Top Chef Insights

Ever wondered whether a Master Chef's guilty pleasure is simply peanut butter or mac 'n cheese? Want to find out what the latest menu trends will be for the coming season? Always wondered who inspires some of the leading chefs in the industry? We've asked these questions and have the answers for you here.

View archived Top Chef Insights interviews.

April's Featured Chef: Megan Johnson, Executive Chef of Casellula and Elsewhere

Chef Megan most recently presented a culinary demonstration at the International Restaurant & Foodservice Show of New York in March.

What made you want to be a Chef?
My Grandmother made me want to learn how to cook professionally. She is a great cook. And I’ve always wanted to learn and do everything like she did from scratch, use the freshest ingredients. Can fruits and vegetables in late summer and fall so you’re prepared for winter.  She could have a temper (like a Chef) but always won you over with her food.

What is the newest trend that is emerging?
I see people looking for something more then rice, or pasta etc.. Guests want more choices in their starch, and it should be gluten free. Vegan I feel is really becoming more main stream.  It’s not good enough to have a couple of vegetarian items, you should also have a couple items that are vegan or could be made vegan if requested. On the flip side of that though is how Charcuterie is really coming back into focus in a big way! Dry aged salami, terrines, pates, cured meats, cured and dried anything!

If you could eat anywhere is the world, where would that be?
Easy…Thailand, or anywhere is Southeast Asia.  The flavor profile of their cuisine is just off the charts! I am really curious about how they create flavors.  Which is different for me, because I’ve always been so traditional French.

What’s your favorite meal to cook for friends?
Fried Chicken! I’ve got a knack for it… Mashed potatoes, chix liver gravy, I’m not going to say collards, although I do love them.  I just like to leave veg loose and see what’s fresh at the market.

Is there a comfort food that you're secretly obsessed with having at home?
I’m not so secretly obsessed with Chinese take out, not any Chinese take out, there are  only a couple in New York City that I will order from.  After a rough day in the kitchen Chinese food is my comfort food.  It makes me feel safe, warm, and satisfied.  It makes me smile, and that’s what comfort food should do.

If I could cook for and dine with anyone who would that be?
The Queen of England, I’ve had a fantasy about being a chef for her, forever.  I think it would a great experience.  I use to live in Dublin Ireland, so I think I could cook my way around an English table. However I have no desire to dine with her.. my manners are just not up to snuff.



More about Chef Megan Johnson: 

Chef Megan Johnson started cooking at an early age and it was her paternal grandmother, Grace Johnson who helped cultivate her passion for the culinary arts.  Her grandmother, having grown up on a farm in Iowa, instilled upon Megan the importance of cooking with fresh, seasonal ingredients.   Megan learned at an early age by using fresh, seasonal ingredients in cooking, are what makes food taste best.  

Chef Megan fine-tuned her culinary skills at South Seattle Community College specializing in French Cuisine.   After graduating, she pursued her passion for innovative cooking in a variety of culturally rich and inspirational locations. She traveled extensively through Eastern and Western Europe, allowing her to sample a multitude of regional and national cuisines and explore the cultural heritage and traditions behind the food.  As a chef it has been her goal to recreate a sense of those traditions in each dish she presents, so the pleasures of eating are enriched by the momentary cultural immersion they provide.

In 2004, after working in restaurants in Seattle, Washington and Dublin, Ireland, she joined the kitchen staff at New York City's top New American restaurant, Gramercy Tavern, where she furthered her understanding that the keys to good food lie in the simplicity, exceptional quality and freshness of ingredients. After leaving Gramercy Tavern, Chef Megan worked as Private Chef to several busy New Yorkers as well as working a few stints at smaller restaurants in Manhattan.

In 2008, she came on as Chef at New York City’s Casellula Cheese and Wine Café.  At Casellula, she has gained a following for her unique, seasonal small plates both by local New Yorkers and critics.   Procuring many of Casellula’s ingredients from the Union Square Greenmarket, she has been able to form several close relationships with farmers across the Tri-State area.  Whenever possible, Chef Megan buys from local, small farmers.

In the fall of 2010, Chef Megan and the team at Casellula opened a full restaurant and bar, Elsewhere in Manhattan’s Theatre District.  As Executive Chef of Casellula and Elsewhere, Megan created unique, beautifully composed, seasonal New American dishes.  As with Casellula, Megan’s food at Elsewhere was well received by locals and critics alike getting nods in The New York Times, New York Magazine, Eater, Time Out New York to name a few.

In 2011, Chef Megan was featured on television shows including Mike Colameco’s Real Food on PBS and Very Appetizing with Kelly Choi.   She was also a contestant on Food Network’s Chopped.   Most recently, Oprah.com featured some of her recipes. 

Archives: 

March Chef Insights - Sara Moulton, Chef, Cookbook Author, TV Personality
February Chef Insights - Barret Beyer, Hell's Kitchen
January Chef Insights - Anton Testino, Mulberry Street Cafe
November Chef Insights - David Binkle, Los Angeles Unified School District
October Chef Insights - Alan Ogard, Lexington Hotel
September Chef Insights - Barbie Marshall, The Farming Chef
August Chef Insights - Cal DeMercurio, Corporate Executive Chef, Black Bear Diner
July Chef Insights - Johannes Bernau, Executive Chef, Who Song & Larry's
June Chef Insights - Ryan Vargas, Chef de Cuisine at Emeril's Tchoup Chop