Lunch with: Ghetto Gastro
Over an insane spread of Isan food, at the infamous Jae Gee Fried Chicken, we get to know Pierre Serrao and Jon Gray of Ghetto Gastro, talking about what they are currently working on and where they see themselves in the future.
September 18, 2017
With new restaurant openings, celebrity chefs, and pop-ups happening left and right, there is always something new and exciting happening in the global dining scene. The latest culinary collective, Ghetto Gastro, though they have been making waves since they first started in 2012, are adding something unique to the field of food. In combination with fashion, art, music, design, and other fields the group finds interesting, the team has built an impressive resume through collaborations with Rick Owens, chef Massimo Bottura, Martha Stewart, Michèle Lamy, Hank Willis Thomas, Google, and more, and setting up shop at Miami Art Basel, Paris Fashion Week, and the Venice Biennale.
The founders and creative forces of the “multiphyphnated” movement that is Ghetto Gastro are four Bronx natives: Jon Gray, Pierre Serrao, Malcolm Livingston II, and Lester Walker. On their recent trip to Bangkok, as they explored the culinary and cultural wonders of Thailand, we had the chance to sit down with half of the team: Pierre and Jon. “You’ll always see the two of us out in the field a lot more than [Malcolm and Lester] as they both have young families. While Jon and I just pick up and move when we need to,” says Pierre, taking another bite of the somtum in front of us.
Family-style at Jae Gee Fried Chicken: seafood somtum, (famous) fried chicken with garlic, grilled pork neck, pork larb and pork neck namtok, somtum Thai
Having previously worked in fashion—and not quite finding his purpose there—Jon joined forces with some of his childhood friends, forming what we now know as Ghetto Gastro when he realized that: “If I don’t have to worry about making money, I spend my time traveling and eating.” Thus, Ghetto Gastro was born. As three chefs (Malcolm, Pierre, and Lester) and a “dishwasher” (as Jon calls himself), each gets the chance to exercise his creative desire, never limiting themselves to any particular industry, all while representing what it means to be from the Bronx. Through the context of food, Ghetto Gastro has created a platform which combines all of their interests, whether it be design, music, fashion, art, or simply working with people who they admire. “Under the Ghetto Gastro umbrella, it is very possible to do mostly anything, everything,” explains Pierre.
Ghetto Gastro: Jon, Malcolm, Lester and Pierre. Courtesy of @ghettogastro
Merging anything they are interested in into the agenda of Ghetto Gastro isn’t simply what they do professionally; it is who they are. There is no Ghetto Gastro without each of them or their interests.“At the end of the day, it’s not like we separate work and play, it’s just living,” says Jon.
By creating unique, one-off experiences specific to each project, there is no such thing as a “typical” Ghetto Gastro event or experience. “Just something that’s lit,” says Jon and laughs. “It’s always changing,” says Pierre. But what they do is so much bigger than that. It’s not just a culinary collective, it’s a movement, as the group calls it. Striving to inspire people, open eyes, educate, spread awareness, and show that anything is achievable, “We want to set examples that last!” says Jon while eating a piece of fried chicken, continuing to say: “Whatever your definition of success is, whether it be based on materials or having money or having things that cost money, we want to show that success is not necessarily about leaving the hood.”
Starting out hosting parties and “having fun with it”, the group's agenda keeps evolving: “We’re still in the early stages of building something that supports us, making our parents proud of us,” says Jon. Wanting to create their own community in their neighborhood, leading by example with one of their latest ventures and long-standing aspiration: “We’re working on acquiring property, doing a conceptual laboratory, retail shop, studio, basically a multiversal/multi-hyphenated space for people to create.”
But that is not all that they are working on, as these four highly-driven creatives always juggle multiple projects at the same time. “We have a show coming out with Spotify, we are doing something with AirBnb, and we are doing a project with NGV, a museum in Australia. We are also doing something with Martell, the cognac, in late September,” Jon explains while Pierre says, “So we’re staying busy”.
Ghetto Gastro at Michele Lamy's Barganale at the Venice Biennale 2017. Courtesy of @ghettogastro
Although they have successfully parlayed their rapid international notoriety into the opportunity to pursue numerous projects, they both believe that “[Our “made it” moment] hasn’t happened yet.” Jon continues to explain that: “We’ve definitely hit some milestones and we have checked some things off the board but I don’t think that we’ll ever have that ‘we’ve made it’ moment. If you are striving for greatness and push boundaries, then you never get satisfied. The goal develops and goes further.”
Constantly on the go, seeking out new experiences, and learning new things, the pair hasn’t had time to really reflect upon the future beyond the current projects and collaborations that are already lined up. “There are so many in queue that we want to knock out that we haven’t even thought of the other [collaborations]. But NASA and doing food for space would be fun. That could be real dope,” says Jon. Whether or not they make it to space, and whatever they’re up to next, Pierre explains that, “We’ll be doing a lot but Ghetto Gastro is for life!”, says Pierre.