At Home With: Jon Gray, Co-Founder of Ghetto Gastro
Welcome to the McBride Sisters Collection “At Home With'' Series, where we raise our glass to individuals who inspire us, toast their outstanding accomplishments, and get acclimated in true McBride Sisters fashion - over intimate conversation and a nice glass of wine.
We are so happy to be here with you!
For those who don’t already know, Jon is a born-and-raised New Yorker who brought the flavors and style from the Bronx to the world through food, fashion, style and design.
He co-founded Ghetto Gastro, a culinary collective that uses food as a platform to spark conversation about larger issues surrounding inclusion, race, access and how food - and knowing how to cook - provides freedom and power.
Tell us, Jon. How did you get here? How did Ghetto Gastro start and what is your role in the group?
Ghetto Gastro started with friends. Just with a vision of creating a new vernacular and in the food and art space, really wanting to highlight Black Culture, flavors of the Diaspora, and the stories of the Diaspora. My role within the Ghetto Gastro… they actually call me a dishwasher and I handle the creative direction. I sit in the CEO role when it comes to executive duties.
How has the collective evolved?
We started doing parties and events, and as we've evolved, we've gotten more into publishing. We published a book called The Black Power Kitchen that we released last fall, along with more products. We just launched edible/consumable goods at Target. Toaster pastries, syrup, and pancake and waffle mix. Also a bunch of fashion, collabs and whatnot. So yeah... Went from the ephemeral to the tangible.
You have collaborated on a laundry list of unconventional projects, keeping us all on our toes. How do you approach partnerships, and do you have any favorites?
I don't have any favorites because I think each one is so different, but typically the way we approach partnerships is just from a state of curiosity, and it all happens organically. We're collaborating with people that we were friends with and that we've been fans of for years. So, it all happens organically over conversations and just vibes. We don't necessarily set out with a crazy strategy like, “we have to do these collaborations and these different spaces”, it more just happens, with friends. There's mutual respect and we think the world doesn't need more things, So if we think we can offer something of value that's not plentiful in the universe, then we move forward.
Ghetto Gastro’s first cookbook, Black Power Kitchen, was released last year including 75 recipes along with loads of cultural context and gorgeous photography. What was that process like? Would you do it again?
It was a grueling process, but it was a beautiful process, because for so long in our tenure people often thought Ghetto Gastro could be an abstract idea that goes over a lot of people's heads. So this was a chance for us to really distill what it is. We approached the book like, alright, if this is our first book or our last book, let's make sure we give them enough food for thought to really understand what we were thinking about. [With the thinking that] the book would outlive us, so just having an artifact to give to the world. So it definitely wasn’t easy.
It was probably, at the time, the hardest project we ever worked on – that got harder and harder as we kept going, because it almost felt like it was never ending. It's like you come up with the concept, you come up with the recipes, and have to get them tested. Finding all the artists and getting the artists on board. Designing the book, doing the photography, it was just a lot of grueling parts, but It's something that we're really proud of. So, it was a beautiful journey and just a reminder that the work doesn't lie. If you put in that work. Then, something good is gonna come out of it.
When you’re not disrupting the culinary world, you’re also an avid art collector. What are your most prized pieces and what’s on your wishlist?
I have a difficult time picking favorites, but the collection is definitely centered around black women and artists from the diaspora.
Whether it's a black, female identifying painter who makes the work or artist that makes work (because I have a few sculptures as well), or they're being depicted and represented by a male identifying artist.
It’s funny because I get a lot of joy from artwork and me being a custodian of these artworks is a pleasure. If I had to think of things on a wishlist, I definitely want a Wangechi Mutu piece – I love her, I love her sculptures. Her paintings are incredible too. She is just such a generational talent. Simone Leigh, Jennifer Packer, Firelei Baez, and my dear friend Lynetter Nylander. These are people that I have a deep adoration and admiration for. Those are the people on the top of my wishlist and when I get to another tax bracket, I might have a chance to make those dreams come true.
If you could put together your dream dinner party, who would have a seat at the table and what would you prepare?
My dream dinner table definitely doesn't involve me preparing food [haha]. It'll involve me eating. I think of the people I'd like to break bread with. I think for a great table, you’d want some comedians in a seat to keep it light. Chapelle would be dope. Mo’Nique, maybe to keep it spicy. The McBride sisters, of course, someone got to bring the wine! Some activists like Dream Hampton, to make sure we having, purposeful discourse. And someone like Toni Morrison.
What can we expect from you all next?
Next, we just keep building. We’re definitely interested in creating more media because I think media is so influential in how people see themselves, and see the world, and understand the possibilities. if you don't see it, sometimes it's hard to believe you could be it or achieve it.
We definitely want to showcase more of the possibilities that we feel are under expressed, and media. Also more product, more flavor. It's more flavor for you, your eyes, your ears, and for your mouth. More product expanding on a product. We're gonna keep building.
Possible to share a recipe or two with us and our community? Maybe a few favorites from the Black Power Kitchen cookbook, and which McBride Sisters Collection wines you would recommend pairing with them?
We’re big on the brunch occasion. I would do the McBride Sisters Collection Sparkling Brut Rosé and Ghetto Gastro Strawberry waffle mix, I would do the pancake and waffle mix strawberry with some berries and our spicy maple bacon or something like that. So, you got the spicy Mighty Maples syrup. Big big, waffle and rosé energy.