Chef Joseph "JJ" Johnson, the Executive Chef of The Cecil and Minton's in Harlem, first fell in love with food in his family's kitchen, and he has become known for transforming simple cuisine with bold flavors and unexpected ingredients.
Learning at his grandmother's side while watching her make traditional Puerto Rican dishes, eating his aunt's perfect crispy fried chicken, going grocery shopping with his mom....so much went into the the preparation and planning of a family meal, but the result of sitting together to eat and enjoy made it all worth it.
Early on, these experiences instilled a passion for expressive flavors in Chef JJ as he began to follow the rhythm of the seasons. From home hearth to classical training, Chef JJ made the move to the Culinary Institute of America, giving a technical backbone to a well-laid foundation of food love.
He went on to hone his skills in some of New York’s most esteemed and demanding kitchens: Centro Vinoteca, Jane, and Tribeca Grill among them. Constantly in search of new flavors, Chef JJ also spent time in Ghana, studying West African cuisine and cooking at Villa Monticello, the country's premier boutique hotel. To put his skills to the ultimate test, he entered the food competition on Rocco DiSpirito's Dinner Party in 2011 and won the first episode.
Now, as he runs two kitchens in New York, Chef JJ is using his love of the flavors of the African diaspora and introducing them to new palates. Pulling from the Caribbean flavors he grew up with and combining them with African and Asian tastes acquired from his travels, The Cecil was Esquire Magazine's pick for the Best New Restaurant in America in 2014.
Chef JJ was recently named one of Rolling Stone magazine's ten breakthrough rock star chefs (2016). He was nominated for a James Beard Foundation award for Rising Star Chef, and he recognized by Star Chefs with the Rising Star Community Chef award (both in 2015). He was named on the "20 Under 40" list of extraordinary philanthropists by the Observer (2016). Chef Johnson was also named one of Forbes’ 30 Under 30, Zagat’s 30 under 30 and an Eater Young Gun (all in 2014), as well as recognized as Chef of the Year by New York African Restaurant Week (2015). As a member of the James Beard Foundation Impact Advisory Committee, Chef JJ is giving back to the industry that has given him so much by working to support the Foundation's commitment to establish a more sustainable food system through education, advocacy, and thought leadership.