Chef JJ Johnson has always used his platform as an award-winning chef to connect the foodways of the diaspora, one dish at a time. With rice being the focal point of many of his dishes—especially those on the menu of his restaurant, Fieldtrip—Johnson says that he cooks for the ancestors who may not have always had a seat at the table.

"My cooking style is rooted in the diaspora, as I am a child of the diaspora—which can mean many things," explains Chef Johnson.

"I'm cooking for the people who never had voices at the table."

Chef JJ Johnson

His passion for culinary began in his grandmother's kitchen and, according to the James Beard Award-winning chef, she injected the DNA into his soul. Cooking was something he's always loved, and he found a way to turn a hobby into a successful career—even when friends and classmates teased him about wanting to become a chef.

"Food is the greatest connector. It brings people together around the table, and I've always loved that," he says.

Chef JJ Johnson. Image: Courtesy of Chef JJJohnson.

As Chef Johnson prepares for the release of his cookbook, The Simple Art of Rice, Johnson wants people to understand that rice is truly the greatest connector of all. For him, there are so many great stories to be told behind rice and about rice culture. In fact, it was the inspiration behind the name of his New York-based restaurants.

The Simple Art of Rice
Chef JJ Johnson (Available September 12, 2023)

Price: $35

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"The name Fieldtrip pays homage to rice fields of the world and the trips I've taken. I got really frustrated looking at the food scene and seeing the big players of the world—McDonald's, Burger King, etc.—dominate our food ecosystems. I wanted to give folks a chance to consciously eat better within a safe space That's why I launched in Harlem, to give them a chance to say, 'I want to eat better today.' It's affordable, with everything under $14. Now we'll soon open our third location on the campus of Columbia University," shares Chef Johnson.

Beyond his restaurant and hosting his TV show, Just Eats with Chef JJ on Cleo TV, the Long Island native is also very intentional on hosting collaborative dinners with other Black chefs and spirit brand owners to ensure that Black excellence is highlighted on a collective front.

"I believe that we all should be able to rock out side-by-side, I'm not a firm believer of being the only Black person in a room. We should be able to show excellence together. Last year, I did a dinner called Black on Black in Aspen at the Jerome Hotel to highlight Black winemakers or those invested in spirits. I'm bringing it back this year with people like Dwyane Wade, the McBride Sisters, Carmelo Anthony, E-40 and more. In doing these, we're showing the work that Black people have been doing in the food space, our whole lives. I'm bringing in Chef Nina Compton this year, too. She's like my sister in this space."

"I believe that we all should be able to rock out side-by-side. I'm not a firm believer of being the only Black person in a room. We should be able to show excellence together."

Chef JJ Johnson

Below, the Just Eats host walks us through his finger-licking grilled chicken thighs with adobo sauce recipe, just in time for your summer cookouts and backyard parties.

Chef JJ's Grilled Chicken Thighs w/ Adobo Sauce

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Image: Courtesy of Chef JJ Johnson.

Chef JJ's Grilled Chicken Thighs w/ Adobo Sauce

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup diced yellow onion
  • kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons minced garlic
  • 1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger
  • 3 bird’s-eye chiles, seeded and chopped
  • ½ cup palm sugar (or you can use dark brown sugar)
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 (14.5-ounce) can stewed tomatoes
  • ½ cup rice wine vinegar
  • 1 cup soy sauce
  • 3 cups chicken stock
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 teaspoon whole cloves
  • 1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns
  • 2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs (about 8 thighs)
  1. In a 4-quart pot, heat the oil over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot and begins to shimmer, add the onion and sprinkle with salt.
  2. Sauté the onion for 3 to 5 minutes, then add the garlic, ginger, and chiles and cook for 2 additional minutes.
  3. Stir in the palm sugar and allow it to dissolve and melt down slightly, then blend in the tomato paste. Once the sugar and tomato paste are incorporated and begin to caramelize slightly, pour in the stewed tomatoes and cook for 5 minutes.
  4. Add the vinegar, soy sauce, stock, bay leaves, cloves, and peppercorns. Bring the sauce to a simmer and let cook until reduced by half, about 30 minutes.
  5. Taste and season the sauce before straining through a medium-mesh sieve; discard the solids. Let the sauce cool completely.
  6. Place the chicken in a medium bowl and add half of the cooled adobo sauce. Reserve the remaining sauce for serving. Fold in the chicken to coat it with the sauce.
  7. Preheat a cast-iron grill pan over medium heat. When the grill pan is hot, lift the chicken from the sauce, allowing the excess sauce to drip back into the bowl.
  8. Place the chicken on the grill, smooth side down. Cook until the chicken is marked and releases from the grill ridges easily. Turn the chicken over and lower the heat to medium-low. Continue to cook the chicken over medium-low heat, turning occasionally and brushing with more of the adobo sauce from the bowl to continue layering the flavor.
  9. Cook until the chicken is lightly charred and cooked through, 15 to 18 minutes. Discard any remaining adobo sauce that has been used as a marinade.
  10. Transfer the chicken to a clean work surface and let rest for 5 minutes. Serve with the reserved sauce.

Kikkoman Less Sodium Soy Sauce

Price: $4

Good & Gather Organic Palm Sugar

Price: $5

Morton coarse kosher salt

Price: $3

World Market Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Price: $10

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