“Food with roots,” is the slogan of JuneBaby, the second restaurant from Seattle chef Edouardo Jordan. It’s an appropriate phrase—at JuneBaby, Jordan serves dishes inspired by his St. Petersburg, Fla., upbringing, seasoned with French and Italian techniques, and cooked through the lens of the Pacific Northwest. “I’m telling my story [and] letting the food be about me,” he says. “I don’t want to have the same restaurant everyone else has.”
Jordan’s career began in his mother’s kitchen, where she kept him active and out of trouble by encouraging him to learn to cook for himself. A straightforward cook, Velda Jordan used resources like Joy of Cooking to teach Edouardo how to make casseroles, salads, and other quintessential American favorites. But the spirit behind his cooking came from his grandmother, Maggie Jordan, who hailed from Georgia and showed him how to unite people through food.
“She never shared recipes or techniques,” says Jordan. But through years of watching and helping, he eventually learned to make what she cooked from the hip—pies and cobblers, fried chicken and corn pudding, and even the liver and onions he hated as a kid. One of her recipes is on the JuneBaby menu—Grandma’s Pound Cake—though her version probably never saw house-made lovage ice cream.
The seamlessness with which Jordan blends his past and his formal training is what sets JuneBaby apart. After graduating from culinary school, Jordan worked at Thomas Keller’s French Laundry and Per Se, naming chefs like Corey Lee (now of Benu in San Francisco) and Jonathan Benno (formerly of Lincoln in New York City) as professional influences. French techniques, like the from-scratch consommé broth served with Momma Jordan’s Oxtails, grace Southern dishes at JuneBaby. His first restaurant—Salare—was named for the Italian word meaning “to salt,” an homage to Italian salumi culture.
“I got into Italian cooking because it was more like Southern food,” he says, noting the reverence for simple ingredient- and season-driven foods in both cuisines. In the Pacific Northwest, Jordan has found foods that bring back memories of Italy, such as Taleggio-esque Tallulah cheese from Glendale Shepherd, a soft-ripened, washed-rind sheep’s milk wedge. In fact, he treats all cheeses as secret weapons, adding them to dishes that he wants to “sing a little louder than others.”
Jordan’s cooking, however, rarely needs the volume turned up. Food writer Bethany Jean Clement describes his rise as “meteoric”; he’s earned accolades around the industry as a Food & Wine Best New Chef and a James Beard Award nominee, and JuneBaby was named one of Eater’s best new restaurants in July 2017. This sudden success has thrust him into a role that he both deserves and is a bit reluctant to take on: one of the few black chefs cooking Southern food at a nationally recognized level. “I’m a very humble person, nothing has been given to me, I’ve always had to fight harder,” he says.
Jordan’s lack of a mentor makes his fame all the more impressive. “I didn’t have voices out there that I connected to,” he says. “Being a minority, I’ve experienced the same challenges as any other young chef, but with the addition of feeling lonely in the industry.”
But any tinge of disinclination Jordan shows for his unique role is brushed away as his four-year-old son runs over in the pre-service emptiness of the restaurant. Jordan’s enormous and usually ever-present smile returns.
“He’s my distractor,” says Jordan of his son, Akil. “He [prevents me from being] a workaholic. I want to fulfill his life: interact with him, eat with him, go to the park, read books, go swimming.” He switches from serious discussion of food and race to proud parent and back with as much ease as he does between French, Italian, and Southern cuisines. For Clement, that is part of why he’s so impressive: “He’s been pointedly raising awareness about race and America…and he still finds time to talk to me about how to best cook halibut or how much he likes Popeye’s.” It’s this cross-cultural fluency that brings chicken rillettes to fried green tomatoes, sea beans to catfish and grits, and hungry Seattleites of all stripes to his restaurants.
Five Recipes by Chef Edouardo Jordan
Broiling adds a complexity of flavor to the classic salad cheese.
Flaky pastry and velvety cheese sauce provide a welcoming bed for the tender, colorful vegetables of spring.
Pickles and purslane bring the brightness of spring to this Alpine classic.
Creamy, Southern-style mac and cheese gets a boost from cured meat and camembert in this dish.
At JuneBaby, Jordan serves this dessert with an Italian plum compote, but a store-bought jam does just fine, too.
Photographed by Charity Burggraaf