Q&A with Chef JJ Johnson

Meet Chef JJ Johnson! He’s an award-winning chef, TV personality, author, and founder of NYC restaurant FieldTrip. Based in Harlem with a location at Rockefeller Center, FieldTrip is a rice-based restaurant that embraces the idea that “rice is culture” through the creation of delicious grain bowls. With 4th of July around the corner, we sat down with Chef JJ to get the inside scoop on grilling, summer eats, and his favorite cheese.

Q: What was the inspiration behind your Grilled Corn with Bacon and La Tur recipe?

Chef JJ: “As a chef, ingredients talk to you. Murray’s sent me a beautiful cheese box, and I think I’m just getting cheese, but when I open the box I see one of my favorite bacons– Benton’s. About five years ago, I hung out with Allan (Benton, head of Benton’s Bacon) at Blackberry Farm and it was super inspirational. So Benton’s Bacon and ham is near and dear to my heart. And that saltiness and smokiness of that bacon with beautiful corn in the summertime can’t be beaten. And I was thinking about Mexican corn with mayonnaise and chili, but here you get that La Tur cheese–you whip it together with a spoon, add a little sea salt and smear that on your corn. Add those bacon bits, and you have the most beautiful dish. The creaminess of the La Tur with the sweet corn creates something so simple yet so spectacular–I think everyone should have it at their cookout or barbecue.”

What’s it like to balance a successful (and growing!) business with two young children?

“The best thing about this journey is having two young kids. It makes things fun, it makes it more interesting, it keeps you on your toes.. And it gives me something to look forward to–I’m living out something that I’ve been dreaming about my whole life. And hopefully my kids can run FieldTrip when my time is up and they can be a part of it. For them to grow up in a restaurant, to be around it and see it and say, ‘Hey, my dad did that,’–that’s amazing.”

How does it feel now that New York City is opening back up?

“With New York opening back up, it’s great. New York sets a tone for the world in terms of the dining scene and innovation and tradition. I think this Fall is going to be special in New York City. Just the way the food smells, the way people are walking around, I think all of that is going to be memorable, and something like we’ve never seen before.”

4th of July usually means grilling – do you have any grilling tips and tricks for the non-chefs out there?

“I’m using a pellet grill right now. It’s the most amazing thing, you can control the heat and smoke, roast and do a lot. For grilling in general, medium heat is great. Pre-heating the grill is good for getting grill marks. Make sure to control the flame to avoid smoke especially if you’re using propane. If you’re grilling with charcoal, add some wood chips. But other than than that, order some steaks, order some lamb, order some whole fish, get it on the grill and just get those fresh flavors. Whatever is talking to you, that’s what I want to see you cook.”

What are some of your go-to summer meals (both on and off the grill)?

“Every time I throw a cookout, it’s a dream cookout. We start off first with music, friends, and family–it’s a vibe. And everybody loves a delicious cheese platter. It sets a tone. I think you should have hard and soft cheeses, you should have one cheese on there that’s your showstopper–for me that’s blue or even truffle cheese. Put that out with some crackers or bread, and then from there we’re going to have some stuffed burgers. My wife loves hot dogs. Some ballpark beef hot dogs on a potato roll with all the toppings: cheese, turkey bacon bits, barbecue onions. And you can’t have a cookout without potato salad (my mother-in-law is always bringing the potato salad). My kids love steak, so we’ll have some ribeyes and a rack of lamb, as well as some beautiful vegetables: that summer corn, some farm salad, and watermelon of course. It’s all about tradition–new and old blending together.”

Do you have a favorite cheese?

“My favorite cheese of all time is Roquefort. I love it for salads, on a burger, or chicken sandwich to add that spiciness, and I love Roquefort for blue cheese sauces.”