Joseph "jj" Johnson – executive chef

Joseph “JJ” Johnson is the James Beard-nominated Executive Chef at The Cecil and Minton’s.  A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, Chef Johnson went on to hone his skills in some of New York’s most esteemed kitchens including Centro Vinoteca, Jane, and Tribeca Grill.  Constantly in search of new flavors, Chef Johnson spent a month cooking in Ghana at the country's leading boutique hotel, Villa Monticello, studying West African cuisine and exploring the country's exotic markets. 

In 2013, Chef Johnson helped open The Cecil with Richard Parsons and Alexander Smalls. Soon after, he joined the kitchen of its sister restaurant Minton’s, the revived jazz supper club located next door. 

Chef Johnson was nominated for a James Beard Foundation award for Rising Star Chef, and he recognized by Star Chefs with the Rising Star Community Chef award (both in 2015).  He was named on the "20 Under 40" list of extraordinary philanthropists by the Observer (2016).  Chef Johnson was also named one of Forbes’ 30 Under 30, Zagat’s 30 under 30 and an Eater Young Gun (all in 2014), as well as recognized as Chef of the Year by New York African Restaurant Week (2015). 


alexander smalls – Restaurateur, co-owner


Alexander Smalls is the restaurateur and co-owner of The Cecil and its sister restaurant Minton’s.  Over the past three decades, Smalls has traveled the world studying the cooking techniques and foodways of the African diaspora, leading up to his creation of The Cecil. Similarly, Minton’s has received critical acclaim for its Lowcountry cuisine inspired by Smalls’ childhood, as well as for its world-class musical program that he oversees, honoring the club’s historic roots as the birthplace of bebop in the 1930s.

As the former chef-owner of Café Beulah and several other NYC restaurants, Smalls has received great acclaim in the restaurant scene, including cooking at the James Beard House and being honored with the Legacy Award in 2014 by The Amsterdam News, one of the oldest African American newspapers in the country.

In addition to his success in the culinary world, Smalls’ memoir and cookbook “Grace the Table” features recipes from his upbringing of Southern Revival cuisine, whereas an upcoming book will focus on African American cookery. Smalls is also a world-renowned opera singer and the winner of both a Grammy and Tony Award for the cast recording of Porgy and Bess, by George Gershwin, with the Houston Grand Opera.


Photo credit (below): Lindsay Talley