Building Community and Breaking Down Barriers Through Rice with Award-Winning Chef JJ Johnson
Food is a vessel for connecting people. It helps build community and break down barriers. That’s the vision behind Season Four’s first guest, James-Beard-award-winning chef, TV personality, and author, Chef JJ Johnson. Chef JJ’s most recent restaurant venture, FIELDTRIP, is a made-to-order dining experience based around rice, as it’s the universal ingredient that connects us all and can be found at the center of the table in almost every community. In this episode, Erica and Chef JJ discuss the impact of the pandemic on the restaurant industry, how FIELDTRIP pivoted to donate meals to healthcare workers on the front line, how Chef JJ hopes the industry will come back more equitably for all stakeholders, and the answer to his own “Now What?”—how he plans to utilize the Series A round he raised to grow his business. On this Pi Day, Chef JJ’s experience with centering community around good-for-you food offers accessible insights to anyone seeking to bring people—in work and in life—together around a shared meal.
“Food was this vessel of connecting people to then make—hopefully the food that was going to hospitals around the country—was making doctors and nurses and frontline workers and anyone that worked under those roofs perform better.”
“The great thing about the restaurant industry is we’re fighters, we figure it out. Hopefully it evolves, and when I say I don’t think it will come back the same, I hope that tipping comes back differently, I hope that minimum wage comes back differently. I hope we can really figure out for people to look at the industry as, not a luxury, but a necessity. And I think a lot of people look at restaurants as a luxury, but they employ a lot of people, and even some of our first jobs are in restaurants.”
“On the spaghetti effect, that has helped camaraderie, right? Because now when people come into FIELDTRIP, you see firefighters coming in, you see police officers, you see guys that have lived in this community for 100 years—their family—and they’re all eating next to each other and then having a conversation, ‘Oh, what’s in your bowl?’ ‘What’s that black rice taste like?’ And then that helps build community. Or break down barriers that weren’t able to be broken down before.”