Accolades aren’t what motivates Chicago-based chef Brian Jupiter. But the executive chef of two of the Windy City’s hottest restaurants does have plenty of proof to attest to his culinary prowess, including being named 2022 champion of the Food Network TV show “Chopped,” three Michelin Bib Gourmand and two James Beard Awards Best Chef Midwest nominations.
What keeps the New Orleans-born chef inspired is the simple belief that sharing knowledge and providing access is essential for Black culinary talent to flourish. “I’m a firm believer in opportunity. And opportunity is what separates us from a lot of other people,” observes Jupiter, who’s popularly referred to by his kitchen teams as “Chef Jup.”
“When you have a talent, a gift, and you’re able to share that gift with others in a mentoring or teaching capacity, I think that’s very rewarding.”
An Early Start in the Kitchen
Jupiter’s love of cooking was cultivated by times spent in his grandmother’s kitchen seeing, smelling and eating food. “My grandmother actually encouraged me to pursue culinary as a career,” he shares. “When I was around 12 or 13 years old, my grandmother took me to a cooking class in New Orleans. It was one of those touristy spots—where you learn to make gumbo and bread pudding—but it was my first interaction with a real chef, and so that really stuck with me.”
It wasn’t long after Jupiter found himself working in a professional kitchen, at the age of 15, as a fry cook at New Orleans’ iconic Aurora Steakhouse. And it was there he learned to navigate the kitchen scene with the help of a Black cook named Brandon. “Brandon took me under his wing. He worked the grill station, and he was someone I looked up,” he recalls fondly. “Brandon wasn’t trying to be a ‘chef.’ He was a cook, a really good cook. He taught me that it is a tough industry, but if you focus, you can be successful.”
Each One Teach One
Today, in his dual role as executive chef in Chicago at Frontier (a whole animal and game smokehouse) and at Ina Mae Tavern & Packaged Goods (a restaurant named after his grandmother and one which specializes in southern comfort food), Jupiter pays the kindness shown to him forward by serving as a role model for young, Black talent interested in the culinary arts.
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“When you look at young Black men, in particular, we have a lot us that don’t really know what we want to do…And so, I tell my cooks all the time, cooking can take you anywhere in the world. It’s something where if you work hard towards it, then you really can set your own path,” he offers. “Cooking [as a career] also creates discipline…I feel it’s one of those life talents that’s not taught to everyone; to have a sense of pride, to be on time, to be able to work with other people.”
Chef Jup Giving Back
Jupiter shares his time and talent in different ways. One path is to work with Chicago-based organizations like Impact Culinary Training, which provides programs to young adults who eventually move on to paid internships at Chicagoland restaurants. “And we also raise a lot of money as a chef coalition. It’s called Chicago Chefs Cook, and pretty much any major, we rally up and put on events and raise tons of money that way,” details Jupiter about the nonprofit organization unifying Chicago’s culinary community to provide humanitarian relief to those in need.
For his part, and on a more personal level, Jupiter opens his kitchens—and his wisdom—to those who simply ask. “When people call me, I say ‘Yes.’ I have to be out of town to not be able to do it,” he relates about requests he sometimes gets via Direct Message on Instagram.
“I had a young man come in, he was 14 years old and he is in a Big Brother program. He had the option of going out on a boat, or he could come hang out with me in the kitchen. And so he came in, I told him about how I started working in the restaurant [at about his age], we gave him an apron and introduced him to the team. It’s good for young, Black kids to see ‘older,’ grown Black people actually working and being successful. It was a fun time,” he relates about that visit which lasted about five hours and may have planted the seed for a future culinary star.
Other requests for one-on-one time with Chef Jup are sometimes more specific, particularly when it comes to Frontier, the highly successful and popular smokehouse dining spot specializing in exotic game.
“There are some people that want to see the smoker, want to pick my brain about how much it costs and all that stuff,” notes the executive chef. “I’m not trying to educate my competition, but to me, I have a lot of faith in my creativity. It would be really hard for someone to catch up when they do try to take something I’ve shown them and put it into action.”
For Jupiter, it’s all about the appreciation of shared knowledge being passed on and built upon. “I know people who I’ve helped in the past and they’re doing well. They come back and say, ‘Hey chef, I want you to know you really helped me in that situation,’” he shares. “And that’s what it’s really all about, helping someone be a better version of themselves can only help me be a better version of myself.
For more on Chef Brian “Jup” Jupiter, follow him on Instagram @chefjup. And for more on his restaurants, please visit Frontier at thefrontierchicago.com and Ina Mae Tavern & Packaged Goods at inamaetavern.com.