The Cecil Brings a Celebration of the African Diaspora to NYC to Harlem


Later this fall, media mogul Richard Parsons (former chairman and CEO of Time Warner) will revive a bit of Harlem’s jazz history when he opens Minton’s, restoring an old playhouse that once played host to legends like Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker, and Dizzy Gillespie. But first, he’s debuted the Cecil right next door at 210 West 118th Street, paying homage to the African diaspora.

The concept, explains chef de cuisine Joseph “JJ” Johnson, marries Asian and American influences to African food, which he researched by spending 16 days in Ghana with executive chef Alexander Smalls. “We did American-themed dinners for seven days,” Johnson explains. “But we were working in the kitchen with a native so we were able to see the food through their eyes and see Ghana through their eyes. The Cecil is really inspired by those travels.”

Back on the ground in the States, Johnson drew inspiration from the markets, seeking out heirloom tomatoes and yams and making the connection between the fish market in Africa and the Fulton fish market. He’ll bring those lessons into the menu here, and he cites dishes like spicy prawns with piri piri sauce and fried guinea hen. You’ll also find a burger, roti, hot dogs, and dumplings that combine African, Asian, and American influences.

To that, pastry chef Jenny Lee applies her unique background to round out the pastry menu: “I’m a native New Yorker, but I have a big heart for Africa, and I’m Asian-American,” she explains, adding that she’s combining her experience in fine dining with traditional African desserts and Asian flavors to build her list. “Globally, pastry is very connected,” she says. She highlights a Malva cake, a traditional South African cake made with apricots and dates that she’s updated with salted caramel, peppercorn meringues, and grapefruit sorbet. She also created a coconut rice pudding with black sesame and lychee granita as well as a peanut opera cake paired with masala ice cream.

The Cecil opened last night for dinner. Look for Minton’s to hit the scene in a couple of weeks.