Calling itself “a culinary collective and cultural movement,” Bronx-based Ghetto Gastro is challenging the perception of “fine dining,” one gastronomic experience at a time. Founded in 2012 by Jon Gray, Lester Walker, Malcolm Livingston II, and later joined by Pierre Serrao, the group brings entrepreneurial ambition and serious experience in the kitchens of Noma, Per Se, among others. Friday night dinners for friends led to full-concept catering gigs during Paris fashion week and Art Basel Miami Beach. When not traveling to Japan or France’s Cognac region, the collective is prepping to launch a food-focused initiative in the Bronx. This week at Sotheby’s, Ghetto Gastro will create a menu for a VIP dinner that takes inspiration directly from works in upcoming Impressionist & Modern Art and Contemporary Art Evening sales. “We’re inspired by the artists, their history, and the processes that inform their work,” says Jon Gray, who talked with us about sofrito, the collective’s greatest moment and more.
How does the Collective approach a specific project, what goes into the creative process? Does it start with a concept, ingredients, or a specific inspiration?
We approach each commission differently. As a rule, we make sure that we can express our ideas in a way that’s refreshing or boundary breaking. Some of the determining factors are the location, season, the goals a partner might have, but most importantly, our mood.
Each dish for Sotheby’s references an artist. The Jean-Michel Basquiat-inspired dish includes peas, pistachio and sofrito. How do those ingredients connect to Basquiat?
We landed on using sofrito as an element in the “Basquiat Box” because it pays homage to his Afro-Latinx heritage. Jean Michel’s mother was Puerto Rican, so we’re reinterpreting Caribbean flavors and techniques in some non-conventional ways.
Is art part of your lives beyond the kitchen?
Our closest friends are visual artists and designers who work across a plethora of disciplines. The key for us is to stay curious and to engage in a critical conversation that inspires us to bend genres and break barriers.
Which artists, galleries or museums have been in the Ghetto Gastro consciousness recently?
So many to name, so I’ll just rattle off a list: Lynette Yiadom Boakye, Arthur Jafa, Adrian Piper, Hank Willis Thomas, Wilfredo Lam, Hugo McCloud, Kara Walker, Joshua Woods, Lorna Simpson, Tom Sachs, Carrie Mae Weems, Kennedy Yanko, Amy Sherald, Wangechi Mutu, Derrick Adams, Alex Bell, Josa Parla and Toyin Ojih Odutola.
On an institutional level: the Underground Museum, The New Museum’s Ideas City platform, Joeonna Bellorado-Samuels and her We Buy Gold project in Bed-Stuy, and the Serpentine Gallery in London.
What does Ghetto Gastro consider its greatest achievement thus far?
This March we really turned it up with [fashion and accessories label] Ambush Design in Japan. We have deep admiration for Japanese culture and the cuisine, so it was dope that they loved what we created. We tend not to look back. Our next one will always be our best one.
What does the collective envision for the future?
We’re excited to find the right space to launch our Idea Kitchen in the Bronx. Testing methods in which architecture + design, arts + cultural programming, and new media production can interface with each other in a spatial context. Stretching the idea of food as a thing you eat, we’re looking forward to flooding the block with food for thought.
LEAD IMAGE: JON GRAY AND MALCOLM LIVINGSTON II. ALL IMAGES COURTESY GHETTO GASTRO.