Chef J.J. Johnson on the Growing Popularity of Caribbean Cuisine

[Many thanks to Peter Jordens for bringing this item to our attention.] In “20 Minutes With: New York Chef J.J. Johnson on the Growing Popularity of Caribbean Cuisine,” Jeanette Settembre (Barron’s) speaks to Chef J.J. Johnson. The chef, whose parents hail from the Caribbean (“my mom is Puerto Rican and West Indian, my grandfather was from Barbados”) feels rooted in Caribbean culture through food. 

“I grew up in a Caribbean household,” Johnson, 38, says from his second FieldTrip restaurant location in Rockefeller Center in New York. There, cooks assemble heaping bowls of slow-cooked, braised beef simmering over rice, chipotle black beans, and chilis. Sweet plantains are dripping in hot honey; chicken thighs are marinated in nearly a dozen different spices over basmati rice. 

Rice is the star of FieldTrip, which opened in 2019 specializing in sourcing non-enriched, unbleached rice directly from farmers who mill the grain. In 2021, Johnson secured funding from two major investment firms with the goal of expanding to eight restaurant locations in the coming years, Crain’s New York reported. 

“My mom is Puerto Rican and West Indian, my grandfather was from Barbados,” Johson says. “I embrace the culture because I understand it, it’s in my DNA, and the food I cook is an interpretation of it.” 

Johnson, known for his full-flavored dishes like citrus jerk-marinated sea bass, a standout at the now closed Harlem institution The Cecil, recently merged jerk seasonings with sustainable seafood at the inaugural Nassau Paradise Island Wine & Food Festival at the Atlantis Bahamas. The five-day festival, which kicked off March 15, featured Johnson at the helm of Jerk Jam, a Bahamian-inspired culinary event alongside celebrity chef Alex Guarnaschelli, highlighting flavorful grilled meats and locally caught seafood with a beachside performance by Wyclef Jean. 

“When people think of the Caribbean they think of jerk. The cooking technique of jerk comes from the native people of the Caribbean, the Taínos. You get this chariness filled with spices. Modern day jerk is something that is extremely spicy. I’m doing jerk shrimp. We’re going to marinate shrimp in our jerk recipe and char it on the grill with a papaya mango salad for a refreshing flavor,” Johnson says. 

Johnson discusses his community-driven restaurant concept, visionaries he admires, and his most memorable career moment yet: giving back to his beloved Harlem community and customers. 

PENTA: How does your heritage play a role in the food that you make? 

J.J. Johnson: I’m a kid of the African Diaspora. I’m a kid of the Caribbean. I grew up in a Caribbean household. … A lot of the food that I cook is my interpretation of it. It’s amazing that Caribbean culture is getting celebrated nowadays in so many different ways in America. The Caribbean is this meeting point between America and West Africa. [. . .]

Read full interview at

Harlem: 109 Malcolm X Blvd, New York, NY 10026
Rockefeller Center: 30 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10112

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s