Chef JJ Johnson Compares Cooking On Camera To Cooking For Live Crowds - Exclusive

The conventional wisdom goes that if you love to cook, leave it at that and enjoy cooking in the comfort of home; if you love to cook for other people — if part of the whole culinary experience is sharing the dishes and even the challenge that comes with preparing larger, ever more challenging meals — go ahead and consider cooking professionally. Chef JJ Johnson had been cooking at home with family members since the age of four, was working in restaurants in his teenage years, and headed off to culinary school as soon as he could.

Little surprise that a man who has wanted to cook since he was a kid loves cooking for others. In fact, he pretty much lives for it.

That explains why Johnson enjoys cooking on TV, which he has done for years via the program "Just Eats with Chef JJ," as the show lets him connect with viewers around the country and beyond. But cooking on camera has it's drawbacks, too, in the eyes of a man so used to working closely with a team and connecting with his diners.

During a recent exclusive Mashed interview, we asked Johnson about the biggest challenge of cooking on camera. "Connecting with the folks on the other side of the screen," he answers. "You don't really know if what you're doing or what you're saying is really connecting with people. My belief is, I always lead with food. I believe food is the biggest connector. I can give you food tips, or cooking tips, or show you how to do something you've been trying to do, or something that you know how to do, but slightly better, and 'lead with food,' that means we can connect through the screen."

Even better? Connecting in person.

Connecting to people via food

Athletes know the feeling, as do writers, comedians, and chefs. It's the "flow state," according to Zone Culture, AKA being "in the zone." Chef JJ Johnson knows it well. "There's a couple moments that I really love in my career," he says. "I love when I'm behind the line at Field Trip, my restaurant, and I'm cooking that day. We're packaging up the bowls and I can see people's faces. They're eating and getting smiles on their faces. Those are always some of my special moments."

When asked about specific times he connected via food, Johnson recalls, "One of my ultimate times of cooking in a restaurant is when I did a residency at Chef's Club and Ayesha Curry and Steph Curry came ... At the end of that meal — Steph started off, when he came through the restaurant, with a handshake — at the end of the meal, high fives. That was a moment for me that was like, 'Oh, wow, your food can really break through to people and give them a really amazing dining experience.'"

Then came a recent opportunity to cook for crowds at the Sun Wine & Food Festival at Mohegan Sun. "I really connected with the crowd," he says. "It was actually the first time I was in a place where [I didn't know most of the people]. I was able to really connect [by] leading through food... In that moment, I can see people like, 'Whoa, I never thought of this,' or 'How can I do this?' I was leading through food and giving techniques. Next thing I know, myself and the crowd were really interacting well together."

You can follow Chef JJ Johnson on Instagram and learn about the Sun Wine & Food Fest here.