Love Letters to My City

Ghetto Gastro Loves New York City's Unwavering Energy

Despite the pandemic, chef collective Ghetto Gastro continues to bring the Bronx to the world.

ghetto gastro new york city the bronx love letter letters thrillist chefs food
Photo: Jake Jones; Illustration: Maitane Romagosa/Thrillist
Ghetto Gastro is a Bronx-based chef collective consisting of Jon Gray, Lester Walker, Malcolm Livingston II, and Pierre Serrao. As told to Kat Thompson.

We love the energy and the connectivity of New York City. People come here to chase their dreams and make things happen. There aren’t many other cities in the world where you can have access to so many different things at the drop of a dot. The train democratizes this place. It’s so easy to transport yourself to a whole different community and energy just by taking it or hopping in a car and going 20, 30, or 40 minutes away. And when people visit and then go back to their respective homes, everybody takes a little bit of New York with them and they leave a little bit of who they are here. 

The Bronx is a slept-on borough. When you think about different art forms that have been incepted and birthed here, from hip hop to modern street art, it’s a really innovative part of the city. We’re super excited that we’re able to put the borough on our back like our tagline says, “Bring the Bronx to the world and the world to the Bronx.” When you just think about the generations of families who were born in New York, a lot of those strong foundations go back to the Bronx because the sense of family and community is incomparable to anywhere else.

Plus, New York has some of the best food out there. In the Bronx, we definitely have to shout out La Morada on Willis Avenue. They’re pushing out 700 meals a day feeding the community with help from Rethink Food NYC. We’ve also got to shout out Brother Roy’s Juice Bar on White Plains Road. Then there are homies in the city making it happen, from Atoboy to the Uncle Boon’s family and Thai Diner, the Contra and Wildair, and all the people at Oxalis in Brooklyn doing their thing. We’ve also gotta shout out JJ out in Harlem with his field trip concept out there. It’s a tight community, and we’re all just helping each other. 

Right now, like everyone else, we’re having a big transformative experience. We typically do events, but during the time of COVID-19 where convening isn’t encouraged, we’re rethinking everything. What is the Ghetto Gastro 3.0? How do we show up and serve our people and create the quality of life that’s suitable for our team? We’re still in the rebuilding phase and figuring out what that looks like, but rest assured, we’re coming back with more content. We’re tapping in with friends around the world and getting into their kitchens for our series, Gastronomical Cribs. We’re hitting the streets with some of the products that we have in the pipe. Most of us are cooking, whether it’s $3 ramen or experimental takes on vintage cookbooks. Some of us are reconnecting with natural food and eating raw food as nature intended, while others are eating curry goat, simmering soups, and ginger tea. 

We miss the lady on the corner of 138th scraping coconut ice in her cart. In a strange way, we miss the annoying tunes playing from Mister Softee trucks -- the signal that summer has arrived. We miss biking and taking the train. If we’re still in quarantine this summer, we’re going to miss watching the livest street basketball games in Dyckman Park.

But part of being a New Yorker is figuring out how to thrive. That’s one of the things about the Bronx: you kind of just have that survival DNA. The blackouts, 9/11, and these tragic circumstances bring us together and reinforce what it means to be a New Yorker. That interconnectivity sets an example for the world of what perseverance and resilience looks like. That’s the New York way.

Despite everything that’s happening right now, it’s enriching to know there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. A perfect day back in New York City looks different to all of us in our group. For Malcolm, it’s a family Sunday that begins at Kettl Tea with lunch at Atla or Superiority Burger, finished off with a date night at Uchu. Perhaps in the midst of all that, there’s a trip to explore all of the unique findings at Kalustyan’s and going uptown to do a wave with it.

For Pierre, it includes a drive down the West Side Highway, ransacking the farmer’s market, hitting up Whole Foods’ bulk section for groceries on the low, and sharing a meal with friends. Maybe there’s a stop in the lab to see what’s been left in the dehydrator, or if there’s any bonbons in the fridge or gelato in the freezer. A perfect day might be as simple as hopping on the train, giving daps to the homies, and hugs for Lester. Or maybe it’s not spent in New York at all. Jon would swing by Superiority Burger for a to-go lunch then hop on a plane to Tokyo. 

Whatever it may be, we miss you, New York, and we can’t wait to see you soon. Make sure the bread’s warm for us when we pull up to the bread box, baby. The Bronx keeps on creating it and we’re going to keep on keeping on for the benefit of the world.

Love,

Ghetto Gastro

Jon Gray
Lester Walker
Malcolm Livingston II
Pierre Serrao

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