Joseph "JJ" Johnson is a James Beard-nominated chef best known for cooking the food of the African diaspora. Chef JJ was born in New York, raised in the Poconos of Pennsylvania and spent a lot of time in Harlem as a child. His signature style of transforming simple cuisine with bold flavors and unexpected ingredients was inspired by the Caribbean flavors he grew up with and cooking in the kitchen with his Puerto Rican grandmother, combined with global tastes acquired from his travels and while cooking at The Cecil and Minton's in Harlem.
Under his new restaurant group Ingrained Hospitality Concepts, Johnson leads the kitchen at Henry, a full-service restaurant inside the LIFE Hotel in Manhattan's NoMad neighborhood, where African, Asian and Caribbean flavors come together in globally influenced dishes. His second concept, which will debut in Harlem, is FIELDTRIP, a fast-casual grain restaurant that showcases heirloom rice from around the world.
What was the last thing you ate?
The last thing I ate was the purple sweet potato pie we're making at Henry with Trader Joe's banana yogurt on top.
It's your day off. What do you order for breakfast and where? (Outside of your own restaurants.)
I'm a corned beef hash guy—I order diner delivery with corned beef hash, scrambled eggs with white cheddar cheese and a berry yogurt smoothie. My wife also gets a beef sausage, egg and cheese on whole wheat bread.
Controversial question: Do you believe in brunch?
Yes—it's New York City culture! I go to Melba's on Sunday with my kids, it's our tradition. I usually get eggnog waffles and fried chicken, or their catfish and grits.
What is your 2:00 a.m. food order or favorite spot?
Lion's Head Tavern is my late night spot—it's a hole in the wall right by Columbia. I'll get a burger smash or their steak sandwich.
What is your local coffee shop and what do you order?
I'm actually not a coffee guy, my morning ritual is more about smoothies. Lately I've been going to Cool Fresh Juice Bar near my house. I always get a smoothie with peanut butter in it—it's all about the protein for me.
Where do you go when you travel to your favorite city?
I love Miami and my go-to is Faena Living Room for a proper Old Fashioned with some truffle sliders and their potato bites. I feel like James Bond when I'm there. The hotel and space have everything, it is a very cool place.
What is the "laziest" meal you put together for yourself this past week?
A cinnamon raisin bagel with cream cheese.
What is your favorite snack food and why?
Pirate's Booty because it's cheesy, buttery and just so good.
What is your guilty pleasure and why?
Oreo cookies. Do I really need to say why?
Photo by Bea da Costa.