PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Ghetto Gastro is a culinary collective of three Black men from the Bronx. In 2022 alone, the group has been featured on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, collaborated with Wolfgang Puck on the Governors Ball menu and published their own book: Black Power Kitchen.
Portlanders can learn more about Ghetto Gastro, and their newly-published work, this weekend at the Portland Book Festival. The festival is an all-day long event, but you can catch the collective in action at Saturday morning’s Food Is a Weapon panel.
The panel, which starts at 11:45 a.m. at the First Congregational United Church, will be led by Kann chef Gregory Gourdet as he talks to the men of Ghetto Gastro about food, culture and everything in between.
Ghetto Gastro was founded by Jon Gray, Pierre Serrao and Lester Walker in 2012. Although they are a culinary collective, they also look at themselves as storytellers.
“We work at the intersection of fashion, the arts and music, but we’re also very civically engaged to make sure that we’re doing things in the community for the community,” Gray said.
He and Walker knew each other from growing up in the same neighborhood in the Bronx. He met Serrao when he overheard him talking about tuna tartare one day at the gym.
But when readers open Black Power Kitchen, they shouldn’t just expect a cookbook full of recipes similar to that of tuna tartare. Readers shouldn’t expect a traditional cookbook at all, for that matter.
“Just like any other cookbook, you expect recipes, but some of the things that are atypical to what we find in the cookbook is a curation of beautiful art [and] conversations with different luminaries in the field,” Gray said. “We did a chapter dedicated to our mothers. We have sociopolitical context, contextualizing the different recipes and ideas in the outline.”
With the help of writer Osayi Endolyn, Ghetto Gastro created what people are calling a genre-bending cookbook. Since the Oct. 25 release, Black Power Kitchen has received rave reviews, including a Best Fall 2022 Cookbook ranking in Forbes.
Ghetto Gastro is grateful for the positive public recognition and opportunities to meet with their ‘heroes’ like Denzel Washington or Queen Latifah. Yet, Gray says doing work in the community is what’s most meaningful for them. He mentioned partnering with Bronx-based restaurant La Mirada to fight food insecurity as one of his beloved memories.
Along with serving the community, the collective wants to celebrate Black culture and Black food — two things that are not monolithic.
“I think people often think of Blackness as a binary subject, but there’s multitudes of Blackness,” Gray said. “We’ve had veganism and plant-based behavior in many facets of our culture for a very long time so it’s just recontextualizing and bringing some history into the light.”
In Black Power Kitchen, Gray, Serrao and Walker give knowledge behind the food, ‘break bread to build bridges’ and much more. Ghetto Gastro and their artbook have impacted many, and a lot of that is thanks to manager Courtney Carter.
Carter, born and raised in the Portland area, was a soccer athlete and business student at Oregon State University years before becoming a manager. Nearly six years ago, she left one agency to found her own consulting company: The Carter Media Group.
Carter says she started her own company to better suit her versatile clients.
“I was seeing the shifting of the narratives and the formulas because of the new emerging multi-hyphenate talent and, specifically, talents of color that just weren’t understood,” she said. “I feel very lucky and honored to be an intersectional architect [and] a translator of mission and story and manifesto.”
The manager signed Ghetto Gastro about seven years ago, and she says it has been a crazy, beautiful journey thus far.
Carter spends a lot of her time in New York and Los Angeles. According to her, Portland hadn’t been known as a foodie destination when she initially left in 2000. Now, there’s an endless list of new restaurants putting Portland’s food scene on the map. Carter, along with the men of Ghetto Gastro, will get their own taste of that this weekend.
Tickets to the collective’s panel at the Portland Book Festival are available here for $15 in advance, or $25 on the day of. There, Gray, Serrao and Walker will talk to Kann chef Gourdet about how they’re connecting food with arts, culture, music, fashion and more.