At Pipis Kiosk, Jordan Clay, co-founder and chef, embodies the spirit of boundless creativity. Whether overseeing daily operations or crafting unexpected flavour combinations, Jordan’s passion for food and innovation shines through. With a commitment to culinary excellence, a flair for unusual pairings, and a focus on sustainability, Jordan’s culinary journey is a celebration of the joy of cooking and sharing it with others.
Wearing many hats
As one of the co-founders of contemporary Australian restaurant, Pipis Kiosk, Jordan Clay wears many hats, including overseeing the restaurant’s operations and the many other responsibilities that come with it. Jordan reflects:
“Once the co-ownership hat was on, it was like opening a can of worms. I have amazing business partners, who make excellent teammates and sounding boards. I couldn’t achieve half as much without them in my corner.”
His biggest catalyst for jumping into the risky waters of restaurant ownership centred around having creative autonomy – the freedom to develop his own space, being able to cook dishes he likes and working with co-owner and sommelier, Tom Hunter. Jordan and his head chef, Ben Parkinson, work together in the kitchen to maximise the capabilities of their restaurant space and staff resources.
Since opening Pipis Kiosk in stages in late 2020 and early 2021, Jordan and Ben have a strong baseline of dishes to draw from. That means they can now take a little longer in the research and development phase to perfect new concepts and ideas when the season changes, allowing them to be more creative and come up with new ideas. The team wants to have fun with their dishes and use common techniques – without being too dogmatic in their approach; though the restaurant is known for casual dining, Jordan wants to maintain a high level of cooking pedigree on the menu – without it being ostentatious.
The addition of the ‘Montblanc’ dessert to the menu at the start of chestnut season is an example: Featuring chestnuts as the main ingredient, it is designed to mimic the mountains of the French Alps. Jordan and his team added chocolate to it, and tucked inside it a mandarin semifreddo , since the fruit was coming into season. As it was around the time of ANZAC D ay, the biscuit recipe was turned into a fine and brittle crumb, which was used in place of a tart shell. His team is always happy to share recipes concepts or techniques used to create a particular dish when customers ask about it.
For his ideal dinner, Jordan counts George Orwell and Oprah Winfrey as his ideal guests. He would love to put on a Caribbean feast or some Indonesian treats inspired from a recent chef residency trip to Cap Karoso on the island of Sumba.
“What a fascinating life and views on life George had – many of his ideas are still relevant today. I love everything he has written, including ‘Down and out in Paris and London’.
Jordan finds Oprah inspiring for the way she has achieved so much in her life; against the challenges she has faced.
“Plus, if you’ve seen her on TV, she’s a total kook, so I think we’d have a good time and a laugh!” says Jordan.
The other person Jordan would like to hang out with is writer and director, Yorgos Lanthimos, famous for The Lobster, Killing Of A Sacred Deer and The Favourite.
“His black, dystopian comedies make me laugh, cringe, and feel unsettled all at once, which is a unique combo. Any art form that makes you feel deeply, you know it’s good.”
Early influences and inspiration
Jordan’s grandfather was big on cooking while Jordan was growing up which, he recognises, was unusual for the time. His grandfather’s love of food and preparing meals was infectious, and inspired him to start experimenting himself.
“His wife often talked about how she was the odd one out, as she boasts that she’s rarely had to cook dinner in the last 30 years!” says Jordan.
As well as his grandfather, Jordan’s style has been influenced by every restaurant he has worked at. His time in London working for Tom Aikens was very technique-driven and he learned the importance of being organised and working with precision in his cooking. Working at Les Dé serteurs in Paris taught him how to start with the end product and work back from there. Cooking in Australia for Mark Best and Matt Gemanchis at Pei Modern, Jordan learned how to have fun and take more of a playful approach with his cooking. He learned not to be so ‘showy’, and that chefs do not always need to stay within the lines or do things in a traditional way.
One of the chefs Jordan looks to for inspiration includes close friend, Sebastian Meyers, based at Planque in London, for his unique cooking style and abundance of flavour. The food at Restaurant Kadeau, in Denmark, always looks sharp and focused, and the owners have an offshoot on Bornholm Island that is opened up each summer. Headed by a fellow Canuck, Kyumin Hahn, this is one of the first spots Jordan plans to visit the next time he is in Copenhagen.
Jordan compares cooking to the components of a band.
“While the technical aspects are an important part of the cooking process, they stay in the background, maintaining the rhythm; while allowing the ingredients, personality of a restaurant and the wine to be the more glamorous instruments in the band,” he says.
After years of training and hard work, for Jordan cooking is all about joy. “I think that’s where I find myself now. I’m having a lot of fun with my cooking and taking influences from everywhere – even in facets of life that are completely unrelated to food!”
Jordan loves to experiment with combining unusual flavour pairings in his dishes. Vanilla and saffron are two strongly-flavoured, luxury ingredients that would usually be competing against each other in terms of flavour but combine beautifully in a butter sauce Jordan makes to accompany Pipis’ King George whiting. The fat from the emulsified butter harmonises the flavours, with the grilled skin adding another contrast.
Another example is an eggplant dish on Pipis menu, cooked similarly to classic Japanese side dish Nasu Dengaku. The sauce that brings it together is created by cooking down onions and adding yoghurt whey at the end to bring a fresh, lactic acidity to balance the powerful flavours of the dish.
Despite the unusual combinations, Jordan has a common favourite for his last meal on death row – an Italian-style feast and, for his second choice – a pizza pie: a capricciosa with pineapple and quality ham – a dish he has seen created at Figlia in Brunswick East.
Jordan knows every chef has their fair share of mistakes in their career. He remembers a time when, after finishing his apprenticeship, he was working on the garnish on the fish section in a kitchen with strict procedures. Two of the chefs had recently been fired for not following through on one of the processes. For his section, there was a zucchini puree on the menu and, on that particular day, Jordan had put too much salt in the stock. Rather than start again, Jordan figured he could bring the salinity down by adding some broccoli puree from another dish. While feeling terrified, Jordan remained hopeful that he might just get away with it. However, he later heard his chef’s booming voice shout from the pass:
“Come here!” Jordan heard someone call him and he knew he’d been busted. The chef explained that broccoli and zucchini were flavours from two very different dishes, and these served opposite purposes on the tasting menu. He told Jordan that if he didn’t fix the problem before the first tables had their zucchini dish (second course), he would be out of a job.
As it was nearly 6pm, Jordan had 20-30 minutes to rectify the mistake. Racing out the back door to get the ingredients locally, Jordan returned and got to work preparing both purées, chopping the vegetables extra small, so that they would cook quickly. The kitchen was directly next to the dining area and, when full, it was expected that there be complete silence during service – dropping a tweezer or closing a fridge door would warrant a disapproving look, channelling those Ralph Fiennes vibes in ‘The Menu’.
As the restaurant was filled with customers by then, Jordan was faced with a new dilemma of blending his ingredients. He hammered the liquid into the blender, drawing a look from the chef that said ‘you know the rules’, Jordan simply shrugged and said: “sorry chef”, before ripping the blender on full blast. Behind the chef’s frosty stare, Jordan could make out the faintest grin, twitching at the sides of his lips. Jordan received another firm talking to after service that night – but miraculously managed to keep his job.
Jordan would like to see the restaurant industry make big leaps in progressing with reducing wastage, including plastic, food scraps and water. It’s being seen locally and abroad – changes are happening – but it will take some time for it to happen across the board. Jordan would love to be a fly on the wall at the restaurant, Silo, in London. He is intrigued to find out the changes that have taken place that have given it success as a more sustainable, less wasteful restaurant model, with the most creative chefs making use of food scraps.
When it comes to local haunts, Jordan looks to Dave Verheul at Embla for inspiration for its intellectual, yet tasty menu.
For the love of the job
Jordan loves the repetitive and performative elements of professional cooking, as he finds it very regimented, whilst having the freedom of creativity. For Jordan, each service is like a performance.
“…It’s like chasing the illusive mirage of perfection, when you’re making a tart or filleting a fish,” says Jordan. “Lately, I’ve been sharing this mentality with other chefs in my team.”
Jordan loves seeing his staff develop over time, honing their craft after teaching them techniques. With the changing seasons come new dishes and it is this constant state of flux and adaptation that keeps things fresh and engaging.
“That conviviality of cooking that you find in restaurants is unique to our industry. You’ve prepared something for someone to consume, it’s ephemeral and hopefully if you have done your job right, delicious.”