Alexander Smalls – Executive Chef, Restaurateur
A self-described social minister, Alexander is a Chef, a Restaurateur, an Author and an Opera Singer. He has received great acclaim in the New York City restaurant scene, including being named one of Zagat’s “19 NYC Restaurant Power Players You Need to Know,” and winning Esquire’s “Best New Restaurant in America 2014,” for The Cecil. As the Executive Chef, Co-owner and Creator of the newly reopened Minton’s Supper Club and its award-winning sister restaurant, The Cecil, Alexander endeavors to entertain the world. He is joined in these recent restaurant projects, which fall under the Harlem Jazz Enterprises umbrella by Chef de Cuisine Joseph “JJ” Johnson and partners, Dick and Laura Parsons.
Alexander has successfully introduced New Yorkers to his brand of hospitality and New American Cuisine, which he refers to as Afro-Asian-American Cooking at The Cecil and Southern Revival Cooking, at Minton’s. Southern Revival cooking is Alexander’s interpretation of Low Country Cooking, which is a culinary discipline that he developed for his three previously popular and highly regarded restaurants, Café Beulah, Sweet Ophelia’s, and The Shoebox Café, also in New York City.
Alexander has spent the last twenty-five years traveling the world and studying the cooking techniques, cultures and “food-ways” of the African diaspora. Through the course of his travels, he has developed a unique insight and passion for the influence of the migrating people of Africa and how through their culinary efforts, they changed the palate of our global expression.
Those lessons form the foundation of his Harlem based restaurant, The Cecil, which is the first Afro-Asian-American brasserie in the world. In January of 2015, Alexander was invited by The James Beard Foundation to present his culinary exploration of the African Diaspora to a sold-out audience at The Beard House with chef Joseph JJ Johnson.
In addition to his success in the culinary world, Alexander is also the author of the acclaimed memoir and cookbook, “Grace the Table,” with a foreword by Wynton Marsalis. His creative talents stretch not only to the world of literature, but also to the world of music as an opera singer, receiving both a Grammy Award and Tony Award for the cast recording of Porgy and Bess, by George Gershwin, with the Houston Grand Opera.
Alexander has appeared on a wide range of food and culinary platforms, with guest appearances on national TV, magazine and news programs. He has appeared often on The Food Network on such shows as “Recipe for Success” and “Throwdown!” with Bobby Flay.
Alexander is passionate about his involvement with the non-profit organizations with which he is involved, including Harlem Jazz Enterprises’ deep involvement with C-CAP, Careers through Culinary Arts Program. He is on the Advisory Board of The Union Food Lab, at Columbia University, and is a former board member and Artistic Director of Opus 118, Harlem School of Music. He is particularly proud of being honored with the Legacy Award, 2014, by The Amsterdam News.
Joseph “JJ” Johnson – Chef de Cuisine
It was at his grandmother’s side that JJ Johnson’s culinary spark was lit. Hardworking and an obliging teacher, his grandmother brought Caribbean influences into the kitchen, instilling in him a passion for expressive flavors and for following the rhythm of the seasons.
From home hearth to classical training, Johnson made the move to the Culinary Institute of America, giving a technical backbone to a well laid foundation of food love. He went on to hone his skills in some of New York’s most esteemed kitchens: Centro Vinoteca, Jane, and Tribeca Grill among them. Constantly in search of new flavors, Johnson also spent time in Ghana, studying West African cuisine and cooking at Villa Monticello, Ghana’s Premier Luxury Boutique Hotel and Spa.
Now diving headfirst into eclecticism, he helms the kitchen at Minton’s and The Cecil, which he helped open under the auspices of Chef Alexander smalls. Johnson’s star is clearly on the rise: not only winner of Rocco DiSpirito’s Dinner Party competition (where he wowed the culinary elite with his twists on straightforward cooking), Johnson was on both the Forbes and Zagat “30 Under 30” lists, was named an Eater Young Gun, all in 2014. This year, his career unfolds as StarChefs names him Rising Star for Community in 2015. Johnson continues to revel in transforming simple cuisine with bold flavors and unexpected ingredients.
Mame Sow – Executive Pastry Chef
Mame Sow is all about the unexpected. She draws her inspiration from anything and everything that catches her eye: a color, a shape, a book. A native of Dakar, Senegal, Mame moved to New York at age 11. It was here that she first fell in love with Pastry. At Park West High School she studied under CCAP and won their scholarship competition, sending her to the celebrated French Culinary Institute.
Mame earned her stripes at the late Amuse (Gerry Hayden’s Chelsea nouveau French desitnation), the Townhouse Restaurant Group (including Aquavit, Riingo, Merkato 55), David Burke at Bloomingdales and the Hotel Rivington. She opened Spot Dessert bar in 2010, which was awarded Best Dessert Bar NYC that year.
After a stint in Miami, she returned to Harlem as sous pastry chef for Minton’s opening in 2013 and quickly won the confidence of Alexander Smalls. She was promoted to Executive Pastry Chef in early 2014 and delights diners at both Minton’s and The Cecil next door. Mame takes Minton’s sense of the traditional and infuses it with the flavors and foundations of her childhood in French-speaking Senegal. Her desserts evoke Africa, Harlem and the Low Country all at once. Mame was featured as part of the James Beard Foundation’s “Eating the African Diaspora” event earlier this year.