Dedication and Determination
Jordan Creel did not always know he wanted to be a chef. In his early 20s, Creel worked in a few chain restaurants in Hattiesburg, where he says he grew tired of opening up bags of sauce and throwing them in the microwave. Creel wanted more, “If I’m going to do it, I might as well go somewhere and learn to cook and really do it,” says Creel. So in 2013, he applied as a line cook at Cotton Blues, which specializes in southern cuisine in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. Five years and a lot of determination later, the young cook climbed his way to top. He’s now the top chef at TripAdvisor’s number one restaurant for local cuisine in Hattiesburg.
Cotton Blues owner, Chris Ortego, says Creel is the best chef the restaurant has ever had. “One of his biggest assets is his work ethic and professionalism,” says Ortego. “From day one, he outworked his coworkers, and he eventually started outworking his chef predecessors. So, when it was time for a change in the kitchen, the whole crew knew that it was Jordan’s time.”
Thanks to crowdsourcing apps like TripAdvisor and Yelp, Ortego knows Cotton Blues has an opportunity to showcase southern cuisine. Many of their guests are people traveling to New Orleans or the beaches in Florida.
“It’s really apparent during the summertime. I think because we celebrate the southern kitchen we get an opportunity to represent the great food South Mississippi has to offer,” says Ortego.
Started From the Bottom
When Creel began at Cotton Blues in 2013, he started with what he already knew, the deep fryers. But he couldn’t sit idle.
“I had kinda made up my mind if I was going to come over here, then I was going to try to learn to cook, so I just started watching whatever I could.”
Creel observed the veterans in the kitchen. Men and women who have been working in professional kitchens for decades, but he didn’t stop there. The aspiring chef would work long hours in a hot South Mississippi kitchen, and then go home and practice some more. He immersed himself in cookbooks and experimented with different recipes.
“In a world where everyone is concerned about what the other person is doing. Jordan keeps his head down, does his job and does it well,” says Ortego.
Colleague and Cotton Blues Pastry Chef, Shaun Davis, says he isn’t sure the general public realizes how much work and effort Jordan and his crew put into each dish.
“For example, a pan-roasted chicken with carrots and mac and cheese. We get whole organic chickens in, we have to break that chicken down,” says Davis.
And Davis says the carrots are not as simple as pulling them out and putting them in a pan. “A prep cook had to take those carrots, peel them, slice them, blanch them. So it doesn’t take 30 minutes for you to get your entree.”
Davis says the mac and cheese is the same way. They had to boil the mac, chop up all the vegetables that will be mixed in, sautee them, and prep the cream mixture.
“And then you have to time it so that everything comes out right,” says Davis. “It’s pretty amazing what they pull off day after day in that kitchen.”
Keeping it local
Creel was born and raised in Oak Grove Mississippi, just a couple of miles from where Cotton Blues resides. His earliest memory of cooking goes back to when he could smell his mom’s eggplant parmesan as a child. But in hindsight, he wished he learned to cook earlier in life.
“I didn’t get a lot of exposure to food growing up there [in Oak Grove]. My mom and my grandma would cook a lot, but usually, it was the same dishes over and over again” But when it comes to the culinary choices in Hattiesburg, Creel says he loves watching the area grow.
“I like it. It seems like there are fewer chains around now. There are more places like us that do everything from scratch.”
Creel says the older he gets, the more important it is to be close to home. As for Cotton Blues owner, Chris Ortego, he loves that he has two great chefs that are homegrown in South Mississippi and know how to make some incredible southern cuisine.