Just about every weekend at Frontier in Chicago’s West Town, chef Brian Jupiter brings out an array of omnivore’s delights: whole-roasted wild boar, lamb marinated in-house, farm-raised pig smoked over cherrywood — even wild-caught alligator flown in from Shreveport, Louisiana, stuffed with whole chickens and served with whole sausage and shrimp jambalaya. For a select dozen or so guests, it is a feast for the senses. It invokes both curiosity and envy. If there’s a Louisiana football game on, then, Jupiter says, his restaurant becomes a different place: “It’s loud, people’s accents come out heavy — for the three hours of the game, everyone’s back home.”
Jupiter, who hails from the historic Uptown New Orleans, grew up making beloved Cajun and soul food dishes alongside his grandmother. In high school, he landed a job as a fry cook at an upscale steakhouse in New Orleans’ West Bank, where he not only survived the frantic pace of Friday night all-you-can-eat fried catfish, but also fell in love with the craft.
He studied culinary arts and restaurant management in Miami. There, Jupiter opened his eyes to the entire world of food, working in Asian restaurants in South Beach. When he returned to New Orleans one summer, he took a stint at a Mexican/Cajun restaurant called Vaquero’s. “It was really cool what they were doing to food,” he says. “That made me start thinking about what kind of food I wanted to end up doing. I knew at that point I wanted to stay true to New Orleans, but I wanted to be able to incorporate other things: not necessarily fusion, but some subtle spice notes and techniques.”
When he landed in Chicago in 2003, he moved up the ranks from one fine restaurant to another, and opened Frontier in 2011. Jupiter embraced the sense of experimentation he’d learned in New Orleans. It’s why the menu at Frontier is so hard to pinpoint (“New American,” he says, when pressed for a genre) where dry-rubbed waygu beef ribs share space with antelope cheesesteak, or ahi tuna with wasabi mayo, or a shrimp spaghetti mixed with ‘nduja, a spicy spreadable sausage from southern Italy.
Chicago has been good to Jupiter. Like Frontier’s menu, the city itself is a bit of everything, fluid and difficult to pin down: from Koreatown to the South Side, “Chicago is extremely diverse, and it’s also extremely segregated,” says Jupiter. “So much happens in each part of the city. I think it’s important to experience all of those different elements.”
So Jupiter gives back whenever he can. During past Thanksgivings, he’s prepared free meals with fellow chefs at homelessness organizations, and he teaches cooking with Chicago Public Schools. “The culinary arts are something that can take you anywhere in the world,” he says. “Whether you get formal training or not, if you apply yourself, if you develop a skill set, you can work anywhere. A lot of black kids don’t have a lot of options. Trades are being forgotten. A big mission of mine is always getting more people in the kitchen and teaching that trade.”
This past June, Jupiter opened up Ina Mae Tavern & Packaged Goods in Chicago’s Wicker Park. The atmosphere suggests a folksy country store brought up the Mississippi. Compared to Frontier, its menu of traditional Cajun dishes should be recognizable to anyone from the South. “For people who’ve been to New Orleans, it takes them back,” he says. “For people who haven’t, it fulfills the expectation of what it would be like: the look, the feel, the food, everything all together.”
Even the basics of classical Cajun is a fusion in itself. “New Orleans food is so cool because it has so many different cultures that make it up,” says Jupiter. “African, Caribbean, Italian, Spanish, French, of course — all of that hodgepodge of culture and spices and cooking styles, techniques.”
The chef’s current favorite cocktail, the Bold Fashioned, fits that character perfectly: The drink carries a unique sense of history with a twist, and it lets a NOLA-born spirit (that’s now celebrated the world over) take center stage. For Jupiter, the cocktail’s main ingredient beautifully evokes the spirit of The Big Easy. “I think the flavor of Southern Comfort is very unique — just like many things in New Orleans, whether it’s the food, music, or even the second line funerals,” Jupiter explains. “There are many spirits that can taste similar to their competitors, but Southern Comfort is in a class of its own.”
Brian’s Favorite Southern Comfort Bold Fashioned
Here’s how to make Brian’s cocktail of choice.
• 2 oz. Southern Comfort 80PF Black Label
• ½ oz. simple syrup
• 2 dashes aromatic bitters
• Orange wedge
• Maraschino cherry
• Measure all ingredients into a glass filled with ice.
• Stir and pour into a rocks glass over fresh ice.
• Garnish with an orange wedge and a cherry.
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