[C]hronicled. | JOHNNY BRIDGE

 … A Leviathan’s Lullaby & A Heart Buried at Sea

Curator & Writer | Hakan Burcuoğlu · Venue | Thormanby Island · Gear | Leica

The boat rocks on seething, cerulean seas as he scuttles bow-side, silhouetted. It’s forceful shadow play, heuristics by hatchet, a ceremonious prelude—the reason I’m here. But I’m dazed—weak at the knees—inundated by roaring winds, and the inescapable sounds of guttural sea lions that burrow into my plexus. Disenfranchised, I close my eyes to elude this constance—these forces of nature, this bearded, subsumed energumen. But suddenly, he amplifies his histrionics, gesticulating to fish and fowl—euphoric. “Eureka!” he bellows, hunched over starboard, delivering a cohort of oysters back to their provenance on a raging inferno of crackling coals. My mind’s flooded. And this ark is my rapture. But who better to save me, than Noah incarnate.

I’m not one for sacrosanct—and perhaps exaggerate for effect—but find it near impossible to refrain from allegory in encapsulating Johnny’s remarkable life story. With humanity blemished in every which way, it’d be easy to mistake his positivity—and clamour—for pandering nostrums. But now that I’ve seen the light, I understand his story to be as much nativist, as nurturist. There’s no room for “versus” in this debate, and no heart of darkness he’d wish to spare. He’s of this land, as much Leviathan as he is mad pirate, and we’re all here, watching in awe, bearing witness to his belle époque.

But let’s not let this rapturous renaissance inflect years of brutal brawn. As is with the vast majority of professionals working in in high-pressured kitchens, Johnny, too, has taken his licks. What renders him singular [having worked in over 55 restaurants] is that he’s remained utterly unscathed, having garnered enough intelligence, and resilience, to belabour any powder keg. So thank you, Mr. Bridge, for allowing us into your domain, and for showing a cynical city slicker the true meaning of adventure. I’ve buried my heart at sea, and you know I’ll be back for more.

HB: Do you remember your first eureka moment with food?

JB: It came at a local sushi joint, then called Shabusen. My parents decided to take me out one evening, and as a toddler I was like “No, I don’t want to go”. Obviously, they ended up convincing me. I’ve never forgotten the placethe tables had these little DIY grills, so you’d throw your marinated beef on there, kind of like a crossover between traditional Japanese and Korean BBQ. But something snapped inside of me when I tried my first piece of sockeye nigiri. We ordered it again and again, because I kept finishing it all. Raw fishgive it to me. I love it.

HB: Presumably it’s also the hands-on aspect of it that you also enjoyed?

JB: Definitely! In fact, I’d much rather be serving than eating. Every good meal should involve some sort of participation. Being able to interact on a controlling level with the meal, like a good sommelierit’s that control factor I crave. Dining for me isn’t that comfortable spot, if anything, it’s more about the uncomfortable spot.

Early whisk work.

HB: It’s funny your first eureka moment came eating out. Chefs usually reference a food memory from home.

JB: My parents were terrific cooks, but they worked till late, so they didn’t cook a huge amount at home. Then again, we’d have these massive family dinners, mostly at my grandparents’ home. They were quite extravagant, like a crossover of family and food, blending into this singular family experience. I was an only child, so there wasn’t a kids table or anything. There’d be lots of adults in serious conversation, and my attention was directed towards making sense of the ongoings, which didn’t allow for focusing on the food as much.

Johnny, Grade 2, with his Grandmother.

HB: So when did food start becoming the focal point?

JB: I have fond memories of my grandmother engaging measking me lots of questions—while she was cooking. She had a penchant for classical French cookeryshe’d recreate ancient recipes from Larousse Gastronomique, and take creative liberties on Marie-Antoine Carême’s dishes from the 1800s. Mostly pheasant and duck… lots of fatvery rich stuff. I loved all of it. It’s an Irish family so we also cooked potatoes in every way imaginable. Regardless, her stuff was out there, which, in turn, made me more inquisitive. Questioning is the best way to learn about food.

HB: Knowing your love for the ocean, it does seem fitting that a late night sushi outing had the most instrumental, and lasting, impact on your palate.

JB: You’re right. It’s probably why I’ve always loved all of the local wild salmon. Nothing tops my love for the ocean. My relationship with the sea is my very closeness to the ocean.

HB: What’s the provenance of that love story?

JB: [Chuckles] It all started herecoming up to the Sunshine Coast, to our cabin on this property. My parents brought me here when I was just three weeks old… almost the moment I entered this world. My grandparents had been coming up here since the late 70s. It’s my whole life.

HB: Even for a cynical cityslicker like myself, the beauty of this place gets me all sorts of gooey. I’m quite envious of you. Has it always been this idyllic?

JB: It’s changed monumentally, particularly the forests and the ocean, to the point where I’m second-guessing some of my childhood memories. It’s gone through so many ebbs and flows, just like the tide. The vegetation’s differentthe canopies are higher, it feels like there’s so much more open space. The whole island burnt to the ground in the early 1900s, so the trees have grown in unison eversince. And as a child I remember them to be much lower, even though I was lower. I do still know these parts with an intimate knowledge.

HB: You must’ve wandered the unknown religiously as a child.

JB: [Chuckles] It was about the escape. I learned to drive a boat before I can remember. I’d wander off into the woods with a walkie-talkie and just get lost… I’d climb trees. Now that I look back, I’d climb to terrifying heights. I was like 75 pounds, climbing 60 feet up a tree. I’d get up as high as I could, hang tight, let the tree bend on its own weight and then swing back and forth! And if the tree happened to be on the edge of a cliff, even better! The views were heart-stopping.  

Johnny’s default state, On Top of the World.

HB: Whenever my parents took me on vacation as a child, I’d always complain I had no friends to play with. So your childhood seems to have been quite independent, if not solitary, to me.

JB: It was mild insanity… wandering out into the woods by myself. I’m 32 years old and still talk to myself, quite regularly… Sometimes I need expert advice. Finding peace in nature was finding peace within myself.

HB: I get it, but how hectic could your life have been in the city, let alone as a toddler, for you to seek some sort of inner peace in the first place?

JB: [Chuckles] As a child living in the city, I remember looking around, and having this feeling of discontent. Things we did were clearly damaging to the world, but somehow, we kept doing them. Everything struggled to be something else. But in nature, things always sorted themselves out. If something was damaging, it got righted. The forest just ate things up. “Finding inner peace” makes it sound like I had a hectic upbringing; on the contrary, I’ve had a phenomenal childhood, and it’s mainly due to my parents. They’re idols of mine, and always took such great care of me.

Johnny, pictured with his father, Maurice.

HB: The word phenomenal wouldn’t suffice in describing the poignancy of your provenance.

JB: It’s quite the story. I was conceived in a caboose in the Yukon, by a man named Billy and a woman named Joni. Joni was a Buddhist at the timequite the free spirit. She allowed this energy inside of her pop out into the world, and perhaps she’d thought of putting up this child up for adoption all along, but through quite the entangled process, my parents adopted me just 10 days after I was born. Joni didn’t show up for again for many years.

HB: Had you made any efforts to find her?

JB: The first time I even thought about it was two years ago, in December. I’d told Kirsten, my partner, about my intentions of finding her. And before making a single effort, this woman, Joni, messaged me on Facebook, completely out of the blue.

HB: What did the message say?

JB: “I’m pretty sure I’m your mom”. I never forget that day—I was catering on a film set. I’m constantly this super positive, optimistic human being, and I remember going “Oh fuck”. I messaged her back in the hopes of meeting her later that night. I headed over to Kirsten’s sister’s after work—she’d just had a baby, and I’d promised to cook them a Côte de Bœuf to relieve them of their exhaustion. All night long they’re like “What are you still doing here?! Go meet this woman!”.

HB: I’m getting goosebumps.

JB: So I went to her house. There were two kids playing in the front yard, and I guess she’d told them I was coming… my half-brothers. They just froze as soon as they saw me. I said “Is Joni home?”. And out came this woman with the same eyes, who walks, talks and moves just like me. We locked eyes in silence. I gave her a big hug, and we sat down for some tea. We hashed it for three hours, which felt like the blink of an eye.

HB: No awkwardness, nothing?

JB: [Chuckles] Completely organic. In spite of this 30 year gapand absolutely no referenceit was so seamless, like scary easy. It’s that feeling you get when you meet somebody for the first time, but it feels like you’ve known them for an eternity.

Johnny & Joni, reunited after 30 years.

HB: Did you always know? Or was this something your parents had to tell you years later?

JB: It was always a fact of life. I can’t remember ever not knowing. To be honest, it never concerned me muchmaybe more of a concern from the parental side, that I, perhaps, deep down, harboured things. But here I am in my 33rd year of lifethe year of enlightenmentharbouring nothing but positivity. I just introduced my biological mother to my parents last week. It was a beautiful experience, breaking bread… combining worlds.

HB: Was it some sort of closure for you, combining worlds?

JB: Closure would insinuate that there was an ending to it. But it’s very much an openinga new beginning. I’m getting married in July to this amazing wolf mother of my world, and felt that this connection needed to happen. It’s crazy to even think about.

HB: They perhaps disguised it well, but both sides were probably quite nervous before that meeting.

JB: You mean all three sides! I was terrified. But we all got along swimmingly, it was beautiful. And it was so interesting to see my parents’ reaction. My mom is this accepting, perennially optimistic woman. But she’s also all business, always getting things done. My father, Maurice, is a conversationalist—a seasoned storyteller and notorious risk taker. Although I’m a product of my parents, there was always this part of me that wanted to get lost in the woods. And now I know why, after meeting Joni.

Johnny’s Cabin, Thormanby Island.

HB: And she’s very much a part of your life now I assume.

JB: We see each other quite regularly. She’s just like a close friend of mine, it’s very cool. Joni’s this beam of light in the world, essentially a healerit’s what she does. Change makes people uncomfortable, not me. I’m so happy to have met her. The whole thing is just remarkable.

HB: It strikes me that you don’t possess a modicum of negativity in your being. The stories of adoption I’ve witnessed usually carry a heavy burden of abandonment.

JB: It’s what we think, the first thing our brain goes to. But where would you get that sense of abandonment from? Could it be from a lack of love? I’ve received love all my lifefrom both my family and from her, in this short period of time that we’ve known each other. We celebrate December 13th with my parentsthe day I was brought into their lives. And they got me with such short notice that they hadn’t yet even shopped for baby paraphernalia. Like zero baby essentials.

HB: So you arrived, and they drove to the baby store?

JB: Right?! They made it work.

HB: Was being adopted somewhat of a marker in your school years? Kids are ruthless.

JB: Certainly not around adoption. But if somebody ever tried to make it a problem, I’d say “Your parents had to have you, mine picked me, so what else you got?” Anyone in their right mind can have a kid in a bad situation, but if you want to adopt a child, the process is insaneDNA samples, background checks, bank checks, surprise visits… But if you’re 14 and have a kid at the back of a Wendy’s, nobody gives a shit.

HB: You’ve worked in over 50 kitchens. And I’m sure Wendy’s wasn’t one of them.

JB: [Chuckles] It was perhaps my parents who pushed me into cooking; my first gig was at a restaurant on Granville Island. It had rats, the food was horrible and the staff wasn’t happy. It was not a sexual experience, in fact, it was very much a turn off, like “Get the fuck away from me”. I was 16 and my grandma, the proud woman that she is, was like “We’re coming down for dinner”. I was like “Please don’t”. For real, just don’t come. Not because I’m embarrassed my grandma’s showing up, but because we have rats. And shit food.  

A younger Johnny, touring a cooking school in Cuba.

HB: What were you doing there?

JB: Pizza. I was the forno cook and manager. But my first real experience was at Sauci’s Bar & Grillowned by the rock star couple, Bruno & Sally. He was one of the more forefathery oldtimers in Vancouver, back in the 80s and 90s. I’d applied for a bartending job, but was only 17. So Bruno’s like “You have zero bartending experience, and you’re underage. What are you, crazy?!”. But they were desperate for a cook, and I had a little experience so Bruno gave me a go.

HB: Is it weird that I can totally picture this place?

JB: It was a relic with a cigar smoking room and all! And Bruno cooked everything, from start to finish with maybe 2 other kitchen hands. His food was phenomenal, it was so old school. There was a lot of yelling. I was scared shitlessmy hands would shake before going into work. I still think the place was hugely underappreciated. Bruno loved to host and entertainhe’d have his friends in all the time.

HB: And presumably demanded “only the best” for his friends.

JB: I had no clue about the things he asked me to cook; I hadn’t even been to culinary school and lacked any real cooking experience. There was this Sri Lankan cook who’d let me in on the secretstelling me how shit operated. I wouldn’t know a Mother Sauce if it’d crawled up my ass. But it really was the ultimate learning experience. I went from knowing absolutely nothing to having a pretty extensive knowledge of that world.

HB: So, in a sense, that was your schooling.

JB: My first taste of it, surely. I enrolled in the Culinary Arts program at Vancouver Community College after leaving Sauci’s. But I’d learned so much more at Sauci’s. That place changed it for me—all of a sudden, cooking was inspiring. My parents had bought me a copy of Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential, which I read, and perhaps grossly misinterpreted. I decided sex, drugs and rock n’ roll was the way for me. I hadn’t quite figured it out at the time. But it was exciting, pure focus. Eureka! I finally gave a shit about something.

Johnny cooking in his Cabin on Thormanby Island.

HB: It’s funny because that book had the adverse effect on me. It dissuaded me from ever pursuing a career in the cooking world, like big time.

JB: It may have been meant to deter, but instead turned me onto it. I loved every moment of itI was taking out library books on Escoffier and Marco-Pierre White, had an interest in all of these people, and methods, all of a sudden. Everybody in my life noticed it pretty quickly. I was actually interested in something and wasn’t blasé about it.

HB: That’s some hardcore food literature. Were you applying the methods in these books to your cooking?

JB: Not nearly as much as I wish I had. But certainly soaking it up. I entered culinary school with a tremendous ego, at 18 years of age, thinking I had a clue about cooking because I’d worked in a few “fine dining” establishments. Essentially, I cleaned fish and deboned lots of birds. In hindsight, I realize I knew very little about the important things in the industry.

HB: It always looks so glamorous from afar. Then again every industry is pretty much the same after you step into it. Lots of grunt work before you can even think about shooting for the stars.

JB: Exactly. It’s never glamorous to begin with—in fact, it was really grimy. One of my first jobs was scrubbing musselsI’d pay so much attention not to pull off the beard because that’d kill the mussel. Thousands of them, one at a time. And the next day, same shit all over again. The chefwho’s not youis creating masterpieces, which is meant to be a graceful process. But somewhere in the back there’s a sleepless guy peeling carrots on a milk crate.

Fresh Rainbow Trout, Courtesy of the Sunshine Coast Salmonid Enhancement Society.

HB: And that, my friend, is what Kitchen Confidential will do to you! No sex, drugs and rock n’ roll at the bottom of that food chain.

JB: But at the time, you’re youngyou have no clue! It’s tough to think about how you’re going to get to that end result. And I’m not there by any meansI don’t call myself a Chefbut that so-called glamour comes when you’ve done your time in the trenches. It’s a military brigade and they don’t make you a General overnight. You need to get shot, lose a little blood, and a bunch of friends. Everything’s on fire, the world’s coming to an end, and you need to fight. You become stronger through it, and you move forwards.

HB: I’m sure you even saw some good in the bad.

JB: Absolutely. People’s worst impressions of it are some of my favourites; There’s something so zen about working in a dish pit—if you have cooked for years it reminds you of your roots, where you came from. To step into that loud and, at times, messy place, and to make peace of it, to make everything spotless, is in itself a little glamorous. A famous phrase once uttered to me was “Hey boy, you’re sweeping too hard”, which was followed by, “Friday you’re working the line with me”. So the glamour comes from putting in the time. Nothing in this industry gets handed to you on a plate, unless you’re a paying customer.

Johnny smells his fresh-baked Po’boy loaf.

HB: So what is it then, that keeps you going, wanting more?  

JB: It’s the thrill of being in a crazy busy kitchenthe board’s covered, the restaurant is buzzing, there’s a line-up outside… those things. Everything’s constantly changing, and that thrill is just exhilarating. It’s a very primal thing.

HB: And the ability to work with the finest ingredients, I’m sure.

JB: The perfection is always in the ingredient. We live in one of the most beautiful places on earth, and have access to all these “nice things”. My approach has always been to glorify the ingredient without altering it too much. And also to make it accessible for people. I don’t know a lot of people in Vancouver who’d drive, and boat, just to get an oyster. They don’t want the trials and tribulations to get to that end result, they just want it handed to them. So the sexiness comes from me handing it to you. [Chuckles]

Johnny’s signature “Uni Bumps”, with Sake, of course.

HB: Which is quite the Italian way of doing things. Perfect, untampered ingredients that are in season.

JB: I spent some time in Tuscany. It’s literally just “take the food into your hands, in all its natural glory, and then put it in your mouth”. What a joy it was to work in a restaurant where we mostly ate just one massive, beautiful cut of beef. Only thing on it was salt. Served with the humble tomato, pressed in salt and scored on top with tons of olive oil. Unadulterated. Heaven. It just works. Pure perfection.

Johnny with Trout, Sunshine Coast Salmonid Enhancement Society.

HB: Dead romans in the soil make everything taste delicious.

JB: “Dead Romans” taste great from my experience! Making a Glace de viande for a “French instance”, takes days. Simmer, skim, strain, reduce, put in your bouquet garnis, and do it again. The whole point is to extract, and isolate, what that cow’s story tastes like. But with so many stages, it’s so easy to get so lost in it. A chef of mine, once said “Johnny Blaze, what’s with all the fuckin’ sauce? You’ve drowned the steak in it. We’re not selling sauce, we’re selling steak… back off with the sauce”. Touché, Chef Carter. He had it right.

HB: You’ve travelled to many placesItaly and Thailand, amongst others. Of course, at the end of the day, we all come into our own. But those experiences must’ve been instrumental to your outlook.

JB: The more I travelled, the more it calmed me down. I realized that maybe I didn’t know all that much. The best cooks, from my experience, are the elderly women who haven’t really left their place of originthey have that generational knowledge, and rarely fuck with it. Watching a Tuscan nonna fold pasta with her frail, arthritic handswhich barely look like they could pick up a glass of wineis like watching a fucking ninja. So strong, so efficient… so perfect.

HB: Better not fuck around with Nonna, Mr. Blaze!

JB: [Chuckles] I got yelled at once for using a knife on herbs! And when the locals spoke, you didn’t need the context of wordsthe hand gestures and the vulgarity of the emotion would suffice. I dropped that knife so quick. But it makes so much sensewhy would you use this piece of Damascus steel to chop herbs that grows on the side of a hill? You’re fine just without it.

HB: It’s a bit passé, but what’s your take on overcomplicating things, like all that molecular stuff?

JB: All the power to it. I get the market and interest for it, what the public appreciates about itthe sex appeal. But if you can’t cook a raw piece of meat that, presumably, you’ve butchered to perfection, what are you doing with foam?! You can’t find a flat spot to build a house on, and here you are trying to build a pagoda yoga tower. Back off, take a couple steps back. Yes, sous-vide is fantastic, but it shouldn’t be your point of origin. Use your finger tips, touch things, smell them, and put them in your mouth. Taste.

Downing oysters on the Sunshine Coast.

HB: And do you think we’re doing taste properly here in Vancouver?

JB: Our multicuralism is a key agent, but the defining factor should always be our resourcefulness”sustainability” which comes with living off the land. I’d also love to see more respect, time and credit given to indigenous food, something we don’t see much of. Vancouver’s acting like it’s on the global stage, but it’s still a young city. It’s a stupid thing to have to say, but if we aren’t paying cooks fairly, this city’s future food scene is not going to turn out well. Fancy techniques and expensive proteins will just drag a restaurant into the ground without taking care of the team.

HB: You’re the most resourceful cook I’ve ever met. Just the things we’ve had over the last two days here were mind blowingly good.

JB: Our climate in British Columbia is phenomenal. How come we don’t make use of that anymore? Vancouverites may laugh, but our seasonal changes aren’t that drastic. We can grow so much, but need to get out shit together to take better care of our surroundings. One of the biggest concerns is the lack of care for our ocean. It’s this massive thing that provides for us, and we completely trash it.

HB: Enlighten me.

JB: Vancouver’s a port city. Shipping tankers with large quantities of goods, major international traffic, maybe a little proposed addition of unprocessed petroleum. We are asking for disaster. I understand, oil’s a driving commodity, but we’re completely surrounded by a crazy sensitive natural balance. You need to be aware that our terroir, the land we live on, is very fragile and its elasticity is at the end of its threshold. If we keep letting huge dams or massive pipeline projects destroy agriculture and aquacultures so that we can build a bigger city; but when we actually get that bigger city, where will all of the beauty have gone? It’s a Winston Churchill moment of “If we don’t have art (Johnny motions with his hands at the woods around us), then what are we fighting for?”

HB: Mankind wants it all.

JB: We’re creatures of excess, we fucking love it. I love that I can get my hands on a box full of Hokkaido scallops within a day of them leaving Japan. But we have so much more here, such easy access to better product. If we hadn’t polluted the ocean we’d have easier access to Qualicum scallopshuge, buttery, sexy, bivalves.

Johnny’s Bonfire-Smoked Oysters, with freshly grated wasabi.

HB: Thankfully the conversation on farmed salmon has gained proper traction.

JB: It’s amazing to have the elders, legit Chefs, signing off on the negativity of farmed salmon. It’s awesome that the restaurant industry can say “We’ve been fucking this up, stop.” Our futures depend on it. If you have a large demographic of the most talented people in the trade standing up to say something’s wrong, and that they won’t partake in it, people will pay attention.

HB: That sense of solidarity is surely there when we’re talking about the future of our oceans. But do you honestly feel that sense of comradery transcends environmental concerns?

JB: I do feel there’s lots of comradery. The middle generation of chefs in Vancouver seem to be very accepting of new ideas. They’re not gunning for the promise of money as much, which is refreshing. I don’t really live in that industry bubble, or drink the kool aid of the upper echelon. But I try to be a part of our community as much as I can. Regardless, I see a positive future for Vancouver. Even if we don’t all decide to be on the same team, we have the collective strength to dig ourselves out of any mess.

HB: Shake hands, and be friends.

JB: Always be open to ideas, but don’t give in because the industry pushes you to do something. That’s when you lose. I was young and stupid, and went through unhealthy processes. But personally, the bridges I’ve burnt have lit my path.

Johnny lights candles on his porch before our interview.

HB: The industry pushes you regardless. If not, you push yourself. It’s normal for younger cooks to miss the big picture. But the problem is that they do give in, and don’t realize it until much later. So it ends up feeling exploitative.

JB: Sure, if something I created becomes somebody else’s marketable product, it can make you second guess yourself. But I wouldn’t have been able to come up with that creation if it wasn’t for the support of that restaurant and its established chef. It can either make you jaded and unhappy, or appreciative, and stronger. I’m thankful for any dish I created, and stoked for those who ate them. Those creative processes serve as the roots to a tree of branches now growing out of my career. If I bitched and moaned about something I did a while ago, well, shit, I’m doing things now that required those steps to be taken. “I should’ve really cashed my bitcoin in December instead of September”, said some fucking Vancouverite socialite motherfucker. You did what you did, be happy with it. You made some money, and learned.

HB: Do you harbour similar feelings for those socialites on Instagram?

JB: I know people look at me and think I’m batshit crazy. And I am a little crazy. But if you’re passionate, and walk people through it, perhaps they’ll think “Shit, I might want to try that for myself”. If you’re using #bigadventure to describe going out for a slice of pizza, that’s different. But if you’re using that same hashtag, getting on a float plane to go to an island no one’s ever been to, jumping into ice cold water and lighting shit on firethat’s social media, and more of a positive direction, for me. Sharing is caring. We’re not trying to be better than somebody else, it shouldn’t be a popularity contest.

Just a “little” crazy.

HB: But it is. You know it is.

JB: Everyone loves the attention, it’s great. But what if I started filming myself strolling down Robson Street, clad in Gucci, gargling wine and being like “Cheval Blanc 47” or whatever. You’d be like “Johnny, you chop wood… and never wear shoes, let alone underwear, the fuck is this?”. I’ve met people with thousands of followers who can’t even hold a normal conversation in real life. Something’s wrong with this picture. It’s become all about branding.

HB: That gets 5 stars from me! I wonder what an Elite Yelper, or whatever the fuck, would give you.

JB: I’d happily invite anyone to a one-star place, if I loved it. Food critics, I’m sure, have taken flack for years before social media existed for similar reasons. It’s whose opinion you value. The onus falls on us for caring. If bubble tea girl gives it one star and says this gyoza is better than the other, why is it that you value their opinion? Is it because they have 40 thousand followers, so they must be right?

Pyro Johnny, smoking oysters. Again. #bigadventure

HB: It’s “street cred”, to quote the venerable Dumpling King.

JB: If internet attention is credible, Stormy Daniels has a fuck load of street cred then man! Fuck, sweet! You go girl! Bet she can’t make as good a dumpling as Matt though. [Chuckles]

HB: Matt’s dumplings are great. But I also know how backbreaking it can be for him, folding hundreds of these things every single day. And these are the sacrifices we make. I’m sure you can attest to that.

JB: It comes down to sanity and health. Like most, I’ve overworked and slipped into the darkness—it’s ruined relationships, my health, my long term goals, and at times, dragged the life out of me. But a happier cook is always a better cook. If you don’t have yourself, your food’s not going to be on point, your peers aren’t going to be happy and your homelife starts deteriorating. If a young cook says “I’m going to give you my all 7 days a week, cause I don’t give a fuck about anything”, chances are he’s not going to “give a fuck” about the food either after 12 months. But I don’t have any more darkness left in my heart. I’m loving my life.

HB: I’m curious whether you’ve sensed any resentment from your peers in the industry, especially now that you’ve signed onto more of an institutional cooking career?

JB: Initially, it was my horrendous fear, stepping into a career choice like that. But your job is going to be whatever you make of it, no matter where you are. We’re responsible for feeding 65,000 people, multiple times a day, and if someone thinks that gives me less access to make change, I stand to correct them. On the contrary, I’ve never been able to affect more people. If I was able to go down to the docks and feed people sustainably caught dungeness crab at this scale, I would. But I can’t, yet. So I have to find another way to get there. If you give a fuck about your job, and the product, and respect the process—you’ll take that anywhere you go.

HB: So where’s this boat headed?

JB: You can make such a difference in someone’s life just by cooking a grilled cheese sandwich, if it can remind a person of the one their mother used to make after a rainy soccer game. That’s the dream of all of our cooking careers—making people happy with what we serve them. None of us got into this career to be rich. As for the future, we should take pleasure in caring for the environment… for the kids. Just think about the influence we could have, collectively, as an industry. What are we going to leave to our children, to Keith Richards? Bet he’ll still be around. The dream is just to create a better place. 

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