Confessions of Justin Johnson

Published in FSD Update

Justin Johnson admires Chef Thomas Keller, wishes he could play the piano and considers the Big Mac one of the worst foods he’s ever eaten.

Justin Johnson, executive chef at Watertown Regional Medical Center, in Wisconsin, admires Chef Thomas Keller, wishes he could play the piano and considers the Big Mac one of the worst foods he’s ever eaten.

Q. What is the best part of your job?

It’s hard to pick just one. But, I’d have to say my team. I am blessed with such an uncommon collection of talent it makes the day-to-day reality of working in non-commercial food service like living in the Land of Oz.

Q. What is the worst part of your job?

The monotony of forms and budgets and purchase requisitions tend to be the drabber and more uninspiring parts of my day. 

Q. What do you consider to be your greatest achievement?

In a larger sense, my contributions to the non-commercial foodservice world, in general, are what I’m most proud of. Up until recently, I felt I would only be happy in a fine-dining chef role. I’ve really come to find tremendous pride in what I’ve done despite this path not being what I had in mind for myself as an arrogant young culinary student. 

Q. What is the most unusual foodservice/catering request you have ever received?

While I was working at a hotel, we had a bachelorette party request a cake to be made in the shape of, let’s just say, a part of the male anatomy. We satisfied this request.  

Q. If you weren't in foodservice what would you be doing?

For a time, I was an actor and I also owned a small, marginally successful, video production company. When I was a child, I wanted to be a movie director. If not for food, I would be working in movies or television in some capacity. 

Q. If you had a time machine what historical event or era would you visit?

I would’ve loved to live in New York City in the 1940s. I have a real fondness for the fashion, food and music of that era. 

Q. Which talent would you most like to have?

I desperately wish I could play the piano. 

Q. If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

I’d ask for my hair back. 

Q. What is your greatest fear?

Mice and flying on an airplane. So, if I’m ever on a plane and a mouse starts running around, I will probably go into cardiac arrest. 

Q. Which living person do you most admire?

Chef Thomas Keller. 

Q. What would be your dream vacation?

I’m not one for tropical vacations or sitting on the beach. My two favorite places I’ve been are Napa Valley and New York City. To have a couple of weeks eating and drinking in either of those places would be the perfect vacation for me. 

Q. What is your favorite meal?

Steak Au Poivre. 

Q. If you could eat dinner with anyone living or dead, who would it be?

James Mercer, the lead singer of The Shins. 

Q. What is your "guilty pleasure?"

I have a few: Chex Mix, Spaghetti-O’s and Meatballs and Jack’s Original Frozen Pizza. 

Q. What will people always find in your refrigerator?

Eggs

Q. What is your most treasured possession?

When you have three kids, it’s advisable to sever any emotional attachment you have to material things because they will eventually break everything you own. Having said that, I do have a soft spot for my car, a 2006 Mazda RX8. 

Q. What food fad do you wish had never started?

The word “fad” has a negative connotation to it that doesn’t reflect the inception of whatever that culinary revelation was. At one time, fusion seemed genius until people got bored with it and dubbed it a fad. Then, it seemed like a good idea to recognize the grower of an ingredient by naming them on your menu until people became annoyed with it and dubbed it a fad. Anything new that happens in food is only exciting and different until it isn’t anymore and then people want to move on as quickly as possible. 

Q. What activity is at the top of your bucket list?

Going to Paris. 

Q. What is the weirdest food you have ever eaten?

Actually, the weirdest thing I’ve had was a Big Mac. I’ve only had one in my life and it was one of the worst things I’ve ever eaten. 

Q. What are your words to live by?

They are not my own words but the words of Wylie Dufresne: “No great achievement in human history has been the work of one person.”

Q. Who is your favorite celebrity chef?

To me, there’s only one celebrity chef worthy of being called a “celebrity chef” and that’s Wolfgang Puck. He’s wildly charismatic, yet a genuinely brilliant chef whose work seems almost effortless.