Chef JJ Johnson
Uncovering the Heroes Making a Difference Through Food - SNACC's Food Hero Series
Where did you grow up?
Where do you live now?
New York City, NY
Where do you work?/What do you do?
Renowned American Chef at FIELDTRIP, a fast casual rice bowl concept in NYC, author and entrepreneur
How did you get started in the culinary industry?
I was inspired by food from a young age since I spent so much time in the kitchen with my Afro Puerto-Rican grandmother. She was always making something delicious and often rice was at the center of the table growing up. I decided to follow my passion and attended the Culinary Institute of America (CIA), before moving to New York City and I had the opportunity to work in some of the best kitchens in the city.
Can you tell us about the concept behind FIELDTRIP, and the ways that it highlights the importance of rice traditions from around the world?
FIELDTRIP is a fast casual rice bowl shop in the heart of NYC serving heritage grains from around the world at an affordable price point. I opened FIELDTRIP’s first location in Harlem in 2019, to offer high quality meals and good-for-you food in an accessible environment. FIELDTRIP highlights rice as a central ingredient found across many cultures around the world. The menu is influenced by the global flavors from Asia to Europe, Africa to the Americas, as well as Caribbean dishes I grew up with.
What advice do you have for aspiring chefs and culinary entrepreneurs looking to make an impact in the food industry?
If you are a young chef, work for a chef that you admire and you will have the opportunity to learn so much. If you are an entrepreneur, surround yourself with a good legal team and focus on more than just the food. Opening and running a restaurant is not just about cooking food. You are running a business so you need to understand the business model.
What do you believe is the most pressing issue facing the food industry today, and how are you working to address it?
Food media needs to focus on highlighting more people of color and different types of food across the world. There need to be more opportunities for chefs of color and female chefs. Having a fast casual restaurant at an affordable rate allows people to try new cuisines and broaden their horizons, introducing more people to different kinds of food from around the world.
What is your proudest culinary accomplishment?
During the pandemic, I saw the Harlem community struggling to stay afloat and wanted to make a difference. I worked with my incredible team at FIELDTRIP to donate meals to the local hospital to feed nurses, doctors and first responders in the area that were working to keep everyone safe. The outreach then moved to helping neighbors, by providing free meals to those in need. Shortly after, FIELDTRIP began receiving donations from across the country to continue the work and we have since donated over 220,000 meals to support the Harlem community and feed frontline workers throughout the pandemic.
What's next for you? Are there any exciting projects or collaborations you're working on that you'd like to share?
New FIELDTRIP locations are coming soon and my new cookbook, The Simple Art of Rice: Recipes from Around the World for the Heart of Your Table, is coming out September 12.
If you want to learn more about this month's Food Hero, follow Chef JJ Johnson on Instagram!