To those who complain that nothing new or original is happening in the culture of today, let us point you directly towards Ghetto Gastro. If a collective innovating at the nexus of culinary arts, fashion, political activism, and community engagement isn't original, we're not sure what is.
Since 2012, the New York-based "Black Power Kitchen" have carved a wholly unique niche for themselves. With such culinary creations as a deconstructed apple pie addressing Black Lives Matter (titled "Black Bodies"), they have married the world of the gourmand to the world outside in a manner which is bracing. "“It’s about as American as killing black men,” said member Pierre Serrao at the time of its inception.
With innate ties to the fashion world, their aesthetic sensibilities are also translated into some pretty fire garments (this James Baldwin sweater is tragically sold out at the time of this writing), we were curious to get their take on all things style.
We caught up with Serrao and his fellow co-founder Lester Walker to hear how they, inevitably, dress like their food:
What designer would you say your food fits with the best and why? (Would love this question answered both individually and as a collective)
P (Pierre Serrao): I would say Samuel Ross, because not only is he of Bajan decent, but his brand is respected by industry professionals. Plus he has the love of the streets as well.
LES (Lester Walker): Rick Owens, because of the brutalist art and elegance.
Collectively: Rick Owens, minimal and chic, not heavily branded, and it’s more suave.
How has your personal style influenced the way you cook?
P: My personal style has helped influence my food, because as I have evolved in the kitchen, my closet has as well. All the flavors and combinations are more refined and focused.
LES: I dress like my food: it's diaspora-inspired and presented from an artistic perspective.
Do you think what you’re wearing influences what you want to eat that day?
P: Yes - Sometimes it’s a cozy sweats grilled cheese (vegan) with tomato soup energy, while other times it’s high fashion and Michelin star restaurants. No day is the same because my mood always changes, but we stay hungry and everybody eats.
LES: No question. As kings and queens in ancient African times, we wore fine fabrics while breaking bread with elaborate table capes, so it’s only right we carry on tradition while telling stories over graceful spreads of nutritional foods.
How has your diet changed since the world took a pause?
P: Honestly, my diet hasn’t really changed much. Food has always been a focal point of my day and I spent a lot of time in the kitchen before and during the pandemic.
LES: My diet has not changed because I eat plant-based foods and will continue to do so. Thankfully, I am able to maintain that same lifestyle, but am now more mindful because our world is in a pandemic and should not take advantage. I preserve foods by pickling and curing just in case drastic measures need to be taken and we need to be prepared.
How has your style changed since the world took a pause?
P: For a period, it had changed. At the height of the pandemic, we went out less, therefore keeping it cozy with my bathrobe being the main go-to look. Now the seasons are changing and we are out and about more, so the looks are like the food – layered with flavor.
LES: I would say my style is more practical and I am adapting to factoring a mask in the fits as protection for myself and others, as well as an accessory.
How is the food world looking right now? People aren’t out, but they are still eating. How are you all adapting? How can a chef or restaurant still excite the customer right now?
P: I think different parts of the food world have been affected differently. The restaurants took a big hit, and a few of our favorite places were forced to close down, including Made Nice and Uncle Boons. Our business model is more nimble, so we were able to pivot our approach back in March. We went from focusing on predominantly events, and shifted that energy into helping rebuild our community with Rethink Food and La Morada feeding the food insecure in the Bronx. I think chefs can excite others by meeting people where they are. I would like to see which chefs can offer the most fly and efficient food to go.
LES: There is a lot of food insecurity in the world right now, especially here in the Bronx, but I am doing my part through finding solutions to educate and aid others as best as possible. Cooking can excite others through interactivity and conversations.
What are you excited about going forward? What changes do you think or hope to see in the world of both food and fashion?
P: I am excited about the new administration that will take office in January. I hope to see the continual shift towards consciousness and sustainability across both disciplines. Food waste, plastics and over farming are causing serious damage to our planet and we all need to make it easier on the consumer so they are not the ones trying to figure out the best solution. If we can design and commercialize food products and clothes that have minimal impact on our planet, there is hope for a cleaner future.
LES: I am excited about becoming more engaged through interactivity. Having discussions around diaspora influenced foods and created new traditions in the homes of POC families. I hope to see more black solidarity, more connections, and greater creativity in food and fashion.
How would you respond to someone saying getting a Ghetto Gastro plate is as hard as getting a pair of Off-White™ ones?
P: That sounds about right. The food is something you can’t take with you and resell on Stock X – at least not yet.
LES: I’d say that it’s an honor to be put in the category of Off-White™ and Virgil and the good people at Louis Vuitton, but I’d have to say that it’s even more rare to get a Ghetto Gastro plate because of the one to one experiences and vibes. Off-White™, and even Ghetto Gastro merchandise, is pretty accessible as opposed to a plate composed by Pierre and/or myself.
Y'all remember the dish you made the first time you tried to impress someone on a date with your cooking?
P: Yes - It was some French toast for breakfast because the date went well, ya dig.
LES: It was shrimp pasta for me. I was about 15 or 16, so my skills were limited and I was green to the game, but my mom was out of town so it had to go down.
What are some playlist musts you need while in the kitchen?
P: The playlist curated by the homies at Soulection is always a vibe setter.
LES: I need some Feli Kuti, H.E.R., Skip Marley, Pop Smoke, Burna Boy, Roy Ayers, Sheff G, Lembrando VHOOR, BIA Cover Girl, Kamasi Washington vibes.
How do elections and social climates impact how you approach food?
P: The social climate pushes me to want to give back even more to those who are truly in need. When I see the selfishness of elected officials who are only out for self, I find the need to throw on my silk cape and fight for the people. The elections don’t change my approach, much because it’s every four years, but we definitely fed the protesters this year. We are a brand for the people.
LES: Elections and social climates impact the way I approach food tremendously because these are extremely vulnerable times politically and hunger-wise. Where I am from, it’s important to weave current affairs into my art, which is food/social sculpting. It’s more about the narrative and education behind the culinary art.