Their power-to-the-people ethos also shines through in their philanthropic work, which includes partnering with the nonprofit Rethink Food NYC to provide hundreds of thousands of meals to city residents in need and protesters for racial justice. The powerhouse collective started with the founders’ desire to encourage deep discussions over shared meals—a passion that parallels Snuk’s own mission to help communication blossom through global cuisine, and bring ingredients from independent makers around the world into your own home. We’re proud to partner with Ghetto Gastro to bring you these mouthwatering original recipes influenced by Snuk’s catalogue.
Chef Les Walker, a member of the culinary collective Ghetto Gastro, is on a mission “to bring the world to the Bronx, and the Bronx to the world.” The collective started nearly a decade ago with a simple idea: “promoting activism, and bringing up social discussions during dinner while breaking bread with friends and associates.” Now GG has become a whirlwind force for culinary exploration and civic engagement, dishing up creative cuisine with an emphasis on the food of the African diaspora and launching high-profile design collaborations,most recently with Williams Sonoma and the studio Crux.
For Les, that global perspective started early. He vividly remembers several gifts his mother brought home for him when he was growing up in the Bronx. One was a children’s book about Africa; the other was a wok. “As a child, I always envisioned myself traveling the world, though I didn’t know it would be in the culinary field,” he says now. From a young age, though, his interest in food was apparent: when other kids were playing video games, he remembers, he was experimenting with that wok, tinkering with a bread machine, exploring the “United Nations” of international and fusion cuisines in his own neighborhood, and immersing himself in TV programs on food around the world.
When given the opportunity to shop the Snuk Foods site to create a few special dishes, Les had a blast. As a longtime advocate for food that’s both healthy and scrumptious, he was especially drawn to ayurvedic ingredients, like energy-boosting Ashwagandha Root, digestion-soothing Activated Charcoal, and restorative Asian White Ginseng powder, all of which can be mixed into drinks, soups, and baked goods. Ghetto Gastro has ambitious plans of its own underway to developCommUnity Immunity boxes packed with healing ingredients. “That’s our lane, nurturing the neighborhood,” Les says. He also praises kombu and seaweed, whosetransformative effects on vegan ramen broth he saw firsthand in Japan—Barnacle Foods Furikake, for example, is a blend of dried Alaskan kelp, sesame seeds, and bonito flakes that brings extra umami to noodles or rice.His other savory favorites include dried oyster mushrooms, which he soaks in hot water and uses to bring hearty, complex flavor to soups and sauces for gourmet pastas like NYC Sfoglini Pasta Shop’s Hemp Radiatori and Zucca Semolina. “You can bake pasta, you can saute it right out of the pan, you can cool it down and cut out squares,” he says. “I love using pasta because it’s so versatile.” Another top pick on his grocery list is roasted chickpea flour, a key ingredient in both recipes inspired by the food of the Indian subcontinent (where the ingredient is a staple) and in any baking project that could use a protein-rich boost.
On Instagram and Facebook, Ghetto Gastro chefs offer wide-ranging cooking tips and recipes with a healthy portion of world history, and Les is always eager to share his favorite dishes. One such treat is “Rice to Riches”Arroz Aji Amarillo, a spin on the Central and South American staple food of yellow rice. In Les’s version, the brilliant golden hue comes from ground aji amarillo chile, a pepper that delivers fierce heat with fruity, berry-like overtones. The better to up the spice quotient, theajiin this recipe gets bold support from Don Chili Habanero Chili Crisps, slivers of fresh habanero toasted in olive oil until deliciously crispy. Les was inspired to explore the Amazonian and Andean chili peppers that are central to Afro-Peruvian food after learning about tribes ofnegros bozales, or “untamed Blacks,” during the colonial era. When these Afro-Peruvians fled enslavement by conquistadors and colonists, they formed their own settlements in the Amazon—and Les sees a parallel to the state of community during the global pandemic. Thebozales used to hide out,” he explains, “and they cooked their food all together, almost like they were quarantining from the Spanish.”
“I’m an expert at free-styling,” Les says. “Whatever’s in season I’ll grab from the market, and I play around with different textures, manipulate flavors.” Local lettuces, radishes, and fennel flowers are drizzled with a globe-trotting dressing in his “State Greens,” a seasonal salad with a kick. A centerpiece of the dish’s ginger-turmeric vinaigrette is Tumeric Powder, which is grown sustainably in southern India, and which accents the fresh ginger and Maryiza Geteme Tree Honey in Les’s recipe. Getemes tower over coffee-tree orchards in the Ethiopian highlands, and the luxuriantly thick honey they produce has a unique fresh floral taste.
The recipe’s title refers to the hunter-green uniforms of prisoners at Green Haven Correctional Facility in upstate New York—a nod to the country’s mass incarceration crisis and the need to confront racial inequality in criminal justice. “We need to bring some type of cleansing and purity to that situation,” Les says, “and greens are the most cleansing thing I can think of.” Plus, turmeric, honey, ginger, and apple-cider vinegar are all key ingredients in folk medicine around the world. “It’s almost like sneaking the Robotussin inside the KoolAid for people to get better,” he jokes.
As a classically trained French chef, Les loves rich, creamy sauces—but he himself eats a ninety-percent plant-based diet. He found inspiration in a trip to Tokyo, where he researched Japan’s traditional vegetarian cooking along with Asian food aesthetics, a personal passion. The star of the show in this “100% plant-based” Spicy Fusilli recipe is Bullwhip Alaskan Hot Sauce, made with hand-harvested Alaskan bull kelp and brilliantly hot peri-peri peppers. Because mushrooms are another of Les’s favorites for achieving bold, meaty flavors without meat, the pasta’s vegan-cheese sauce also gets a splash of small-batch Regalis White Truffle Arbequina Olive Oil. The result is an easy and sustainable recipe that tastes as indulgent as any traditional bechamel or alfredo sauce.
Although the pandemic has suspended Walker’s culinary trips abroad, he looks forward to resuming his food-finding journeys in the future. Up next: a trip to West Africa, where he’ll search for inspiration in Senegal, Benin, the Ivory Coast, and other nations. “I’ll have some more pizzazz after,” he promises. “Play on the West Side, the Best Side.”