Chef Q & A: Michael Johnson

Michael Johnson

Executive Chef

Marco Island Yacht Club Harbour Room/Verandah Restaurants

1400 N. Collier Blvd., Marco Island. Phone: 394-0199.

Hours: Open (members & guests only) for lunch and dinner Tuesday through Saturday and Sunday brunch, closed Monday. Began working at present restaurant?

December 2008.

Who or what inspired you to become a chef/cook?

I’ve always been in the kitchen with my mom and grandma for as long as I can remember. My family moved to the area in 1979, but actually I got into it when my older brother Todd Johnson enrolled in the culinary program at Johnson & Wales in Miami. When he finished (graduated), I started. Watching him I could see all the opportunities available in the hospitality industry. I graduated in 1998 and it was a wise decision. Incidentally, Todd Johnson’s Artisan Bread Company, in Fort Myers was one of the contributors at the Southwest Florida Wine and Food Fest that was held recently in Fort Myers to benefit the Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida.

What was your first restaurant job?

The Fontainebleau Hilton in Miami Beach where I did my Johnson & Wales internship in 1996.

How long have you been cooking professionally?

Since I graduated from culinary school I worked at several Fifth Avenue South restaurants expanding my culinary repertoire and recently at the Ritz Carlton Resort of Naples. I learned that the Marco Island Yacht Club was looking for a sous chef so I applied. On my first day I was promoted to Executive Chef.

Do food trends affect your cooking style?

Well, we use a lot of organic produce as well as everything fresh – from produce to seafood — and of course, we butcher our meat. In fact, I’m going to start a dry-aging program shortly for our beef cuts and certain lamb cuts.

Are you planning changes to your menu for the new season?

We recently created a new dinner menu, everything from appetizers through desserts. I’m creating an innovative lunch menu now that our new dinner menu is receiving a very positive response from our members. We are now offering limited lunch memberships at the Marco Island Yacht Club and you can call 394-0199 Tuesday through Friday for more information.

What is your most popular dish?

I would have to say the specials we run. We sell approximately 72 percent of our entrées and desserts from our nightly specials menu.

What is your favorite wine?

I like champagne — Veuve Clicquot is my favorite.

Do you cook at home? If so, what would we always find in your pantry?

I always have pasta on hand and always fresh vegetables and fruit – I like to patronize our local vendors

What is your secret ingredient? Why?

Kosher salt. Because it makes everything taste good.

What would you be doing if you weren’t a chef?

Gee — I guess working with children. I have two girls and they enjoy my teaching them about food-related things. They’re really amazing!

What annoys you most in the kitchen?

When the radio is on: I don’t like distractions when I cook.

What do you enjoy most about your profession?

Being able to create — experiment with new and different ingredients — and then hear the complement from the customers.

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