Johnny’s Greek family emigrated from British Columbia to the Seattle, Washington area in 1974, when Johnny was just 4 years old. He lived there until 2003, did a short stint in Hollywood, California then moved to Byron, Minnesota to design and launch Somerby Golf Club.
It was Johnny’s start as an executive in the golf world that catapulted him into becoming what he wanted to be: an upper epicurean with a wine influence. During the 10 years he worked in the golf community, he discovered his passion for food.
“My food would be considered strong nuevo-ethnic, with an American flare to it,” declares Johnny. “I love cooking international foods and putting an American flare on it.”
Johnny’s favorite type of food to eat and cook at home is Asian. Growing up in the Pacific Northwest, he spent time in Chinatown, which encouraged him to create delectable Asian cuisine. When his daughter’s teacher asked the class what kind of food the students liked, his daughter replied, “Japanese spare ribs with braised cabbage.” Johnny loves to cook Asian. That’s enough to make you rethink your child’s dinner options.
What’s Johnny’s favorite cooking utensil? Pans! Searing is his expertise. “If I had a butane heater, pans and a fork, I could cook anything!” So if you are headed on a trek through the Boundary Waters, take Johnny with you.
Imagine this: A young chef, newly married, setting up a barbecue grill. He leans over the grill, prepping it for food. When he squats down, an excruciating pain sears his midsection. Looking down, the chef realizes that he had gotten too close while leaning over the hot grill, which caused his zipper to become red hot. The result is a zipper-shaped scar in his midsection. Now that’s a story about a HOT chef!
What does Johnny love most? Sure, he loves food and wine, but most of all, he loves the people he meets and the relationships he forms over dinner. “I’ve gotten to meet some really cool people and cook for some really interesting people,” he says. “When George Winston [a famous American pianist] came here, he called up and asked if I could make him private meals. Meeting people over food is just wonderful.”
Area chefs agree that fresh food is best and that fresh food is finally becoming more than just a trend; it’s becoming a real way of life. “We took a 40-year downturn in this country with the [production of food] and the length of how long a product stays on your shelf,” explains Johnny. “I think there are a lot of really great restaurants in Rochester that are cooking in the farm-to-table manner, and I’m happy to see this happening.”
So with all this good food being created out there from scratch, Johnny says his favorite meal is, “A whole lamb on a rotisserie, a full Mediterranean Easter, with some Ouzo, a good glass of red wine and my wife by my side.”
Dawn Sanborn is a food and wine lover herself, and says, “Until you’ve actually drunk Ouzo from Greece, in Greece, you’ll never understand the allure.”