look pass the two or three “iconic” dishes. They’re Amer­i­can­ised. Take a good tour of the south and you’d see it’s just as vast as, say, Italy from a culi­nary stand­point. You can have a pro­sciutto-like ham over in Ken­tucky, and a sweet, smoky slice as you move into Vir­ginia. The same goes for the soups and braised dishes. The base is the same, but, you know, some tweaks here and there de­pend­ing on what’s avail­able. It changes from state to state, county to county, grandma to grandma. It’s a rep­re­sen­ta­tion – al­most – of the jour­ney of African slaves, first ar­riv­ing on the east coast and mov­ing to­wards the west coast.

At Junebaby, I want to show what south­ern food can be. I al­ways say my menu is my in­ter­pre­ta­tion of what a grandma would’ve made if she went to culi­nary school. I am tak­ing my fam­ily’s recipes and thought pro­cesses, so I don’t lose the heart and soul of the dishes. There won’t be froufrou things like an ox­tail ter­rine or dumpling. My mom would braise her ox­tail and serve it on the bone, with all the veg­eta­bles and rice – and that’s how I do it. The same goes for dishes I’ve not tried (and there are so many).

You have an en­cy­clopae­dia on Junebaby’s web­site high­light­ing a va­ri­ety of in­gre­di­ents used in south­ern fare. Were there any that shocked din­ers?

The of­f­cuts, but some of the best chefs in the world are the ones who work with trim­mings and what­nots. Any­one can do amaz­ing things with a tri-tip or pork loin, but to make hogs maw ap­petis­ing? That’s a tal­ent. I want Junebaby to be a bold state­ment on the south. I want to show the good and bad, the ugly and pretty in one restau­rant.

Then there’s mas­sive col­lec­tion of grains and legumes. Bar­ley is com­mon, but there’s also pur­ple lye beans, benne seeds and sorghum. We have a side called South­ern Rice where we fea­ture rice grains from dif­fer­ent re­gions ev­ery night. And grains of par­adise which I use for my ice creams. Th­ese sta­ples are im­por­tant. It was what the African slaves could carry on the ship to sur­vive the ar­du­ous jour­ney across the ocean.

Ul­ti­mately, I want din­ers to think. South­ern food came from a ne­ces­sity. Peo­ple had to use what­ever they could get their hands on. It’s our story on a plate.

You’ve be­come a strong voice for young culi­nar­i­ans who may feel out of place in a white-dom­i­nated in­dus­try. What is your mes­sage to the in­dus­try and the world?

A lot of chefs don’t hire black peo­ple be­cause they can’t re­late, but we shouldn’t be looked dif­fer­ently. We should be given the same op­por­tu­ni­ties. Our an­ces­tors may very well have been the ones cook­ing for the Amer­i­can fam­i­lies ages ago. As for fel­low mi­nor­ity chefs, just know that we have to put in our time. Things won’t be handed to us. If you want to be the best, you must work with the best. You’re not go­ing to learn much work­ing from a taco truck. Set goals and start achiev­ing.

Gulf shrimps with geechic grits and red sauce Ge­or­gia candy squash, clab­ber, popped sorghum and wa­ter­melon

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