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‘Chefs will be soon looked at as superheroes’

By Natalia Ningthoujam
Today:- New Delhi, Feb – They dont wear a cape or a mask, but chefs who often sport toque blanches and double-breasted jackets are changing the way people eat. And so, they will soon be upon looked as superheroes, believes New York-based chef Joseph “JJ” Johnson.

“In the next 10 years, chefs will be looked at as superheroes. They are changing the way people eat. As chefs, we are dictating how people should eat. Some people even come to us and ask, ‘Can you teach me how to make this or can you tell me about this?’ You can also have your own product, be on the TV and be a brand ambassador,” Johnson, who was here recently, told IANS in an interview.

And like superheroes, he has also had to face hardships.

“As a kid, I was motivated to cook. My grandmother made cooking look really fun. I later went to the Culinary Institute of America. But becoming an Executive Chef was the hardest part of my career. No one gave me a shot.”

“For a few years, I thought, ‘What am I going to do?’ I wasn’t getting accepted in the industry,” added the African-American.

Was his origin a problem?

“I wasn’t getting the same opportunities that my other friends were getting. I wanted to believe that it wasn’t my heritage or who I was because I don’t look at anybody’s colour. But I am thankful to Richard Parsons and Alexander Smalls for giving me an opportunity,” said Johnson.

He later spent a month cooking in Ghana at the country’s leading boutique hotel Villa Monticello and studied West African cuisine.

“I got to know what I wanted to cook for the rest of my life. Soon, I was travelling and cooking in Israel, Singapore and other countries,” said the chef, who was named in the Forbes’ 30 Under 30 list in 2014.

“For me, being an African-American chef… It shows that young African-Americans can find a place in the industry if they work really hard. That’s how Indian cuisine is becoming. It is in the forefront of the US because Indian chefs are working really hard and making people understand their food,” added the Executive Chef of Minton’s in Harlem, New York.

During his maiden visit to India, he got a chance to dig into some of the delicacies like daulat ki chaat, samosa and paan. And, he couldn’t stop flaunting it on Instagram where he frequently posted tempting photos.

“It’s my first time in India, but not my last. When I travel to places, I dive into the culture. The best way to know a place is through its food. So, I went to LT Foods’ rice farm where I hung out with farmers. I made makki ki roti with them.

“It was adventurous for me,” said Johnson, who also presented a demo of unique basmati recipes with popular Indian chef Sanjeev Kapoor at the LT Foods event here.

The 31-year-old believes rice brings comfort, joy and happiness.

“It is amazing. Rice is the centre of table wherever you go,” said the chef, who loves cooking Afro-Caribbean food.

(Natalia Ningthoujam can be contacted atnatalia.n@ians.in )

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