Less than a month away from opening his second Seattle restaurant, Junebaby, chef Edouardo Jordan is wondering what copy corrections might be sent his way. This week, he unveiled the upcoming restaurant’s menu online — and with it, a digital “encyclopedia” of terms, dishes, and places that play a role in the cuisine.
Junebaby is the eagerly awaited follow up to Jordan’s acclaimed debut restaurant Salare, a 2016 Eater Best New Restaurant and one of Seattle’s essential dining destinations. The menu is unabashedly Southern, with dishes like hoecakes, pimento cheese, burgoo stew, and Hoppin’ John. The restaurant is an exploration of his heritage: The chef identifies as Southern, having growing up in St. Petersburg, Florida, and tracing his family’s lineage through Georgia.
Creating an encyclopedia just made sense to Jordan, for whom researching and cooking the foods of the South — and particularly focusing on the role of African cuisine — is as much a personal exercise as an academic and culinary one. “I’m in the Pacific Northwest, doing Southern food, so I figured a lot of people might not be familiar with the dishes, ingredients, and techniques,” he says. “I thought it was important to have an outlet for them.” Although it isn’t there yet, Jordan wants to make the online menu interactive, allowing diners to click into the encyclopedia from specific words on the menu.
Jordan is part of a growing movement to push the boundaries of menu annotation. Montreal’s Aunt Dai has a menu chock-full of “owner’s words” explanations and insights into the various dishes. And New York restaurants especially have taken to experimental menu design: Mario Batali’s newest NYC restaurant La Sirena now offers an interactive online menu with backstory and details on dishes with personal notes from chef Anthony Sasso. When David Chang opened Momofuku Nishi last year in New York, the menu had footnotes. And perhaps the most epic menu is Paul Grieco’s wine list at Terroir, which comes on lined paper, and includes information about grapes and winemakers and full-page essays.
But the Junebaby encyclopedia has breadth that few restaurants have aimed for. Jordan wrote it with director of operations Suzi An, based on research from “hundreds of cookbooks,” talking to chefs and farmers during research trips to the South, Jordan’s own personal history and knowledge, and good old-fashioned internet sleuthing. It’s by no means a final draft — and, as it is written now, doesn’t include full citations.
Earlier this year, Jordan told Eater that Junebaby would be "a history lesson, a journey; from the whole Middle Passage to the building of America, which was built on the back of African slaves, who became African-Americans,” he said. The encyclopedia is just part of the story-telling. “I want people to get excited about Southern food and have a better understanding of it,” he says. “I don’t want them coming in with stereotypes.” He sees deeper knowledge as a key to deeper enjoyment, and the encyclopedia, above all, is “built for excitement, knowledge, learning, and appreciation.”
It remains to be seen whether diners will find the encyclopedia helpful or pretentious; or, given the fraught history of Southern cooking and how contentious defining it becomes, if some might call the catalog incorrect. But Jordan is prepared to grow — and to edit. “We figured, let’s publish it right from the start,” he says. “The whole restaurant is going to be about trial and error, and correcting things and getting it right. Why not?”
Jordan is hoping to open Junebaby before the end of the month — possibly in as few as two weeks. Head to Eater Seattle for more updates on the opening.
• Junebaby [Official site]
• Plan Your Dream Meal at Junebaby With Its Food Encyclopedia [ESEA]