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New Cafe Operator Whips Up Food For Campus Diners

Craig Jordan

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Craig Jordan grew up immersed in the food industry.

His grandmother was a cook in the Maryland governor’s mansion in the 1960s.

His mother was a store manager at a Giant in Baltimore. His stepfather worked in a bakery.

He estimates at least six relatives worked for Giant in one capacity or another.

It was no surprise to Jordan when he fell in love with cooking. Now, decades after he got his first taste of cooking in the kitchen, he is taking the passion he had as a child and his years of professional chef experience and bringing them to the Johns Hopkins University Montgomery County Campus. In September, Jordan will start to operate the café on the first floor of the Academic & Research building, serving up his southern comfort and fresh food to Osher members and JHU faculty, staff and students, in addition to the visitors who come to campus every day.

Born in northwest Baltimore, Jordan said “everybody in my family was shaped by the food business.”

His grandmother opened a neighborhood bar after working in the governor’s mansion. At her restaurant she served simple foods, such as hamburgers and soups, and did catering as well. His grandmother tried to talk him out of entering the food business because, he recalled her saying, “It was too hard and too crazy.”

But as a middle school student, Jordan cut class to watch cooking shows on television, such as Julia Child. He did the family’s cooking while his mom was at work -- and he admits to “burning the kitchen” down twice.

As he got older, he worked at Giant, too, and, his curiosity about cooking piqued. He was interested in truly understanding what happens to food as it heats, for example. Why does food brown as it cooks?

Jordan was 18 when he joined the U.S. Marines, where he focused on culinary science and entered the chef program. He said he worked on Air Force One for a little more than a year during the Reagan administration, cooking for the president, staff and press corps.

After the Marines, Jordan attended college at the New England Culinary Institute and completed a master’s degree in culinary science from Sullivan University in Kentucky. Then he worked as an executive chef for an Alaskan cruise line, based in Seattle.  He developed menus and trained culinary staff.

Most recently, Jordan worked at the CrossRoads Freedom Center, a faith-based rehabilitation and recovery center. He was the executive chef and director of culinary affairs, setting up the culinary and catering programs, training and coordinating kitchen inspections.

At a Maryland Farm to Table Day in 2012, Jordan was named “Top Farm to Table Chef” of the year.

Jordan describes his food as “a new twist on things,” with ordinary items such as chicken salad featuring a fig mayonnaise. “I like to do fun things like that with the food.” He enjoys preparing Italian food, Creole food and soul food. He also likes tinkering with Japanese spices and cooking techniques.

His ketchup, mustard, relishes and seasoning blends will be homemade.

Diners can expect to see menu items such as corned beef sandwiches, cinnamon bun pancakes, Italian pasta salad, Italian hoagies and barbecue sandwiches.

Jordan also plans to offer a variety of vegetarian and vegan options, such as crunchy tofu salads, vegan salads with kale and chick peas, and curry-spiced veggie burgers.

“I grew up a vegetarian. I hated it,” Jordan said.  “I snuck out to go to McDonald’s and Burger King every chance I got."

Jordan also will be available to cater on-campus events.

Jordan hasn’t decided on a name for the café yet, but the spot will no longer be called the Food for Thought Café. He’s thinking maybe Craig J’s, or simply Craig’s.

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