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Award-winning Chef JJ Celebrates 'The Simple Art of Rice' With New Book, Growing Food Empire

Chef JJ

Photo Credit: Beatriz da Costa

Long before people of African descent arrived in America, dishes like jollof rice were being consumed in West African nations like the Senegambia region during the Jolof (Wolof) Empire. As the staple arrived in the Americas through enslaved Africans they carried the recipes and flavors from their African homelands, passing them down from generation to generation.

Now, acclaimed New York-based chef Joseph “JJ” Johnson is celebrating the importance of rice and its heritage in his new cookbook, The Simple Art of Rice: Recipes from Around the World for the Heart of Your Table, which is available today.

Johnson is a cultural tastemaker who was listed on Forbes' 30 Under 30 in the Food & Wine category and also studied at the Culinary Institute of America. The family man and renowned American chef is most recognized for his innovative approach to African Caribbean cuisine. His work has earned him numerous accolades, including the James Beard Foundation Book Award and a two-time spot on the Nation’s Restaurant News Power List.

Johnson has also been featured on a variety of TV shows including Food Network’s Chopped, Netflix’s Street Food, and Selena + Chef on HBO Max. He also hosts his own show, Just Eats with Chef JJ, airing for its fifth season on TV One's network Cleo TV this fall.

Chef JJ's highly anticipated cookbook, The Simple Art of Rice: Recipes from Around the World for the Heart of Your Table, only adds to his innovative career. His rapidly growing multi-unit fast casual rice bowl concept Field Trip champions sustainability while working with local rice farmers and producers to source the freshest ingredients. With four locations throughout New York City, he is a community advocate for food justice and equity raising awareness within the industry.

Chef JJ Book "The Simple Art of Rice"

Born in Long Island, NY, Johnson grew up reading his grandmother’s cookbooks. The entrepreneur said that he "believes dropping The Simple Art of Rice right now is a perfect time because rice is a great connector...the greatest connecting ingredient that connects us all somehow, and the world is easily connected again." He went on to say that he "hopes that The Simple Art of Rice will help connect folks and will help make people look at culture differently."

During such times when we all have witnessed such division in our country, Johnson wants to "help conversation starters and help bring smiles and laughter to kitchens."

According to the USA Rice Federation, there are 120,000 different strains of rice worldwide, and they’re grouped into three categories. Out of all the varieties, white rice seems to be the most prevalent in the diet of many Americans, but with so many varieties there is much to explore.

“Rice is more than white rice. That's what we know rice to be, white rice. America's rice is Carolina Gold rice, a beautiful rice that has gold threads that run through it, and the rice is enriched in history. That was a cash crop here in the United States for a really long time before it became extinct because free slaves didn't want to grow rice anymore unless it was their land, and that's when white rice came into play," Johnson said.

So what type of rice does the chef recommend? “Some of my favorite rice is black rice, red glutinous rice, Emerald Pearl rice, but also I want people to start searching for good rice, freshly milled rice that you can get from a farmer or order online from a farmer that will give you good health benefits because the perception of rice is it's not good and it's so false,” he added.

While it may seem that the art of rice is simple, there are many debates that can be sparked not just about the types of rice but also about the preparation techniques. “And the number one thing in the debate is do you wash rice? Or don't you wash rice? I say wash rice. People come for me, and I think the book is going to have a little bit of controversy because everybody has a POV on that," Johnson said about one potential debate that will arise when his book is released.

The Simple Art of Rice serves as an extension of Johnson's mission to popularize rice. At his Field Trip restaurant, the menu is centered around rice dishes such as jollof basmati rice, coconut sticky rice, Carolina Gold and black fried rice. Johnson shared his thoughts on the challenges of operating a restaurant in New York saying, “I think New York as a whole, we should, we need to look at what we need to be a voice about what we need as entrepreneurs, and founders and business owners. And when I say that, I don't mean minimum wage needs to be back to $5.25. That's not what I'm saying. We as a people can shape the way the business industry, small businesses, and mom-and-pop shops are, so they're protected, and they can help people put their kids to college, and people can buy a home, and the businesses can also strive."

Chef JJ

Photo Credit: Beatriz da Costa

Still, Johnson recognizes the challenges entrepreneurship has. "There are a lot of areas that business owners in New York are up against. I love it. But every day the law changes and it's really tough." Johnson did, however, say he’s looking to expand the Field Trip brand beyond Manhattan potentially considering opening a location in Brooklyn someday.

Johnson is sure to stay busy with his Field Trip restaurants and his promotion of his book The Simple Art of Rice. While dining at Field Trip you never know which prominent person you may bump into. But one thing that remains throughout all of Johnson's culinary endeavors is carrying his grandmother's spirit with him.

Purchase the The Simple Art of Rice and make sure to follow Chef JJ on Instagram.


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