A Neighborhood Chef Cooks Up Dreams
Justice Stewart is a real neighborhood guy. On weekdays, he works at his construction job in Brooklyn. On weekends (and during every other minute of free time), he’s a creative cook, avid fisherman, fanatical food blogger – and executive producer of an online TV show called Neighborhood Chefs.
“Basically, I’m an everyday guy with a passion for cooking,” Justice tells me. “Let’s face it, we all love food. Humans are the only species on earth that prepares and serves food in a ton of different ways. Food is like art and music – it’s a universal language that lets us all share and express ourselves in a uniquely meaningful way.”
Justice says that he wasn’t always out there advocating for great food. “After my dad died, I was a young kid without a guiding hand to help steer me in the right direction. I wound up making a few bad choices that resulted in some not-so-good results, including a couple of scrapes with the law. Yet, even during those difficult times, I found that food and the love of cooking were a part of me.”
As a kid, Justice spent a lot of time watching his mom, aunt and grandmother cook – and those memories stayed with him. “I took a job in the construction industry and willed myself off the streets. I started cooking gourmet meals at home – and realized how happy it made me.”
He became fascinated with making the most of local, seasonal ingredients – including his own fresh-caught fish. “I also like to weave stories and cultures into my recipes,” he says. “Most of my construction coworkers are from Central and South America – and they’ve inspired me to experiment with Latin recipes.
“Another great source of inspiration is wandering around cookware and specialty food stores. My spiced shrimp recipe was the creative result of a trip to Williams-Sonoma – their spice combos and cocktail mixes put me in the mood for something summery with a tropical island feel. And since I love seafood, shrimp was the perfect way to showcase all those fresh, healthy, warm-weather flavors.”
These days, Justice is doing everything he can to spread the word that healthy, great-tasting food can make a huge difference in the lives of both kids and adults. He shares his love for cooking in his blog, Gourmet Deconstructed, and on the Neighborhood Chefs show.
“It’s all about highlighting the average person who can really get busy in the kitchen, that jewel of a cook who may live right next door to you – and you had no idea. For our show, we look for hidden gems in our backyard and give them an opportunity to shine.”
Justice is also planning on going back to his old neighborhood and working with kids to help them make better life choices – and show how healthy eating can help lead to longer, happier lives.
“I want to show kids that just because you’re surrounded by bad things in life does not mean that you have to stay with them. You have a choice. You can make your world and your life a much kinder, more wonderful place by believing in yourself and following your dreams.”
For Justice, many of those dreams began in the kitchen – and he’s planning to cook up a lot more of them. Stay tuned!
Justice Stewart’s Spiced Shrimp with Mango, Rum and Cashews
“Seafood and summer go hand in hand for me, since I’m an avid fisherman during the warmer months. I grew up fishing every weekend with my mom, dad, grandmother, aunts and uncles. It was a family thing we loved to do together. Today, I love using fresh seafood in my recipes – this spicy shrimp dish is one of my all-time favorites for summer entertaining!”
1/2 teaspoon brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup salted cashews
1 1/2 pound large or jumbo shrimp
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 cup finely chopped scallions
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 tablespoons of Bacardi gold, or any dark rum (Bacardi Gold gives the dish hints of vanilla)
1 large (15-ounce) mango, cut into 1/4-inch cubes (or use 2 small mangoes)
1 1/2 teaspoons cider vinegar
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves
1. In a small bowl, stir together the brown sugar, 1/2 teaspoon black pepper and cayenne. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the cashews and sugar-spice mixture to the skillet; cook, stirring, until nuts are golden, 2 to 3 minutes. Scrape nuts into a bowl.
2. Wipe out skillet. Season shrimp all over with salt and remaining 1 teaspoon pepper. Return skillet to medium-high heat and add the remaining 3 tablespoons oil. Add scallions and half of the cilantro; cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add garlic and shrimp.
3. Cook, stirring occasionally, until shrimp is done and cooked through, about 6-8 minutes. Pour in the rum and cook, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan, until the rum evaporates, about 1 minute.
4. Remove pan from heat and add nuts, mango, vinegar and other half of the cilantro leaves. Taste and adjust seasonings, if necessary. For the ultimate summer feel, serve your shrimp with island-style cocktails.
Laura Martin Bacon is a longtime writer and creative consultant for Williams-Sonoma and other well-known entities. She’s also the Culinary Creative Director of DooF (“food” backwards), an organization that uses multi-media entertainment, education and live events to help kids and families discover the magic of food. DooF explores every aspect of food – from flavors, history, science and cultural traditions to the exciting journey from source-to-table. Laura’s mission: to make good food fun – at home, in the classroom and beyond.