Joseph 'JJ' Johnson (born August 1, 1984) is an award-winning chef at The Cecil and Minton's in Harlem.
Early life and education
Johnson was born in 1984 in Long Island, New York, but spent his youth in the Poconos, where at the age of seven was inspired to become a chef.
After seeing a commercial for The Culinary Institute of America, Johnson told his mother that he wanted to become a chef. But, it was only after watching his Puerto Rican grandmother serve up butternut squash soup and other ethnic dishes, that he knew he had to.
After graduating from The Culinary Institute of America, Johnson spent time in Ghana studying West African cuisine, before returning to cook at several New York City restaurants, including Tropico, Jane, Tribeca Grill, and Centro Vinoteca.
In 2011, Johnson (26) competed and won Bravo's Rocco's Dinner Party cooking competition, quickly catching the eye of restaurateur Alexander Smalls. Smalls invited Johnson to breakfast to introduce the concept of Afro-Asian cooking to him. A year later, Johnson joined Smalls on a 16-day trip to Ghana, where they prepared a series of American-themed dinners.
Upon their return, Smalls and Johnson developed 36 different menus that would ultimately be narrowed down to one Afro-Asian inspired menu for The Cecil in 2013.
Since its opening, the restaurant has garnered several awards including "Best New Restaurant in America (Esquire).
Johnson himself was ranked among Forbes’ 30 Under 30 in the Food & Wine category (2014), Zagat’s 30 Under 30 (2014) and Eater's Young Guns (2014).