Food and Drink

Ghetto Gastro Revolutionizes the Pantry Shelf

With Gastronomical, epicurean ideas-man Jon Gray brings consciousness and the Bronx to the breakfast table.

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JON GRAY IS stuck in Miami traffic. Art Basel is raging. The architect of Ghetto Gastro — a culinary collective that uses epicurean live-art happenings as a jumping-off point for social inquiry — is hustling between client meetings, art viewings, and the venue where Ghetto Gastro’s event with luxury watchmaker Audemars Piguet will be held that night. I catch him in the in-between. His voice is gravelly, quite possibly the result of being several days deep into the art-fair bacchanal. But it’s also the natural rhythm of his speech, grounded in his life story, rooted within the pavement of the Bronx.

The foundational ideas underlying the work of Ghetto Gastro are consciousness and the monumentality of Black creation. Each interaction with the collective’s work is an opportunity to spark deeper thought, and conversation around race, inclusion, and economic empowerment. But don’t get it twisted: What they do is pure celebration, designed to bring joy and nourishment to their audiences with transcontinental flavors, knowledge, and style. “Black culture is such a visual culture. The rhythm, it’s the finesse of the overall feeling, of the aura of the world that we want to create,” he tells me.

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"We consider ourselves the mouth of the Global South,” Gray says when I ask about Ghetto Gastro’s vision. “We’re rejecting the idea that [cuisine] is all Eurocentric. How do you bring in these other continents, like Asia, the Americas, Africa, and tell these culinary stories?” Their answer is a fusion of art, design, music, and gastronomy of the highest caliber, a melding of the Bronx with the world of luxury, in what he calls “social-sculpture,” referring to the ideas of German artist and theorist Joseph Beuys. Ghetto Gastro’s stated mission is to bring the Bronx to the world and the world to the Bronx. Jon Gray, a self-proclaimed facilitator, breaks through established barriers in order to build new bridges: “I know how to communicate, put teams together, and connect dots to create things that don’t exist,” he says. “That’s my gift.” Almost a decade in, it’s inarguable that the group has thrown the gilded gates of luxury wide open.

In terms of demand, visibility, and cultural influence, it’s been a stratospheric ascent for Ghetto Gastro since its inception in 2012. In addition to the Michelin-tier kitchen credentials of Gray’s partners, master chefs Lester Walker and Pierre Serrao, the group follows a creed of no code-switching and unabashed realness. Do-rags, chains, and Rick Owens draping are a part of their regular uniform — style in the service of “do-rag diplomacy.” The men of Ghetto Gastro confront their audience with confident and innovative American Blackness. Riffing on the primacy of authenticity, Gray says, “I speak with a certain vernacular, I have a certain aura, I move in a certain way, and when you’re thinking about respectability politics, I don’t subscribe to that. I think I’ve been able to be genuine and make some headway.” Their talent and their truth resonate: clients like Cartier, Microsoft, Netflix, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art continue to commission new iterations of their work.

Ghetto Gastro’s stated mission is to bring the Bronx to the world and the world to the Bronx.

The group’s relentless schedule stopped when the pandemic hit, bringing a much-needed slowdown. That gave Gray time to reflect on scalable and profitable ways to ensure the longevity of the brand. Decisions and output came quickly. By summer 2021, Gastronomical, the consumer product arm of the brand, took form. Whereas the Ghetto Gastro live experience is an effervescent, shape-shifting one available to a select few, the gastro artists are now putting their creations into boxes, ready-made for purchase.

Twenty dollars will get you one of four waffle (or pancake) mixes, dubbed Wavy. Ancestral Roots is the more traditional flavor: a mix of sorghum, rice and cassava flours, and coconut sugar. They’re all organic, plant-based, and gluten-free. The other trifecta of flavors adds layers to the base mix: hibiscus, dragon fruit, and açaí for Red Velvet; high-grade matcha for the Toasted Matcha; and 70% pure cocoa for Chocolate. Make them all at once and the Pan-African flag is on your plate. “What we do is about the value of Black food. We wanted to approach this as an anti-racist breakfast option.”


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Months before launching Wavy, Ghetto Gastro released a line of appliances made in collaboration with kitchenware brand Crux. The CruxGG line includes an aesthetically sharp coffee maker, toaster, and smokeless indoor grill, but the standouts are the waffle maker and air fryer.

Two more drops will come this March. Looking to provide alternatives to frying foods, the group devised a savory seasoning upgrade called Uptown Shake, Gastronomical’s gluten- and preservative-free version of nineties staple Shake ‘n Bake. Ingredients are single-source and can be traced to small-batch producers in the Americas, Asia, and Africa, “spices and flavors from the motherland.” The Sovereignty Syrup is a combination of sorghum, apple cider, and maple syrups, used commonly as sweeteners in the generations before processed foods. The blend is devoid of cane sugar, a decision made not only to provide an alternative to a ubiquitous and nutrient-poor option, but also to emphasize sugar’s historic connection to chattel slavery and oppression.

I note the packaging of the Wavy mixes, each a bold and graphic variation of a royal-blue-and-white check pattern. Gray tells me that it’s “inspired by the art of indigo dyeing in the Ogun State of Yorubaland,” thus “tapping into our muse to bring a contemporary take to the market and create a different aesthetic.” The visual choice connects to traditions of diasporic origins.

The making of art and its means of transcending the status quo are a constant theme in the Ghetto Gastro universe. I ask Gray about the art that fuels his imagination. “For me, it’s less about the object that’s the spawn of the creation, and more about the artist, and the practice, and the why,” he says. He mentions artist and social innovator Theaster Gates, who leverages his work to reimagine and revitalize his neighborhood and ignite opportunity on the South Side of Chicago. Another example is artist Lauren Halsey, who deploys her resources for community activation in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles. Gray views his work as a multidisciplinary and collaborative approach to building a new model of consumption and civic engagement. Success for him is “not to have to convince white men or people in power that what I care about, places and people, are worth caring about. I want to be able to build the resources within, from my work product, to be able to deploy assets as needed.”

Every move and word are intentional, infused with a mindful awareness of history, injustice, and the infinite possibilities of transformation.

Emphasizing this point, he continues: “Right now it’s about running it up so I could psych our pocket like a skyrocket and we’ll trickle, we’ll make sure we deploy the resources where they need to go.” A 5% give-back model is built into the Ghetto Gastro business strategy. A handful of organizations battling food insecurity across the U.S. are its beneficiaries. These include painter Dan Colen’s Sky High Farm, documentarian Linda Goode Bryant’s Project EATS, and Culture Aid NOLA. But charity his work is not. Gray’s operations are money-making businesses embracing the principles of conscious enterprise: a higher purpose and a pattern of socially responsible direct action. Trust, compassion, collaboration, and value-creation are necessary ingredients of the recipe, because, as he puts it, “the world needs better rich people.” The rewards that are reaped radiate outward.

Gray is a man who savors every minute, aware that each moment holds the possibility to keep his ideas moving forward. His daily rituals include a practice of expressing gratitude. While juggling time zones, projects, and initiatives, not to mention a back seat filled with “the crew,” itching to get to their destination, Gray maintains a powerfully peaceful focus. It’s the place from which he strategizes and narrates each step of his journey. Every move and word are intentional, infused with a mindful awareness of history, injustice, and the infinite possibilities of transformation. “Our thing is about nourishing the world. How can we give you some knowledge, and flavor that improves your day and improves your life? Because if we start with ourselves and then go out within the echo chamber — that’s how we create a better world.”

SHOP GHETTO GASTRO.

Where to Eat and Explore in the Bronx

Culinary collective Ghetto Gastro’s Jon Gray shares his favorite spots.

Eat

  • La Morada

    La Morada is an undocumented-family-owned and -operated restaurant in the South Bronx specializing in Oaxacan cuisine. Often sharing culture, art, and community initiatives, they actively participate in social justice causes.

  • Juices for Life

    Started a decade ago by rapper Style P of the rap group the LOX, Juices for Life began as a way to bring fresh fruit to an underserved community in a food desert.

  • Green Garden Juice Bar & Health Food Store

    Family-owned and -run, Green Garden Health Food specializes in West Indian–inspired juices, health food, and natural wellness. They’ve been in business for over 30 years.

  • Fish N’ Ting

    Jamaican restaurant Fish N’ Ting brings a taste of the Caribbean to the Bronx. Popular dishes include steamed fish with okra, carrots, and pumpkin, all cooked with traditional Caribbean spices. Pair with a rum punch or a homemade carrot juice.

  • La Morada

    La Morada is an undocumented-family-owned and -operated restaurant in the South Bronx specializing in Oaxacan cuisine. Often sharing culture, art, and community initiatives, they actively participate in social justice causes.

  • Green Garden Juice Bar & Health Food Store

    Family-owned and -run, Green Garden Health Food specializes in West Indian–inspired juices, health food, and natural wellness. They’ve been in business for over 30 years.

  • Juices for Life

    Started a decade ago by rapper Style P of the rap group the LOX, Juices for Life began as a way to bring fresh fruit to an underserved community in a food desert.

  • Fish N’ Ting

    Jamaican restaurant Fish N’ Ting brings a taste of the Caribbean to the Bronx. Popular dishes include steamed fish with okra, carrots, and pumpkin, all cooked with traditional Caribbean spices. Pair with a rum punch or a homemade carrot juice.

Explore

  • The Lit. Bar

    The Lit. Bar is an independent bookstore and wine bar opened by Bronx native and resident Noëlle Santos after the only bookstore in the borough, a Barnes & Noble, shut down. It’s currently the only accessible bookstore in the area.

  • Bronx Museum of the Arts

    A contemporary art museum, the Bronx Museum connects diverse audiences to the urban experience through its permanent collection, special exhibitions, and education programs. Exhibitions explore community-relevant themes while investigating the intersection of contemporary art and pop culture.

  • Orchard Beach (aka the Bronx Riviera)

    Created in the 1930s, the Bronx’s 1.1-mile-long sole public beach is great for a summer weekend and offers a hexagonal-block promenade, a central pavilion, snack bars, food and souvenir carts, playgrounds, picnic areas, and courts for basketball, volleyball, and handball.

  • Bruckner Mott Haven Garden

    The Bruckner Mott Haven Garden is a Bronx Land Trust community garden currently building a large communal garden with the intention of distributing all vegetables grown to the local community on a pay-what-you-can basis.

  • Wave Hill

    Wave Hill is a 28-acre estate in the Riverdale neighborhood of the Bronx full of flower gardens, an alpine house, greenhouses, and a cultural center overlooking the Hudson River.

  • The Lit. Bar

    The Lit. Bar is an independent bookstore and wine bar opened by Bronx native and resident Noëlle Santos after the only bookstore in the borough, a Barnes & Noble, shut down. It’s currently the only accessible bookstore in the area.

  • Bruckner Mott Haven Garden

    The Bruckner Mott Haven Garden is a Bronx Land Trust community garden currently building a large communal garden with the intention of distributing all vegetables grown to the local community on a pay-what-you-can basis.

  • Bronx Museum of the Arts

    A contemporary art museum, the Bronx Museum connects diverse audiences to the urban experience through its permanent collection, special exhibitions, and education programs. Exhibitions explore community-relevant themes while investigating the intersection of contemporary art and pop culture.

  • Wave Hill

    Wave Hill is a 28-acre estate in the Riverdale neighborhood of the Bronx full of flower gardens, an alpine house, greenhouses, and a cultural center overlooking the Hudson River.

  • Orchard Beach (aka the Bronx Riviera)

    Created in the 1930s, the Bronx’s 1.1-mile-long sole public beach is great for a summer weekend and offers a hexagonal-block promenade, a central pavilion, snack bars, food and souvenir carts, playgrounds, picnic areas, and courts for basketball, volleyball, and handball.

Explore More
Our Contributors

Polina Aronova-Cahn Writer

Polina Aronova-Cahn is an editor and writer who connects the interrelated dots of culture, style, and conscious living. Her work is focused on lifestyle communication, translating the tools of mindfulness and holistic well-being into approachable yet aspirational stories of deep human connection.

Myesha Evon Gardner Photographer

Myesha Evon Gardner is a photographer and art director based in Brooklyn, New York. Her work redefines themes of legacy, beauty, joy, and liberation within underrepresented communities. For her, it’s important to discover a greater truth from subjects who have been historically left out of the conversation.

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