Like any chef, Jametta Raspberry’s fondest food memories stem from childhood, and from heritage.
But having grown up in a Black family who migrated from Gary, Ind. to Eagan – “from the ghetto to the suburbs” – she says her fondest food memory sometimes caused her to feel ashamed. Sucking bones at the table with her daddy meant they got to spend more quality time talking together after everyone else had cleared out, and as far as she was concerned, they got the best part of the meat, too.
“The gristle is my favorite part of the meal. It’s a primitive way of eating; people do it all over the world. People who don’t have an overabundance of food spare nothing. You’ve heard of snout-to-tail, or the rooter to the tooter? You spare nothing. And in my house growing up, we ate everything. Nothing was thrown away,” said Raspberry.
But in upper-crust Eagan, she quickly learned that sucking bones wasn’t exactly socially acceptable.
“I started to feel like it was something to be embarrassed about. So maybe I only sucked bones in the corner, or at home. And then, the discarded parts ended up being symbolic of who I am as a chef today. The disparities I’ve experienced working in the restaurant industry,” said the chef.
Like many Black chefs, especially Black female chefs, Raspberry has struggled mightily to carve out a place for herself in the industry. Despite 15 years at the trade, she was made to feel as though she wasn’t a “real” chef, not least of all because there were no role models to speak of. And, as she watched less qualified candidates rise through ranks time and again above her, she could only begin to draw one conclusion.
“I was being discarded because I wasn’t a white man,” bluntly stated the chef.
And she also began to discover, she’s wasn’t alone. With her New House of Gristle, a pop-up dining concept that could soon be a brick and mortar food haven, Raspberry wants to go beyond the question of opening her own restaurant. Way beyond.
“I want to solve the restaurant problem. The failing. The terrible food. The boring food. Because I think it goes without saying that if you (offer) delicious food and delicious wine, people will stay at the table,” said Raspberry.
Her goal is to invite more people to the table – many more – regardless of what the table looks like or what’s on it.
“What I’m trying to do is upgrade the hope of Black chefs, Black women, Black people, people of color, immigrants, refugees,” said Raspberry.
Indeed, Minnesota’s restaurant community has a whiteness problem. For all of its lauded growth, the food and beverage industry has so few Black-owned food businesses the number could be considered negligible. Which is not to take anything away from the efforts of a small but mighty faction of Black chefs, cooks, and entrepreneurs who are working hard enough that their contributions are impossible to ignore. But Raspberry intends to break out of the boundary of the traditional restaurant story, and into less chartered territory.
“We are building The New House of Gristle. The House of Gristle is a cultural and culinary institution. Through storytelling, through hospitality, through servitude. And what that means, I’m not sure,” said Raspberry.
It’s important to note that Gristle isn’t solely about food preparation, even if you do see Gristle curated events at local venues (and beyond).
“I don’t want to force my own aesthetic on people because I think it’s profitable. I genuinely want to fix problems,” said Raspberry. “(I want) to help people find joy in food, and to find an outlet to not have to work for the white man anymore. Because I know that doesn’t work for me. I know too much.”
Think of Gristle as a safe landscape in the greater food world that fills voids for women and people of color who have had few other alternatives to express their art, or to partake in food spaces aside from those created by white people for white people. Gristle may (or may not) be a restaurant, a magazine, a pop-up, a brand, an awards ceremony, a party (or parties,) a network, a podcast, or any number of things in between or beyond. Most importantly, it will be grassroots, and curated in a manner that serves a cultural void rather than a top-down vision that benefits only a few elites at the apogee.
Like the people of Gristle, the message is one of counterculture and embracing the beauty therein.
“I’ll put bones, gristle, fat, all of the discarded parts on your plate. I’m gonna take something that sounds gross and shove it in people’s faces. I want you to miss it. Then, the real (people) who understand (what we’re trying to do) will get it,” said Raspberry.
So, how will you know when you’re having a Gristle experience?
“When an emotional connection has been made,” Raspberry simply stated.
Gristle is love.