JUST EATS WITH CHEF JJ is a hot new cooking show where CLEO TV viewers get to hang out with Chef JJ Johnson. Set in a hip, New York City loft, JJ prepares meals from his kitchen and entertains his celebrity friends. Each episode features notable special guests including fashion entrepreneur Nichole Lynel, actress Naturi Naughton, rapper and activist David Banner, activist Tamika Mallory, actor Malik Yoba, celebrity fitness trainer Naphtali Aikens, CLEO TV Personalities Tai Beauchamp and Elton Anderson, gospel artist Koryn Hawthorne, actor Robert Ri’chard and ESPN Commentator and NBA champion Stephen Johnson, among others.
CLEO TV, a new aspirational lifestyle and entertainment cable network targeting Millennial and Gen X women of color.
Blackfilm.com recently spoke with Chef JJ on his career and the launch of his TV show.
The series airs weekly on Saturday’s at 12 p.m. with encores at 1 p.m. ET, 10 p.m. ET and 11 p.m. ET.
How excited are you to have a series on TV?
Chef JJ: I’m ecstatic. I’m still trying to process it. I need to watch myself on TV to believe that it’s true. We’re talking about it now and once it aired, it really hit me. I’m just really thankful that TV One is believe in me to launch Cleo TV with them to make successful TV and to be part of a movement that you don’t see on everyday television, a black chef that would appeal to women of color.
Is it a challenge knowing you are being filmed as you work?
Chef JJ: Right now, I don’t know if it’s challenging but I do think it’s going to be an interesting process for me knowing that there is no one over my shoulders when I’m cooking in the restaurant. Now, there are millions of people watching so there is always going to be someone critiquing me but i think it will be fun and educating for both.
What inspired you to be a chef?
Chef JJ: When I was a kid, my grandmother used to listen to my music and cook in the kitchen and I really didn’t watch cartoons so I would always be in the kitchen with my grandmother, and I would help with the cooking. I just truly fell in love with it. I believe she injected her skill set into my DNA. I started as a dishwasher.
Was there anyone you look to these days as you were coming up the ranks?
Chef JJ: I look at a lot of people in all different industries. As someone who is similar in age to me, I look at LeBron James and the way he carries himself from a brand structure and shoots himself as a brand and how he delivers to the industry unlike other people. He’s a very thoughtful and community based person, so I could relate myself to him. I look up to what he does. I look up to Steph Curry and his energy. I feel that’s an area that I fit into. And of course, my parents, who have helped guide me through everyday life.
What’s been your experience with diversity in the culinary world?
Chef JJ: I came up through the old guard in the culinary world. When I was a cook, I would be the only Black cook in the kitchen except for one restaurant that I could remember. But even as a person of color, I could remember being in a restaurant and folks thought I was Mexican. I would say, “I’m not Mexican.” I always look back at that and laugh and think about what made them say those things. Now that I have my restaurant, where I have control in the kitchen, it’s always been my duty that chefs of color have a place or have an opportunity to work in my kitchen. A lot of chefs of color have a lot of experience but they never get a shot to be in the kitchen. If you look at my kitchen now at The Henry, my sous-chef is a Black man who has worked at some of the finest restaurants in New York City. I’m still trying to figure out why he hasn’t been able to get past the sous-chef position. That’s my goal. To work with him and hope he can come with me as I open up more locations. I’m surrounding myself with people who I feel are the greatest or most experience people of color in the game that might not have received a shot or did they get a shot and are great and are they need to give that information to somebody and I’m trying to get that information from them.
With you about to open up a spot in Harlem, is there any thought to do something with kids to inspire them?
Chef JJ: For me, my goal has always been to inspire kids. We’re go to work with the Harlem School of the Arts in Harlem and a lot of schools and a lot of programs in Harem from the youth perspective to being to help put good food in schools. Also to speak to kids that look like me and show them that there is a path, not necessarily culinary, but a true path to believing what you do in life. If you believe in yourself, then you should really push.
What’s going to be the attraction to have folks tune in week after week?
Chef JJ: This show is not like any other cooking show that you have seen. I will tell you that. The guests on the show are truly fascinating. I’m going to cook recipes that you can cook at home, but the conversations that we’re going to have are going to be relatable to everyday life. Some conversations may shock you, but some will be an inspiration for others.