Edouardo Jordan is the chef and owner of Solare Restaurant in Seattle, Washington -- a fairly new restaurant. Chef Jordan aims to share his experience of working up the kitchen ranks as a minority in fine dining environment until his experience today owning and running his very own establishment.
Can you elaborate on exactly what your experience has been like, as a minority in the food and hospitality industry?
There’s not many black owners, or chefs, especially in the fine-dining scene. It’s a rarity right now, and it’s also a struggle because I’ve never had many people that I can go to for advice that resemble my own background. I’m originally from St.Petersburg Florida and as a minority from the south, coming into the professional food scene, I wanted to explore food beyond my foundation.
Like most chefs, French and Italian cuisine became the basis of my professional development. I’d never traveled, never had major experiences in French restaurants or cooking prior to coming into the industry, so it was a whole new world to me. I began getting more training, learning more, tasting more, and understanding a cuisine that was very far fetched from what I had grown up with as a southern black man. Throughout all of this, I didn't have a lot of people I could turn to, or mentors, because I didn’t know people in the industry, no true leaders at least, that shared my background and my culture, that I could give a phone-call and ask, for example, ‘How was it for you back in the day?’ ‘What do I have to look forward to?’ That was somewhat of a struggle for me, just trying to find my path and to stay on path too, once I found it. I made it I guess...
*laughs*... I’m still getting there.
What led you to pursue a career as a chef?
I always knew I wanted to either work either in the restaurant industry or to have my own restaurant, ever since I was a little kid. I started cooking at a young age, with my grandmother and my mother, just kind of helping out, baking cakes, mixing this, turning that... I always had a passion for being in the kitchen, helping out, seeing the outcome of working with them and having happy family members praise me and my grandmother for the beautiful dishes that we made. That was always part of my lifestyle, part of my soul.
I ended up going to the University of Florida and graduated, still itching for the food industry. So I ended up deciding to go to culinary school and started taking things seriously. I’m the kind of person that once I dive into something, I really want to be the best at it, so I put that to heart and just started running. I decided that I was going to work the hardest, become the best chef that I could possibly be and to, one day, become the owner of a restaurant.
You began your culinary career with a food blog and you would have been one of the early adopters of the blogosphere which has subsequently exploded. How has the culture of food blogging changed since its earlier days?
When I graduated from the University of Florida I started a food blog, called Tampers.com. I was dabbling, still trying to learn myself. It was my initial means of getting into the restaurants community, tasting food, developing my own taste and opinions and then presenting those opinions to the general public. It didn't really work out that long for me *laughs* but it was a good start. Nowadays, we have Yelp, Facebook, Instagram and everything else, so now everyone’s a critic and everyone is instantaneously able to share their opinions. Social media has definitely shaken the food writing scene as a whole.
What would you consider to be your specialty, as a chef?
I work a lot with my southern heritage, present a lot of southern influences on my menu and I am also learning more about West African cuisine. Unfortunately, I don’t technically have access to African ingredients here, but I kind of respectfully bastardize some of the original recipes, to create my own take on the dishes of West Africa. My specialty is bringing a little bit of my own heritage into my cuisine.
Looking at my cuisine in particular, I do love making cured meats. I know everyone is into that now but I do a lot of charcuterie and a lot of salami making and I think, personally, that’s one of my biggest specialties.
I read that your philosophy is, “Don’t mess up a good ingredient”. What does this mean to you, as a chef and a lover of good food?
That philosophy kind of stems from my fine dining training, which I’ve slowly begun to distance myself from. The whole concept of über fine dining began to really upset me. It was a great foundation for who I am today, my future, and all those things that prepare you to be a great chef but the amount of waste that I saw and had to deal with, as a chef, training in fine-dining restaurants... it freaked me out. With the rise of molecular gastronomy, it kind of changed a whole other aspect of cooking.
The most important thing for me is knowing, how to cook, using traditional and classic techniques. I understand and appreciate, many of the modern methods of cooking, but I realize that it isn't for me. That’s not the way I look at food and it’s not the way my grandmother taught me to cook, so this is the direction that I’ve moved in.
As you step away from fine-dining, what are you moving towards with your cooking and your restaurant?
With my food, I just want to be in touch with my heritage. When I started cooking professionally, I kind of shamelessly turned my back to my heritage because I thought that the French cooking and cuisine was the only way to go. After training in French and Italian cuisine and learning the foundations of cooking, I realized the importance of re-embracing my heritage and bringing it back into my food, while also, still retaining and utilizing what I was taught from a professional standpoint.
I created my restaurant for my neighborhood, my family and to support a sustainable existence in the community, that the people can love and enjoy for a long time.
What value do you hope your restaurant will return back to its neighbourhood community?
Most importantly, it brings people, families and friends together. I have created a very open and welcoming restaurant without sacrificing any quality of the food.
It’s important to bring families together in a neighbourhood that’s open to embracing your restaurant, to call it there restaurant and feel comfortable coming inside, regardless of whether it’s only for a quick drink and to read the newspaper or to enjoy a really high-quality meal. I want to offer the neighbourhood a place to come and restore -- there’s nothing pretentious here at all.
People always ask me to describe my food and it’s hard to explain. It’s not really French, Italian, or Southern, I don’t know what to call it -- it’s just f*cking good food!
This interview had been edited and condensed from its original format.