Fusing food, fashion and activism, Ghetto Gastro is making an imprint on the culinary world unlike we’ve ever seen before. The collective, made of four chefs/entrepreneurs who were proudly born and bred in The Bronx, has been active on the food scene since 2012 and it seems everyone wants a taste of what they’re whippin’ up.
Jon Gray, Pierre Serrao, and Lester Walker and Malcolm Livingston II are the four creative geniuses behind the brand, and their mission is to change the thinking around dining by using classic techniques to make approachable, culturally relevant and thoughtful dishes. It’s not just about eating and being merry for these guys. They also have lofty goals for the brand that they’re consistently reaching, which includes putting an end to food insecurity and putting The Bronx on the map for having some of the best cuisine the world has to offer.
As we get ready for Thanksgiving this Thursday (Nov. 26), check out seven facts about Ghetto Gastro below.
1. Ghetto Gastro co-founder Jon Gray came up with the concept after leaving the fashion industry.
Gray was in the midst of running a denim line he started with some friends who attended the Fashion Institute of New York when the 2007-2008 financial crisis happened. He told Dazed Magazine that at the time that he simply didn’t have any outside investment to keep the business afloat. From there, he decided to pivot to food. “After some soul searching I realized food is the one thing that I really enjoy and I spend all my money on, so I might as well find a way to make it my life’s work,” he said.
Gray jokingly refers to himself as Ghetto Gastro’s resident dishwasher, but in truth, he’s part visionary/part spokesperson for the brand. A man of many hats, he said during his 2019 TED Talk that one of the brand’s missions is to challenge people’s misperceptions of the hood.
2. Prior to creating Ghetto Gastro, these chefs worked at some of the most prestigious restaurants in the world.
Lester Walker, Ghetto Gastro’s lead chef and co-founder, cut his teeth in the culinary world working at some of the most elite kitchens on the planet. He’s worked at the Michelin Star-awarded Eleven Madison Park and Per Se under world-renowned chef and restaurateur Thomas Keller. Walker even appeared on the popular Food Network competition show “Chopped” after being spotted by a casting director while working as a chef at the fancy Manhattan eatery Copia — he won his episode, too!
The collective’s pastry chef Livingston II lent his talents to upscale New York City spots like Noma, Per Se and chef Wylie Dufresne’s now-closed but revered restaurant WD-50. Serrao studied Italian cuisine and then worked at Rouge Tomate where cooked for private clients who ranged from David and Victoria Beckham to JAY-Z.
3. They teamed up with NYC-based kitchen company Crux on an exclusive cookware collaboration.
In September 2020, Ghetto Gastro teamed up with Crux to release a slate of modern kitchen gadgets. Their CruxGG TRNR Double-Rotation Waffle Maker, the first instrument to be released from the collection, sold out in less than 72 hours. The CruxGG line then released five more state-of-the-art kitchen products including an 11-function air fryer combo, a bread maker with 15 preset programs, a super-powered blender with capacitive touch, a six-slice digital air frying toaster oven, and a programmable coffeemaker with a bright red warming plate. The line is exclusively available at Williams-Sonoma, and 100% of proceeds through October 2020 were donated to Colin Kaepernick’s Know Your Rights Camp.
4. They opened their first brick and mortar location in 2018.
Ghetto Gastro opened up Labyrinth 1.1, their headquarters and first physical location, just two years ago. It serves as everything from a test kitchen to a studio for the collaborators. This 3,000 square foot warehouse is located in the Mott Haven section of The Bronx and is just one of the ways they’re accomplishing the mission of turning the borough into a respected culinary destination.
5. They’ve catered for some of the most high profile celebrities in the world.
Some of Ghetto Gastro’s celebrity clients like Diddy, Martha Stewart and Virgil Abloh to name a few. They’ve also catered corporate events for mega companies like Nike, Microsoft and Apple.
6. Ghetto Gastro prides itself on giving back.
During an appearance at Summit, Gray said his mission for Ghetto Gastro is to “become the wealthy people that the world needs.” That includes not only making a mark on the world on behalf of the Boogie Down, but also “being present in our community, maintaining a certain language, attitude, style, and avoiding code-switching despite success.” He’s also intentional about fusing politics and Black progress into anything the brand touches. “A lot of the work we do is about bringing uncomfortable topics for certain people into certain rooms. We feel it’s our duty to help people unlearn the lies we’ve been told about hierarchies and values, and other types of mental oppression.”
7. They live by the mantra that food is a weapon.
The phrase “food is a weapon” can be found all over the brand’s merch, website and signage, and it’s a phrase these four men live by. During an interview with Wired Magazine, Serrao explained that “Food [was originally] a system that’s been designed for people to be oppressed, for people to not operate at their optimum self, by feeding them foods that are full of sugars and pesticides, processed foods...by us talking about how they use food as a weapon to oppress, we use food as a weapon to arm ourselves to be ready for everything that life has to throw at us.”