Joshua Johnson of Kai Dishes on Antelope Liver and Working for a Celebrity Chef
Buchanan Josh Johnson on Kai's upstairs patio
Kai at Wild Horse Pass Resort & Spa
5594 W. Wildhorse Pass Boulevard, Chandler
This is part one of my interview with Joshua Johnson, chef de cuisine at Kai at Wild Horse Pass Resort & Spa. Come back Tuesday when Johnson dishes about Guy Fieri and why he likes to eat at MIM.
Josh Johnson grew up in a small town in Wyoming, where the words "fine dining" were never uttered. He hunted with his six brothers and learned to cook from his dad, who made red and green chile for Christmas dinner. You probably couldn't have told him he'd someday be chef de cuisine of the only five-diamond, five-star restaurant in the sixth largest city in the country. And if you had, he wouldn't have been impressed. He's a humble, down-to-earth guy whose rugged upbringing in the oil and gas fields of Wyoming taught him about working hard and keeping your head down -- even when fancy-pants chefs throw pots and pans in your general direction.
Buchanan Foie gras with buckwheat waffle, macerated autumn fruit, wolf berry raw hide, whipped banana and saguaro cream
Johnson, who knew Wyoming offered him nothing he wanted, gave serious thought to what he wanted to do with his life, enrolling at the Western Culinary Institute in Portland because he loved the town and the school had earned a good reputation. Upon graduation, he externed at Jenny Lake Lodge, a four-star, four-diamond resort at the time, nestled at the base of the Grand Tetons, later moving to Lutece in Las Vegas, where he worked under celebrity chef David Feau. "I was thrown into the meat grinder, and it was the most stressful time of my life," Johnson says, "but I learned a lot and overcame a lot," a tough thing for a young guy raised to hold his ground.
From Vegas, Johnson moved to the Four Seasons in Jackson Hole, where he remained for two years before moving on, always eager to challenge himself in a new environment. He says that between Vegas and Jackson Hole, he "never cooked for more famous people in my life" -- everyone from La Toya Jackson to George W. Bush. After a brief stint at Nikai, a premier sushi restaurant in Jackson Hole (where Johnson got a great education in fish), he moved to Phoenix with a friend.