Jerry Gay
Chef Wayne Johnson is the new Executive Director at Ray's Boathouse. This will be his first time leading a free-standing restaurant and looks forward to getting creative. CLICK ON IAMGE TO SEE ANOTHER PHOTO.

Celebrity Chef Wayne Johnson takes over the helm at Ray's Boathouse

From thousands of Marriott guests to renowned Iron Chef food critics, Chef Wayne Johnson has impressed people with his cooking all across the nation, and now he's hoping to do so in Ballard as he takes over the helm at Ray's Boathouse. 

Johnson comes to Ray’s from the acclaimed Andaluca restaurant of the Mayflower Park Hotel, where he had served as Executive Chef since 1999.

Previously, he served as Executive Chef for the prestigious Renaissance Parc 55 Hotel in San Francisco, and various Marriott Hotels and Resorts in California and Colorado. He's also known for his appearance on Food Network's Iron Chef and he has earned many accolades in his 30 years in the restaurant industry.

But Ray's Boathouse will be his first Executive Chef position at a free-standing restaurant.

"Ray's is the first restaurant I'll have worked for that isn't attached to a hotel," he said. "The difference, I think, is that hotel restaurants are considered an amenity to the hotel. The marketing is around getting people in the rooms. In a free-standing restaurant it is all about the food, drinks, and service. It's one of the reasons I was interested in checking out this opportunity."

When Peter Birk announced he'd be leaving, Johnson's name was thrown in the hat of possible replacements because of his high standing in the community and the many recognitions he has received in recent years.

When asked what makes him a good chef, Johnson replied technique and knowledge.

"It's really all about technique rather than the cuisine. If you learn how to get the technique down and do it well, you can cook any cuisine," he said.

Another marker of a good chef that is important to Johnson is the ability to mentor and teach others.

Johnson works with a nonprofit organization called Culinary Wonders USA, in which he mentors disadvantaged cooks.

"Sometimes we [experienced make it look easy," Johnson said. "But it's not something you just jump into and be good at. It takes time."

Johnson entered the food industry as a kitchen help and dishwasher when he was in high school in order to save up for a car. He then continued working in the business and cooked his way through college.

A chance encounter with a Marriott representative landed him a position in the Marriott training program and he stayed with Marriott for 15 years.

"It's still amazing to me that people are paying me to do what I love doing," Johnson said. "It is not work for me."

That doesn't mean it was always easy and fun.

In Vail, Colorado, I worked under a chef with the worst potty mouth and in-your-face attitude. He taught me to take the good and leave the bad. I learned a lot from him but I made myself a promise to not be like that," Johnson said. "This is a tornado business. All you have to do is stay in the eye of the storm, be prepared, and have your mess together."

With Marriott he moved from Colorado to San Francisco, California, where he worked under Chef Jim Gemgnani.

"I was blessed to work under a great chef like Jim Gemgnani. I learned to keep my mouth shut and absorb as much as I could," he said.

Johnson soon moved up the ranks and once success came, he recognized he could do one of two things.

"You can get a big head or you can see how good you can be at it. To me, every stage was just a small picture that fit into the bigger picture," he said.

A self-proclaimed "student of the game", Johnson is always working on becoming better and learning new things.

"Even today I spend 30 minutes to an hour every day reading a book and educating myself about food," he said.

Johnson spent some time studying flavors in Napa Valley, and said he's particularly interested in the science and chemistry of foods.

"Once I have the knowledge I can put it in practice. I like developing layers of flavor in foods without losing the food's original flavor," he said. "I enjoy the science behind cooking."

With the exception of avocado and banana, to which he is allergic, Johnson said he'll eat anything.

"There's nothing I don't like. Foods can be prepared badly and make people think they don't like it. But it's the preparation. Don't blame the food. I appreciate people with the willingness to try it again and again," he said.

Johnson still enjoys cooking at home, where he prepares what he calls "Wayne's food", a one-time spontaneous creation that depends on his mood, company, and whatever he's got at home at the time.

He also enjoys going out to dinner but said that he has no favorite restaurant, not even a favorite cuisine.

"I like it all and it's really th technique and flavor I appreciate," he said. "Seattle's got a great food scene. There are so many good restaurants and I like the way Seattle chefs are handling it by keeping restaurants small, intimate, and casual."

Johnson said he does have a favorite meal, which is breakfast. An ideal breakfast, in his opinion, should consist of poached eggs, bacon and/or sausages, hash browns, whole wheat toast, coffee, orange juice, and water.

At the time of the interview Johnson said he was still studying the Ray's menu.

"I'm excited," he said. "Down here there's an opportunity to do something creative."

Johnson said he's looking forward to getting to know Ballard and the restaurant will soon host an open house event for the community to get to know him.

Learn more about Ray's Boathouse on their website at http://www.rays.com/.

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