Cultured Magazine

April/May 2016

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"We remove the barriers to great food experiences," says Lester Walker, a founding member of Ghetto Gastro. "We need to meet people where they are in order to inspire them to dream about what is possible." And he would know. Before joining Jon Gray at Ghetto Gastro, the culinary collaborative he founded in 2012, Walker worked in the kitchen of Jean-Georges at Spice Market—a far cry from the formative kitchen of his youth: his mother's apartment in the Bronx. Now, Gray, Walker and Malcolm Livingston II, head pastry chef at Noma, count Microsoft, Ralph Lauren and Michèle Lamy and Rick Owens—for whom Ghetto Gastro created a Thanksgiving feast last year—among their clients. During March's Paris Fashion Week, the culinary team held one of its celebrated pop-up events, Waffles x Models, at L'Embuscade. "For us, it's is about bringing interesting food into an environment that isn't typical and enjoying the explosion as food, fashion and music worlds collide," says Gray, who turned out a suite of kitschy dishes, including malted waffles that resembled camouflage topped with fried chicken dressed with coconut lemongrass butter, bitter pineapple and a VSOP Martell maple glacé. These international pop-up events have proven to be the starting point for permanent concepts and programming back in the Bronx, where a very large- scale redevelopment project is underway. There, Gray and his partners are a crucial element of the shifting landscape. "I think a contemporary agriculture program could be a good way to reconnect people with where food comes from," says Gray. "The idea is to train the youth in our 'From the Soil to the Oil' approach. Cook with what you grow." Their local message has gotten the attention of some other noteworthy cultural game changers. Architect David Adjaye recently spent the afternoon walking around the Bronx with Gray discussing how to engage the community. "I'm so impressed with Jon and what he is trying to do," says Adjaye. "He has my team and my attention and we are working through what can be here—it can be something very magical." Lamy—wife of designer Owens and founder of Les Deux Café in Venice Beach—is in discussion about collaborating with Ghetto Gastro on a barge concept for the Mott Haven waterfront, inspired in part by the barge parties she's organized in London for Frieze and at last year's Venice Biennale. "Michèle is one of my favorite people in the world" says Gray. "We are excited to make history together." 100 culturedmag.com CULTURAL CATALYST Ghetto Gastro is beating the Bronx drum around the world, one clandestine food experience at a time. BY ELIZABETH CHASE PORTRAIT BY JOSHUA WOOD Members of Ghetto Gastro, from left: Lester Walker, Malcolm Livingston II and Jon Gray, in Paris.

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