Edouardo Jordan's JuneBaby Named America's Best New Restaurant

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Edouardo at Junebaby.JPG

JuneBaby, on NE 65th in Laurelhurst, was named America's Best New Restaurant by the James Beard Foundation. It owner and chef, Edouardo Jordan, was also named Outstanding Chef, Northwest for his work at his other restaurant, Salare, which is all of two blocks away.

Restaurant kitchens have evolved over the years, but they still don't reflect America's racial makeup. Plenty of women these days are exec chefs, run kitchens, and own restaurants. Asians, too. But you can count on one hand the prominent African-American restaurateurs in Seattle: Daisley Gordon, Wayne Johnson, Donna Moodie, Makini Howell. Nationally, the figure is a dismal 15 percent of back-of-house employees. African-Americans are twice as likely to be dishwashers as managers. So it's a tribute to his talent, enthusiasm, and people skills that Edouardo Jordan has succeeded in opening Salare, Seattle's hottest high-profile restaurant, named as one of the top new restaurants in the entire country by Eater.com.

"The road I traveled was not easy," Jordan says, shaking his head at the unrealistic ambitions of all the young cooks he interviews. "They want $17 an hour and a three-day week. But if you're still trying to learn, you've gotta work!"

Jordan is a Florida-born African-American chef whose career has taken him from St. Petersburg to Michelin-starred kitchens in New York City (Per Se) and California (French Laundry); to Italy, for hands-on experience with cured meats; and to Seattle for stints alongside celebrity chefs like Jerry Traunfeld (The Herbfarm) and Matt Dillon (Bar Sajor).
Before dinner service begins, I find the boyish Jordan (he's actually 35) sitting in the dining room of the restaurant he converted, in a five-month flurry of low-tech shop tools, out of the the shell of a truly frightening greasy spoon called Patty's Eggnest & Turkey House. Some seventy seats, including 14 at a walnut-topped communal table and another 6 overlooking the kitchen, all adorned with ceramic votives made by artist Jill Rosenast. The walls are festooned with wooden molds for corzetti (sand-dollar pasta) and a blackboard that recites daily specials.

So what will be on offer this evening, and does it answer the question, what sort of cuisine is this? Italian (handmade pasta, house-cured charcuterie)? Southern ("dirty rice," collard greens, boudin, gumbo, sweet potato fritters)? Northwest (oysters on the half shell, king salmon, fuyu persimmon)? African (egusi, dukkah, tsire)? Well, it's all those things. But a lot of it is Italian, the country cooking that Italians themselves rever to as cucina povera: the cooking of poverty. Well, not so much poverty as make-do-with-what-you've-got. Descriptors and ingredients like Tuscan kale, Calabrian chili, cappelletti, trompetti, burrata, and peperonata make appearances on the menu, which all point toward the Mediterranean.

And indeed Jordan's experience in the northern Italian village of 8,000 people called Colorno, outside of Parma, explains where his discipline comes from. He apprenticed in a highly regarded country restaurant called Al Vedel, down the road from Colorno's grand ducal palace, which houses the world-famous Alma cooking school. Al Vedel is the sort of self-reliant place we don't see in the US; for one thing we don't have a nine-generation tradition of anything, let alone handmade pasta and the in-house, artisanal production of cured meats like culatello and prosciutto. "It's all in the seasoning," Jordan explains, repeating the words of his Italian mentors: Salare, salare!

This, of course, is how culinary cultures evolve. Edouardo Jordan, brought up in a tradition of "southern" food, with its Louisiana boudin blanc, who trained at the Cordon Bleu in Orlando, finding his feet and learning his craft at Mise en Place in Tampa, then winning a coveted spot at the French Laundry. And that month in Italy, which seems to have come at precisely the right time. He arrived in Seattle at the invitation of Mark Bodinet, alum of the French Laundry, who was by then running the kitchen at Cedarbrook Lodge. On to a stint with Jerry Traunfeld at The Herbfarm, then to Capitol Hill's Sitka & Spruce before settling in as chef de cuisine at Bar Sajor.

At Salare, he would run the kitchen with two line cooks. The menu is relatively short but requires precision, since each of the baker's dozen hot-side dishes has its own specific accompaniments and garnishes. The biggest seller is usually the duck, which gets (among other things) hedgehog mushrooms. Pasta, made in house, can be cappelletti (served with squash, endives, and cotechino sausage), or trompetti (served with gulf shrimp, kale and chili sauce). When an order for oysters comes in, Jordan moves off the line and starts shucking. If it's a pasta dish, or one of the vegetables, or the appetizer of sweet potato fritters. An early reviewer claimed to hear a lot of shouting in the kitchen, but the need for "barking" orders--so common in show-off kitchens--has all but vanished. The three chefs now just get on with it like seasoned professionals, plating and sending out one dish after another without drama.

If you're not familiar with ingredients like the Fuyu persimmon (Greek), egusi sauce (Nigerian), dukkah (Egyptian), tsire yoghurt (West African), or ancient-grain einkorn, you can order them from Salare's "Garden" menu, which takes a bold step in the direction of global and vegan-friendly food culture. (Not even Capitol Hill's vegan Plum Bistro gets this exotic.) On the other hand, no one will reproach you for ordering the silky-smooth Dungeness crab with sea urchin beurre blanc and spaghetti; or the grilled salmon with broccoli, eggplant, lemon confit, and pine nuts. Still, it's the charcuterie that shines most proudly, with a "chef's selection" of house-cured meats (garnished with pickled vegetables and cornichons): rillettes and pâtés of duck and pork; lardo, salami, coppa, boiled ham.

And now, with Junebaby, he's gone Salare one better. Eater.com dropped all pretense of neutrality to describe Jordan as one of the most accomplished and farseeing chefs cooking Southern food in America. "The two dozen dishes on his dinner menu, plus a few gems from the weekend-only lunch service, convey a scholarly breadth of the region's cuisines," wrote Eater's national restaurant critic. Jordan "...wields a bull's-eye aim between tradition and modernity -- and between homeyness and professional rigor -- infused elegantly with the flavors of his African-American heritage."

At last night's James Beard ceremony, Jordan dedicated his award to his four-year-old son. "I want you to dream big, my little star. We're making history tonight, and daddy wants you to know that if you can dream it, you can achieve it.

"The future is yours, but don't forget the past."


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