Words Rachel Murphy Photos Ben Rosenzweig
The thick haze of smoky charcoal wafts from the barbeque while our host, Hood Chef, prods the bright embers, coaxing the coals to burn. It’s one of those New York summer days when the dense humidity can only be curbed by a cold beer and some shade, but despite the pressing heat, Chef remains in high spirits. Nearby, his sous chef, Smokey the Bear, hands out Coronas and gin and juice to the group that has started to gather. A few neighbors meander through the small courtyard in Bushwick, sipping gourmet coffee, Mac laptops sandwiched under their arms. They smile, nod, shake hands and pound knuckles with Chef, unfazed by the burgeoning soirée. “This place is a pretty dope spot. It’s like a mature dorm of all artists,” says Hood Chef. “I’m used to living in the ‘hood. In my old place, there was books holding the broken window up and crime going on outside, so living here is definitely a step up.”
Chef wanders to the fold-up table where a miscellany of Tupperware, recycled coffee cups and plastic bags hold the pre-prepared ingredients. Today, Hood Chef will talk us through his signature summer sandwich, the Gaws Dog — a marinated grilled chicken sandwich garnished with turkey bacon, avocado, cherry tomatoes, cilantro and his signature pink “Swag Sauce” – while serving up his usual barbeque fare of “Loco” burgers, rib steak and corn. “[The name is] actually swag god backwards,” Chef explains. “My friend, Sky, has a Gaws Dog tattoo. I made the sandwich and he was like, ‘yo loco, what you gonna call this one?’ He had his tattoo showing, so I named it after him.”
Born and raised in Brooklyn, Hood Chef credits his mom, who cooked a warm meal every evening, for fostering his culinary interest. “But, when I was younger, I didn’t even appreciate it,” he remembers. “I just wanted to go outside and smoke weed.” Before she moved to Orlando, Chef filmed her cooking his favorite meals so he could recreate them, which gradually spurred the idea to create The Hood Chef YouTube series.
The idea of Hood Chef ebbed and flowed at a stuttered pace before the New York Daily News picked up on it and Whole Foods asked him to star in episodes for their website. “They actually paid me to be Hood Chef,” he says, poking the cooking chicken. “I got that money and came back to New York with a game plan, like ‘I gotta get popular.’ “
Throwing parties with his friend, tattoo artist Badder Israel, he began to get recognized. “People started getting to know me because of my tattoos,” he says, his bare arms and shoulders a harlequin of colored ink. “I’d go into a club and they’d be like, ‘yo, that’s Hood Chef!’ They wanted to collaborate with me on parties and little by little, celebrities started recognizing me.”
If you YouTube the Hood Chef series, a Rolodex of rappers feature in the episodes, including Wiz Khalifa, Fabolous and Chuck Inglish. Recently, J. Cole stopped by his crib while working on Born Sinner. “He loves the Tiger sandwich,” says Chef. “He came over like five days in a row. He always shows mad love.”
While a minor celebrity himself now, Chef hasn’t forgotten his roots in the ‘hood, and when Dorell Wright of the 76ers offered to help him feed over a thousand New Yorkers on Thanksgiving, he seized the opportunity. “That was really touching,” he says. “This year, I wanna do something similar again. If not, I’ll do whatever I can.”
Hood Chef is currently working on a reality show and would like to expand the brand to include a sandwich shop. But his long-term ambition is to create a 4FUN farm. “You know, build a community where inner-city kids could learn and try [to] do something,” he says.
His food has been described by fans as part comfort food, part stoner food, and he’s happy with that evaluation. “It’s delicious food,” he says, smearing “Swag Sauce” on a baguette. A vocal fan of the G-pen – his is upstairs charging – he tries not to let smoking affect his cooking. “You might let shit burn,” Chef says. “Although sometimes, me and my business partner, O da Butcher hit the oil rig while we’re grilling, you know, all for fun,” he adds with a heavy Brooklyn chuckle.
As he begins to serve up the first Gaws Dogs, he runs through his ideal dinner party. “They call me the Brooklyn Julia Childs, so I want to invite Julia Childs,” he begins. “I’m a big sports fan, so, Amar’e Stoudemire. I’ve been trying to feed him for a while now and haven’t got the chance. I would want Kanye West, to see what he’s about. Michael Jackson would have been dope, but he wouldn’t have eaten my food, he’s probably too crazy. And my pops, I would love for him to see where I’m at right now.”
Gaws Dog Ingredients:
4 chicken breasts
1 cup Italian or Raspberry Walnut Vinaigrette
(Wish-Bone brand recommended)
8 slices of turkey bacon
4 French baguettes
8 cherry tomatoes
Pink Swag Sauce Ingredients:
4 tbsp. mayonnaise
6 tbsp. of hot sauce
1/2 a lime
Clove of diced garlic
2 tsp. sugar
Salt and pepper
Before the Barbeque
Clean chicken and pat dry. Cover in the vinaigrette. Place in a sealed container in the fridge. Wash the cherry tomatoes and slice in half. Wash the avocado but do not slice up until the barbeque to avoid browning. Grill the bacon until crisp. Place on a paper towel to dry off excess grease. Whisk the Swag Sauce ingredients in a bowl under combined. Store for later.
Throw the charcoal on the barbeque and light it up. Put more coal on one end than the other, for hot and medium grilling surfaces. Cook the chicken for eight minutes. Four minutes on each side.
For the Gaws Dog
Slice the baguette in half. Apply Swag Sauce lightly to both sides. Cut avocado into thin slivers. Stack the chicken breast and two slices of turkey bacon on one side. Add the avocado and cherry tomatoes to the other. Sprinkle with cilantro for taste. Sandwich together and enjoy!
*Hood Chef grilling tip: Don’t put the meat on the barbecue until all the flames are burning under the grill, otherwise the meat will burn to a crisp.
This story appears in Mass Appeal Issue 53. Read more stories from the issue here.