Updated: Nov 17, 2022
I’ve never seen a group quite like Ghetto Gastro in the food industry, and I grew up obsessively watching the Food Network, aspiring to be a chef instead of a writer. Since 2012, Jon Gray, Lester Walker, and Pierre Serrao have been building a culinary empire. The Bronx collective are unapologetically Black, and wherever they go in the world, they show people where they come from, with pride and power.
The trio’s history together goes back well before they formed Ghetto Gastro. Gray and Walker connected over their love of food in high school, and Gray met Serrao at a gym and realized they had mutual friends. “We just clicked and we became really close friends before we even started working together,” Gray tells me. “We formed like Voltron and came together to make it pop.”
They started gaining popularity with their late-night party series, “Waffles and Models,” and realized they could expand their reach. Their weapon of choice was food. “Community is immunity, and feeding one another is a way for regeneration of life,” Walker says.
Since their inception, they’ve appeared on the TED Talk stage, collaborated with Nike on a pair of Air Jordan Low Reacts, and teamed up with Wolfgang Puck for the Oscars’ Governors Ball. Their merchandise, which also include all-black Beats by Dreheadphones and clothing collabs with Awake and Union, are just as popular as their food and parties.
Their latest venture, Black Power Kitchen, is a 304-page tome reimagining the classic cookbook, which also doubles as a manifesto. “When we approached this project we knew it needed to be multi-dimensional, because it's coming from us,” Gray says.
Multi-dimensional is an understatement when describing the group. Gray studied at the Fashion Institute of Technology, Serrao trained at the Italian Culinary Institute for Foreigners in Piemonte, and Walker won Chopped on the Food Network. Their hardcover book, emblazoned with their name shaped into a Black Power fist on the back, is an apt portrayal of all their talents combined.
The trio speaks of the book as being 10 years in the making — as much time as they have been together — but officially, they started working on it right before the pandemic. Covid lockdowns naturally affected the process: “We had time to just get to the drawing boards, be in the kitchen, testing things out, and building on those stories and all those flavors,” Serrao says.
Black Power Kitchen includes 75 mostly plant-based recipes that pay tribute to their diverse home borough in New York. They don’t just list the recipes, but explain their connection to each one. Alongside the recipes are old candid photos of the trio, interviews with creatives like A$AP Ferg and Dream Hampton, artwork from Barkley L. Hendricks and Oasa DuVerney, and educational essays on the relationship Black Americans have with food.
The book also pays homage to their mothers who are big inspirations for them. “Without them, there would be no us and without us, there'd be no Black Power Kitchen. We owe it all to them,” Serrao tells me. “It wasn't even a second thought including them in the book.”
Gray’s favorite recipe is the Black Power Waffle named after Stokely Carmichael’s “Black Power” rallying cry. Walker’s is the Stewy Newton, Ghetto Gastro’s take on the Brazilian stew feijoada, because it’s meant to bring family together. “It's all feeding the mind, body, and soul,” Walker says. “It’s getting us together, we’re sitting down, we’re breaking bread, because breaking bread is very intimate. That's something that is very keen on Ghetto Gastro and what we do.”
Serrao’s favorite is a Ghetto Gastro signature, the Triple C’s: cornbread, crab, and caviar. He emphasizes there is something for everyone in Black Power Kitchen. “It's full of amazing recipes, whether it's an appetizer, entree, a beverage, even a snack,” the chef says. “We want people to dive in and create their own experience and pick their own favorites.”
The collective’s activism goes far beyond food, clothing, and other collaborations, consistently giving back to the Black community and New York City. In 2020, they partnered with Rethink Food NYC and La Morada, an Oaxacan restaurant that’s run by undocumented migrants, feeding almost 100,000 families in the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens. A portion of proceeds from their recent partnership with Crux Kitchen — a collection of kitchen appliances — will be donated to non-profit organizations who are democratizing access to food for those in need. “We're all about building community. This isn’t new to us,” Serrao says. “We have more projects underway.”
A big goal for Ghetto Gastro in the future is to continue exploring different forms of entrepreneurism through food, and one day operate an F&B conglomerate. Currently, they’ve expanded into selling their own products like pancake and waffle mixes and sorghum syrup.
“We want to take you from breakfast to dinner. We want a big retail launch nationwide,” Gray says. “When we end up bringing a Pan African pantry in the mouth of the Global South to people's homes, that's how we create scale and have the resources to bring back to the community and to our family.”
Gray hopes that their new book will bring people a sense of joy for generations to come. “It took us 10 years to make this [and] really go back to the beginning of time with the ancestors — it's a lot of ancestral knowledge. We hope we're honoring them with this offering.”
Black Power Kitchen is available for pre-order now.
Article via Highsnobiety