Seattle’s JuneBaby recently scooped up a coveted James Beard award for America’s Best New Restaurant, and its chef Edouardo Jordan bagged an award for best chef. We caught up with him to find out why his southern eatery is a must visit.
“It’s built on a mom and pop, classically done southern restaurant from a chef-driven standpoint,” said the southern-native on his 60-seat restaurant in Washington State. The place is affectionally named after his father, who was nicknamed ‘JuneBaby’ when growing up as a child in St Petersburg, Florida.
“It’s welcoming, family forward, it’s a fun environment. It’s everything you’d expect to experience when you are out with your friends and family, but you also get an education on southern food,” explained Jordan who not only has typical fried chicken and mac and cheese on the menu but more unusual southern dishes that often get forgotten about. “The reality is southern food goes deeper from a roots standpoint and uses ingredients that we rarely talk about or see, from various rice and peas to beans.” said Jordan. The chef has introduced adventurous plates like chitlins (pig intestines) and hog-maws (the muscular wall of the pig’s stomach), “you’ve got to trust it’s going to be good,” said Jordan. He also serves up a classic, and lesser-known, Brown Betty dessert (made from fruit and sweetened crumbs), plus a banana-pineapple spiced Hummingbird Cake. Southern sweets are “not just apple pies and peach cobbler,” said Jordan.
Some of Jordan’s favourite dishes include ox tails; “it’s a childhood favorite that my mom used to cook. She used to make hers in a crockpot, and we classically braise them at JuneBaby.” Jordan also highlights his catfish, “I love catfish, we cook it with grits and red sauce,” while the restaurant’s homemade pimento cheese “is one of the best pimento cheeses I’ve ever had,” said Jordan.
The restaurant uses hyper-localised produce and works with local farmers, who grow speciality heirloom ingredients, and Jordan has also introduced an 11-seat bar, serving proper southern tipples like moonshine, bourbons, whiskies and gin cocktails.
Trained at Le Cordon Bleu, and a former apprentice at The French Laundry (previously named the Best Restaurant in the World), the African American chef often finds himself in a white male-dominated world. Jordan hopes his success will inspire a new generation of people of color to pursue their dreams of cooking. “From a historical standpoint, African Americans are in the minority in the kitchens around America, we’ve never been highlighted for our talent. We’ve shared our recipes and our stories and a lot of that has been manipulated and changed, many of us were discouraged,” said Jordan. “All of a sudden the chef is the new rockstar, but most chefs in the country are white chefs. I’m glad people like me are being noticed and celebrated for the work that we are doing.”
Despite his newfound star status, humble chef Jordan is focused on keeping his two restaurants JuneBaby and Salare Restaurant a success. “I’m not digging for a big spotlight, all I want to do is cook. I do understand my role as a leader and an inspiration so there will be some opportunities for me to speak, but for now, I’m just focusing on my two businesses. It would be sad if one of the restaurants closed years later because of a loss of focus on what got me to where I am,” said Jordan who still gets a buzz from simply creating new dishes, “I definitely get excited. Every time.” Plain and simple, if people want good southern food they should come to JuneBaby, he urged, “there’s no subtext – it’s all about having good food and hospitality.”
Visit the JuneBaby website for more info.