It’s hard to summarize all that is Ghetto Gastro’s new book, Black Power Kitchen—far from just a collection of recipes, it features political essays, interviews, artworks, gorgeous photography, and poetry. As chef Pierre Serrao—who wrote the book with his Ghetto Gastro co-founders Jon Gray and Lester Walker—put it simply, Black Power Kitchen is “much more than a cookbook.”
“It is a manifesto shining light with [the] intention to advance the Black community,” he said. “For us it was about deciding the most important stories and people we want to remember forever. Our goal was to enhance our storytelling by showcasing delicious recipes paired with amazing artworks and strong words.”
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For those that are new to Ghetto Gastro’s work, Serrao describes the Bronx-based collective as a group of “storytellers who are using food as a vehicle to create economic and wellness empowerment in our community.” Practically speaking, this mission translates to pop-ups, partnerships with nonprofits, collaborations with brands like Sichuan powerhouse Fly by Jing, and now, their debut book.
Just like the group itself, Black Power Kitchen dives deeply into the politics of food, whether that’s the language we use or the ingredients we choose to cook with. In doing so, readers are challenged to rethink their assumptions about even the most mundane ingredients.
Many of the recipes in Black Power Kitchen, for example, steer away from granulated white sugar in favor of alternatives like raw cane sugar, agave, date syrup, and whole fruits—even in cases where granulated sugar might be the traditional choice. That was a decision rooted in the deep connection between granulated white sugar and racial oppression and subjugation. “When we talk about how food is weaponized against communities [of] color, sugar has to be at the top of the list,” Serrao said. “When this subsidized commodity makes buying oranges and greens unaffordable, something is deeply wrong.” As Serrao, Gray, and Walker noted in the book, “[sugar’s] painful history as a product that the African enslaved grew and processed is haunting. Their labor made sugar a global commodity.”
However, rather than inhibiting their creative processes, Serrao said that the decision to use alternative sweeteners “challenged us to learn and develop our recipes in a different manner.” Similarly, while not an entirely vegan or vegetarian cookbook, the majority of the recipes found in Black Power Kitchen are plant-based, relying instead on meat and dairy alternatives.
“For us it is mainly about challenging ideas both old and new. We aren’t telling people not to eat meat…but we are here to encourage everyone to treat vegetables with a different amount of attention and care,” said Serrao. “Throughout our years in the field we have learned lots of techniques that can deliver similar, sometimes better results.”
To illustrate these principles, Serrao pointed us to two recipes featured in the book. First, we have ‘Maroon Shrooms,’ a vegetarian mushroom main which uses “whole fruits like apples and Japanese pears” instead of sugar in its jerk-inspired seasoning. A watermelon granita, sweetened with agave syrup and the fruit itself, is for dessert—it’s so good, Serrao told us, it won a cooking contest judged by some of the world’s harshest critics: middle schoolers. Black Power Kitchen is packed with tons of these types of approachable recipes—thoughtful twists on classics (think: roasted plantain gelato, vegan chopped cheese, and breadfruit gnocchi) that are as delicious as the book is educational.
Get the recipes for Maroon Shrooms and Watermelon Granita from Black Power Kitchen below.