NYC chef to roll out a rice-themed feast at Carnegie Museum benefit

A James Beard-nominated chef from New York City’s Harlem neighborhood is coming to Pittsburgh to cook for the Carnegie Museum of Art’s “Feast” dinner on Friday in conjunction with the museum’s “20/20: The Studio Museum of Harlem and Carnegie Museum of Art” exhibition.

He’ll also offer a free cooking demonstration the following morning at the Homewood-Brushton YMCA.

Although not yet widely known outside New York, J.J. Johnson has begun making a name for himself. A Northeastern Pennsylvania native, he has cooked at The Cecil Steakhouse and Minton’s in Harlem. He’s now the chef resident at New York City’s Chefs Club, where he’s the featured chef through the end of this year. He also is raising money for a rice-themed restaurant he intends to open in one of New York’s outer boroughs such as Harlem, Brooklyn, Queens or the Bronx.

“They really need good food in those boroughs, and it’s emerging — people are looking for it,” he said. He envisions a place where friends and families can meet and hold parties around globally-inspired rice- and grain-based dishes. He’ll base his menu on dishes he’s experienced on trips to countries such as Israel, India, Singapore and South Africa.

“Rice is the most casual ingredient,” he said. “It’s the most common ingredient. We all eat it,” no matter what our ethnicity, background or religion, he said.

Rice also will get a nod in his menu at The Carnegie, which will include puffed grain salad with radishes, coconut and candied peanuts; sake-braised lamb shoulder; heirloom black Chinese rice with butternut squash; a dipping sauce trio or pineapple hot sauce, zatar yogurt and tamarind barbecue; and “JJ’s Famous Cotton Candy” and chocolate mousse for dessert.

The dinner will be held from 6 to 9 p.m. in the Hall of Sculpture. DJ Nate Miller will spin 1990s hip-hop tunes at Mr. Johnson’s request, and vocalist Jacquea Mae will sing two numbers inspired by the “20/20” exhibit, accompanied by guitarist David Edmunds. Guests also will be able to explore the “20/20” exhibit, which features 20 works each from the Carnegie Museum of Art and the Studio Museum of Harlem. Mr. Johnson once served on a panel at the Studio Museum, discussing connecting millennials with the art world, and he expects to be able to give Pittsburghers a glimpse of Harlem life at the dinner.

Museum staffer Laura McDermit noted the dinner is served family-style at a single long table, so “people get to meet people they haven’t met before.”

The museum is planning for about 100 people. The website says the ticketing deadline was Sept. 29, but Ms. McDermit says a limited number of tickets has been held back for late registrants. Those wishing to register can go to or call Ms. McDermit directly at 412-622-3316.

The second opportunity to catch Mr. Johnson comes from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday at the Homewood-Brushton YMCA, where Mr. Johnson will conduct a free community cooking demonstration.

He plans to teach children and their parent how to turn leftovers from the refrigerator into a fried rice dish that he believes kids will love. He’ll also lead a discussion and offer free samples.

“It’s about connecting young children around food with their parents,” he said.

Rebecca Sodergren:; @pgfoodevents.


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