Chefs

Chefs to Watch 2016: Edouardo Jordan, Salare, Seattle

Kate Leahy

Since opening Salare in Seattle last year, Edouardo Jordan has racked up national praise for the personal mix of European, Southern, African and Caribbean flavors in his food. It would be understandable if he let the attention go to his head, but Jordan doesn’t; he thinks about how hard he worked to get there, starting with his first kitchen job as a fry cook in Florida.

It wasn’t pretty—there was more food on the floor than on the plate—but it was eye-opening. “That was not the place I needed to be,” Jordan recalls. “I realized the only way I was going to get better was to work with people who were better than me.”

At the time, Jordan, who grew up in St. Petersburg, Fla., was attending Le Cordon Bleu in Orlando. Culinary school represented a significant shift in direction: He had a sports and business management degree from the University of Florida and had interned with the Tampa Bay Rays. Yet the internship only confirmed that he cared more about food than sports. “For me, food was what brought the family together,” he says. “And I’m talking about all the family—the cousins, the aunts, the uncles.”

An instructor, Tony Adams, saw Jordan was serious and told him to look up the country’s best restaurants. So Jordan went to the school library and opened up The French Laundry Cookbook. “It blew my mind,” he says. “That was the best of the best, and that’s where I wanted to be.”

He and his then-fiancée moved to Napa so Jordan could do a six-month apprenticeship before they later headed to Washington state, where his wife is from and where Jordan worked at The Herbfarm, north of Seattle. He later staged at a salumeria in Parma, Italy, took a job at Per Se in New York, and then helped Jonathan Benno open Lincoln Ristorante. While in New York, Jordan started working on a business plan for his own restaurant—but he and his wife knew New York wasn’t the right fit. Seattle beckoned him back.

Still, it would be a few more years before Salare opened. In Seattle, he connected with Matt Dillon of Sitka & Spruce and worked as chef de cuisine at Dillon’s Bar Sajor, a restaurant focused on wood-fired cooking. The extra time gave Jordan the opportunity to refine what he wanted out of his own place.

“I thought my restaurant was going to be an Italian-and-French blended restaurant,” he explains. But then he decided to get more personal. “I started incorporating my Southern background and the heritage foods of the South,” he says. This meant not only serving a charcuterie/salumi platter but also stocking ingredients like sorghum syrup, something his grandmother always used in place of maple syrup.

These influences come together on Salare’s menu, not only in dishes such as blistered okra served in a sweet-and-sour style with shrimp and peanuts ($12, recipe) but also in style—he wants his restaurant to be a neighborhood place and offers a kids’ menu (he and his wife have a two-year-old son).

“The restaurant is a representation of my culinary journey,” he explains. “I call it American just to be simple, but America is built upon the backs of a lot of cultures.”

Q&A with Edouardo Jordan:

What cookbook is most important to you?
Always and forever, The Joy of Cooking. It was my first cookbook. It isn’t pretentious. The recipes are tried and true. That book you can pull any recipe and put it on the menu. That’s how tried and true it is. It’s home cooking, but if you want to make a cookie, and you want to make it right, you’re going to find the recipe in that book. If you want to roast something, you can read about how to roast and then follow the instructions.

How do you find calm in your kitchen?
I run a calm kitchen. When we first opened, we had a learning curve getting all of our cooks trained, but even then I’ve always been a calm person. Even when I’m stressing, I’m trying to figure out how not to stress. We will turn on some music sometimes. The reality is, we’re cooking food—we’re not doing surgery; why should we be stressing out? My goal is to cook good and great food. We keep cool.

What’s on your cooking bucket list?
It would be so cool to cook for Oprah, Barack Obama, Spike Lee and Denzel Washington, all at the same table. These are minorities that I’ve always followed. With Obama, he became a shining light in my world for the past eight years. These individuals have done great things, and to cook for these people of color would be an honor.

When did you realize that you loved food?
Definitely as a child; at the age of 9, when my mom and grandmother were putting me in the kitchen. I was definitely really young. There were some things my mom would cook. She would make stuffed crabs with shrimp. It wasn't crazy fancy, she would bake it off in the oven, but it was something I always craved.

What meal changed how you feel about food?
My wife will hate me for saying this, [but] going to my girlfriend at the time's house. She was Jamaican, and just tasting ingredients that I was unfamiliar with, that's when I realized that there's a bigger world than the one I was eating and cooking in in Florida. It was also at college, where I also experienced all these various cultures around me. With these experiences, it became clear that there is a much bigger food world out there.

What ingredient is central to your cooking?
I love cooking with chiles, even the simple bell peppers. Chiles bring so much flavor to the dishes. For me, it's the MSG of the kitchen.

How do you describe your food?
It's a representation of my culinary journey.

If you had to describe your restaurant in one word, what would it be?
Can I use a hyphen? How about ‘neighborhood-restaurant.’ Or a ‘modern-day-mom-and-pop.’ I guess that's five words.

What would you do if you weren’t a chef?
I would be in the sports world. Sports agent, sports law, helping athletes in some way. I don't have one sports team that I live and die by, but I love the energy of the Seahawks in Seattle.

Who inspires you?
I'm terrible at following trends. I would say that no single person inspires me, but that my young cooks and the servers at the restaurant get me excited to come to work and continue to strive and make changes on the menu. They inspire me.

What do you eat and drink on your night off?
I love gin, so that's the drink of choice. For eating, it goes back to growing up. I love the one-pot wonders, the stews and braises over rice. I love pasta. I don't go out and eat anything crazy unless it's a special occasion. And I still love burgers.

If you could stage at any restaurant in the world, where would you go and why?
Because I run a restaurant now, I'm over my staging days and years. I don't think about it anymore. Any kind of staging I would do is single-subject staging, like learning how to make the perfect croissant. But it would also be a great thing for me to go to a chef summit and work alongside Frank Stitt, Thomas Keller, Rene Redzepi. That would be inspiring.

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