The Bronx-based collective employs a multidisciplinary approach to food as an act of cultural diplomacy.
Ghetto Gastro is bringing the Bronx to the world. When the Bronx-born-and-based Jon Gray co-founded Ghetto Gastro in 2012, he wondered how he could combine his two passions, travel and food. He partnered with Lester Walker, Malcolm Livingston II, and Pierre Serrao—his culinary inclined-friends from the Bronx who have collectively honed their skills under some of the biggest superstar chefs in the world’s most elite kitchens. Walker worked at Daniel Humm’s Michelin-starred Eleven Madison Park and Per Se under Thomas Keller. Livingston’s résumé also includes a stint at Per Se as well as an externship at Marcus Samuelsson’s Riingo. He learned about molecular gastronomy under Wylie Dufrense at WD-50, before heading to Copenhagen to be a part of René Redzepi’s legendary Noma. The Italian-trained Serrao worked at Rouge Tomate and with private clients ranging from David and Victoria Beckham to Jay-Z.
Although the name Ghetto Gastro may sound questionable to liberal elites, Gray addresses that concern in his recent Ted Talk: “Ghetto Gastro doesn’t run from the word ghetto and we don’t run from the ghetto. Because at the end of the day, Ghetto Gastro is about showing you what we already know: The hood is good.”
Ghetto Gastro’s multidisciplinary approach to food is an act of cultural diplomacy. While much of their work is centered in New York, they also travel to distant locales far from the Cross Bronx Expressway, like Hong Kong, Paris, and Istanbul, where they’ll cater food this September for artist José Parla’s opening with Istanbul74. Last April they transformed the Place Vendôme into a Bronx Brasserie for Cartier’s Clash de Cartier launch, decorating Jamaican patties with gold leaf and adorning cornbread with caviar and crab salad, an item they called “The Triple Cs.” Their innovative and elevated Bronx-imbued take on food has attracted clients in the worlds of fashion, art, film, design, tech, and architecture, working with or for names like Virgil Abloh and Ben Gorham, for whom they catered a cocktail party celebrating their collaboration during Paris Fashion Week; Martha Stewart, who they collaborated with during the New York City Wine & Food Festival; Marvel, for which they catered a Wakanda-themed Black Panther party; Sean Kelly Gallery, where they conceptualized the menu for a Hugo McCloud opening; as well as companies like Airbnb and Microsoft. But, despite the jet-setting lifestyle, their glamorous, moneyed clientele, and years creating food for the moneyed masses who frequent the world’s best restaurants, they remain true to their roots, proudly sporting du-rags, and have pledged to stay in the Bronx. It’s in their authenticity, charisma, and ability to deconstruct class and race through food that is the foundation of their success.
Last month, Document traveled to their former headquarters on Third Avenue in the Bronx the week they moved out of that location to get a behind-the-scenes look at their self-proclaimed “Black Power Kitchen.” We sat down with Walker, Livingston, and Serrao, who shared their famous award-winning Watermelon Granita. Click on the video to watch Serrao at work.
For the Ice
2 L- Watermelon Juice
150g (¾ cup) – Lime Juice
150g (¾ cup) – agave syrup
1. Remove the rind from watermelon and juice in a juice machine.
2. Season the juice with the lime juice and agave syrup and a pinch of salt.
3. Strain the finished juice through a fine mesh chinois.
4. Divide the liquid between shallow containers or gastro pans and freeze.
5. Once frozen scrape with a fork to form the granita.
6. Transfer the frozen scraped crystals to a clean frozen container and wrap.
7. Serve scraped ice in a cold bowl with lime zest and hibiscus powder.
Production Ann Binlot and James Emmerman. Video and direction Grayson Kohs. Editing Jacqueline Donahue. Sound Design Mooncake Audio. Sound Recordist Daniel Coleman. B Cam Operator Ryan Shaw. Music Weird Dane.