Listen, we’re assuming that none of us are Kardashians (unless you are– hi Khloe!) and that traveling with a private chef is something you don’t normally do. Perhaps you heard the story of how we met our MFR chef, Johnny, in the jungles of Thailand (if not, it’s right here and honestly one of my favorite instances of kismet). Tim and I were chatting the other day about how it’s so so cool to have a chef on our team who is so wildly talented that he finds his footing no matter where in the world we travel.
But– being an excellent chef isn’t enough.
The magic of Johnny is in more than the food he creates, the many hours of deep study he does for individual dishes, and most importantly, his ability to translate food for Moveable Feasters. He’s the perfect example of “learn the rules so you know how to break them.” He’ll explain the ancient history of a spice you’ve never heard of and follow it up with a semi-off color joke. He’s got broad training and has worked all over the world, but seems right at home anywhere he goes. Honestly guys, even if you were a Kardashian, you couldn’t get much better than Johnny. We asked him a few questions about his food philosophy– and if you feel like you might be on the same wavelength, nab one of the last spots around our table in Thailand so you can meet him in the same place we did (his element).
Where’s the fun in food?
It comes from that goofy person sitting across from you at the table, or maybe that hunk of a dude (or gal) helping you prepare some shitty chicken Parmesan, or from you laughing at how bad that shitty chicken Parmesan you just cooked was. Or maybe you’ll find the fun in eating a 7/11 hot dog, drunk as fuck, with mustard (or ketchup, you heathen) dripping all over your Mazda Whatever™ at 3 in the morning. The point is that the fun part doesn’t always come from the food. The fun comes from the context and the people that are surrounding that food.
How has travel shaped your approach to food?
Travel has changed everything I know about food. I realized how well you could trace a country’s history easily through its cuisine: the proliferation of bread and coffee in Vietnam from the French colonialism in Indochina, or the curry in Myanmar that holds not only remnants of Indian and Thai influence but also some interesting Chinese flavors—it all goes beyond sharing a border.
It’s made me rethink technique: seasoning, which is done with sugar, fish sauce, and lime juice; searing, in which they are not a fan of the Maillard reaction (google it folks!); and everything in between when it comes to technique. Also it’s embarrassingly easy to accidentally use the wrong end of the chopsticks.
During my first couple weeks in Thailand I was at a little pad thai place with my Thai friend, Angkrit. Nothing about it was extravagant, but it was packed. While we were eating, I asked Angkrit, “So is this pad thai considered really good?” He responded with, “I dunno, do you think it’s good?” I said, “Yeah definitely!” He said, “That’s all that matters then, isn’t it?”
This philosophy can resonate wherever you go: there’s something to learn about the past and present through whatever’s going in your pie hole, all expectations should be thrown out the window… and don’t be a snob! If it’s good to you then it’s good food. Even if it happens to be a Jacks frozen pizza (don’t fight me on that).
What does a Moveable Feast mean to you?
My Moveable Feast is all the times I sat with my parents and/or grandparents and had, specifically, Italian bread and coppa and salami made by my grandfather or father. That happening was so much more common than just every Sunday. Sometimes at home, sometimes at my grandparents, sometimes in the park, and even once in Italy when I was 16. Same food, same people. The food was only memorable because it marked a time when I would be relaxing, laughing, poking fun at, and being with my family. It marked pure happiness and it was something we did all the time, everywhere. Those feelings were so much more important than the food itself (though being Italian I’d say there was just a bit of importance on food). That’s an idea I take with me everywhere and something I’ll bring to the MF’ers. Though I hope you majorly enjoy and remember the food I will be making, I also kinda just hope that you relax, laugh, and make fun of me like you can only do with your family.
If your last meal had to be from a fast food joint, what would it be?
Easy. Culvers butter burger and cheese curds. Guys, I’m from Wisconsin.