Chef JJ Johnson On The Growing Reception Toward African American Cooks - Exclusive

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African American chefs are finally getting their long overdue attention in the American culinary scene. After all, black chefs have been at the bedrock of American cooking since long before the United States of America was even a country.

Chefs like Marcus Samuelsson, author of the recent hit cookbook "The Rise,"  pitmaster Kevin Bludso, TikTok baking sensation Robert Lucas, and plenty of other luminaries from the black cooking community have noticed. So has chef and restaurateur JJ Johnson, a James Beard Award winner, host of the program "Just Eats with Chef JJ," and the man behind multi-location New York City restaurant Field Trip.

During a recent exclusive interview with Mashed, Johnson, fresh off a major culinary event at Mohegan Sun, the Sun Wine and Food Festival, had this to say about the ascension of African American chefs: "Overall right now, all black people are getting the credit [for] what they do. If you look back at the culinary [world], when hotels were built, when there was food in hotels, and who was running hotels? Who were the chefs? They were black. Who was the President's Chef? Hemings. He was black. But going back to [talk] about history, nobody wants to talk about the actuality of history, which could actually bridge these gaps of bias."

"It's good to start seeing black people getting credit. It's good to see that the rooms are more diverse; it's good to see that people are investing in black people," Johnson adds, but he wishes it hadn't taken so long. Why did it, anyway?

Why it has taken so long for black chefs to really be seen

Looking back through American history, we find so many black Americans playing a major role in American cooking, going back to pre-Revolutionary times, through the Antebellum era, through the post Civil War decades, right to the Civil Rights era and today. Why has it really taken so inordinately long for black chefs to get their due credit?

Because African Americans writ large, from all professions and all walks of life, really, still have to fight for a fair playing field, says JJ Johnson. "It's good to see [changes]," he says, adding,: "I think the biggest thing of how I look at it all, is when you look at the Forbes list of the richest families in the world, every family started with an entrepreneur. But that entrepreneur actually had somebody to help to make [their] idea potentially become alive. Black people don't have that. They don't have anybody to go to. If you were the most talented cook in your community, you couldn't go to anybody to get a restaurant built for you. Who was going to give you the money?"

Is Johnson discouraged by the slow march of progress? Not at all, because things are picking up. "That's what's good to see, is that black entrepreneurs in all sectors of business are getting their credit and [are] able to bring their ideas to life," he explains. "Hopefully one day, in that family list of richest families, there'll be a black family or a couple black families there that can say: 'We started with an idea. Now we're here.'"

Follow chef Johnson on Instagram and find out more about the Sun Wine & Food Festival here.