Jerome Grant – Executive Chef – Mistam Native Foods Café, National Museum of the American Indian

Instagram : Chefjgdetails

So how did you get into cooking?
JG – It really started with me cooking for my mother, and helping her out in the
kitchen as a kid. In high school, I got the chance to take a few cooking classes to fill
electives, and the interest just grew. By the time my senior year came around, I had
a great teacher that gave me the leeway to create my own class curriculum and let
me leave school to train in restaurants. It was amazing, and it helped me realize this
was something I really wanted to do with my life.

Tell me about the early years after school. How hard was it trying to break
into the industry and make a name for yourself?
JG – Honestly, my first few years were tough. I spent the first 5 years of my career at
a resort in St. Croix, and while living on a beach was beautiful, I RARELY got a
chance to enjoy it! No lie- I worked from sun-up till sundown every day for 3
straight years! No vacations, no days off. In fact, vacations were the hardest because
that’s when we had the most tourists. So the early years of my career were rough,
but I learned some lessons there that set me up for future success. In fact, by the
time I left the island, my restaurant won the “Taste of St. Croix” title and I was
named to the Virgin Islands Culinary Olympic team.

Many people don’t know this about you, but…
JG – I am infatuated with Ramen. All types –from the fanciest ramen dishes in
the world to good old Top Ramen from the grocery store. I love all forms of
Ramen, and I’m always down to try a new Ramen dish. I love to travel, and
enjoy trying to find the best Ramen dish in any new city I visit.

Who is your favorite chef? Whose food do you rave about to your friends?
JG – I love David Chang of Momofuku. Marcus Samuelsson, and Wolfgang Puck, to
name a few. I’ll stop right there because I know I’m leaving a few great ones off…

Tell me more about your time at the National Museum of the American Indian.
How did you start this culinary revolution to make museum cafeteria food
taste good?
JG – When I got to the museum around 2010, I thought that museum cafeteria food
meant salad bars and mashed potatoes (laughs). But it was great- the museum’s
chef at the time wanted to push the envelope as to what fine dining could be at a
museum cafeteria. We really started taking chances there, and to our delight, people
loved the food. What we were really doing was taking foods/ recipes from the past
and updating them for modern times. Plus, we were being true to the tastes and
cooking styles of Native American cultures, so the end result was a delicious,
authentic experience.

What do you think about America’s recent obsession with cooking
competitions /Celebrity Chef culture and its impact on your culinary industry?
JG – In one regard, I think its great that there’s this widespread interest in what we
do as chefs, but I never bought into the whole celebrity chef thing because I’m a
pretty low-key guy. But you can tell the real chefs from the phonies because the real
chefs are all about putting out a good meal and letting the flavors do the talking.
Real chefs know that its all about the food. To make a great meal, you have to know
where your food comes from and understand the story behind the food.

One place in DC that you haven’t yet been that’s on your hit list for 2016?
JG- I want to get over to Rose’s Luxury, but I just don’t want to stand in that line…

What’s your favorite cheap fast food place?
JG- No lie – I’ve always liked the chili and cheese hot dogs from 7-11. Being a chef,
we work super late at our restaurants, so by the time we get off work, there are few
places still open for us to get food. So I gained a LOT of experience eating late night
7-11 food throughout the years.

So what’s the most exciting and challenging parts about heading up the
culinary program at the National Museum of African-American History &
Culture?
JG – Its going to be very exciting to stamp my name as an innovator of museum
dining, and do it right here in DC, at a museum that’s near and dear to my heart. Its
also exciting to tell the story of African-American history and culture through the
shared experience of food. Obviously, the most challenging part is that expectations
are going to be sky-high. But I plan to have fun with it. I’m going to take some
chances with the food, while also making sure it pays homage to the traditions of
our past. But I guarantee, it will be more than just fried chicken and the simple
notion of “soul food.” Stay tuned for late September 2016… I think people are going
to be in for a real treat!


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