Ghetto Gastro, made up of Jon Gray, Lester Walker, Malcolm Livingston II, and Pierre Serrao, is behind some of the most talked-about recent happenings—like the Bronx Brasserie in Paris—that seamlessly mix food, fashion, art, and design. Based in the Bronx, they are bringing their creative flavor to the world, and the world to them as well. Collaborators include Virgil Abloh, Massimo Bottura, and more. They practice what they define as “du-rag diplomacy,” refusing to edit who they are for anyone or anyplace.
They are currently cooking up an idea kitchen in their home borough that will connect community with the unexpected—experiences and projects beyond taste. Whitewall visited Ghetto Gastro to find out what’s next.
WHITEWALL: What was your original mission for Ghetto Gastro?
GHETTO GASTRO: We’re living the mission. It’s a slow grind, brick by brick. Bringing the Bronx to the world and the world to the Bronx. I spoke with my homie Ib the other day and he had a great way of distilling it: “representing for the underrepresented.”
WW: You’ve described what you do as “social sculpture.” How do you define “social sculpture’?
JON GRAY: It’s really about being an archipelago of movements. As the member of Ghetto Gastro that’s not cooking or changing matter with my hands, I enjoy using our practice to move people spiritually.
WW: How can the experience of food be a vehicle for social activism and community empowerment?
JG: We use food as a medium to express ideas. The cooking of food was a monumental technological achievement for humans. We also see the act of breaking bread as a beautiful bonding tool.
WW: What role does travel play in what you do? Both in bringing the Bronx to the world and bringing the world to the Bronx?
JG: Besides expanding the international family of folks with similar interests and values, it’s a beautiful way to sample cultures. Not sample like Costco or BJ’s on a Saturday, but in the way DJ Premier or Pete Rock might take a soul record and chop it up to create something new.
For us, this applies to more than food—it applies to all facets of life.
WW: Can you tell us about your vision for Ghetto Gastro’s idea kitchen?
GG: The reality is that we’re cooking more than food. It’s the labyrinth where we work on a plethora of projects. From product design to TED Talks. Ya dig?
WW: How are you working with Massimo Bottura to create a design-focused soup kitchen and community center?
GG: Food for Soul is a project spearheaded by Massimo, Lara, and they have Cristina Rene executive-directing it.
Before they did the first Refettorio project in Milan, they told us about the mission and the model. We fell in love, and when they’re ready to launch in New York City we’re ready to support, even though it’s going to be in Harlem [laughs]. Uptown reigns.
WW: Why has it been so important for you to keep making the choice to live in the Bronx, create in the Bronx, and invest in the Bronx?
JG: I reject the notion that I have to leave my town because I’m on the road to achieving what some people might consider success. I also enjoy coming home and people asking how my mom and grandma are doing. It gives me the sense of community.
WW: What’s inspiring each of you right now?
JG: Black women keep me thinking critically. I’ll rattle off a few (just don’t hit them up for my secrets)—Renell Medrano, Genevieve Gaignard, Lauren Halsey, Wangechi Mutu, dream hampton, Jenn Nkiru, Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, Muna Malik, Kennedy Yanko, Joeonna Bellorado-Samuels, Martine Syms, Sandra Jackson-Dumont, Cheyenne Julien, Lucia Hierro, Kimberly Drew, Courtney Blair, and Alyse Archer-Coité all keep me on my tippy-toes.
MALCOLM LIVINGSTON II: I’m inspired by our journey and our ability to connect with people through food in an unorthodox way. It’s inspiring to see us imagine possibilities and make them happen.
LESTER WALKER: Kehinde Wiley, Kerry James Marshall, Faith Ringgold, and David Adjaye bridging culture as well as my brothers from Silk City for their visorless effort with the du-rag, which when I was growing up was not only a hairstyling accessory but an identity tool for us kids—these things create interesting conversations and answer the questions of what are we doing to make change in our neighborhoods and support one another for generational wealth, all while breaking bread. Last but not least, my son is everyday inspiration to make me a better ideologist and design a landing space for him which will support his economic and financial endeavors.
PIERRE SERRAO: Continuing our mission of creating a new narrative around food and design. Building with our homies to shape our community’s views on what is important and what is art. Also my family (to be) and my Ghetto Gastro family as well, creating foundational wealth amongst ourselves to empower those around us.