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February 3, 2019

The Johnson Family: For the Love of Food, Family, and FUN in Tampa Bay

By Laura Byrne

Our February 2019 cover family is the Johnson family of Tampa. Dad, Chef Chad Johnson, executive chef of the Epicurean, Elevage, and Haven restaurants (and a 2014 James Beard semi-finalist–so, yes…he’s kind of a big deal!), and daughter Addyson graced the cover of our November 2016 issue, so we decided to follow up with the family to talk about the love of food and family in Tampa Bay!

What’s on the menu lately at the Johnson house? 

CHEF CHAD JOHNSON: Her (Addyson) new obsession is having breakfast for dinner, so we like biscuits and gravy. Usually I’ll make the biscuits, but she helps out every once in a while. She likes to use the cookie cutters and cut them in circles. 

We hear you make your own sausage at home! 

CHEF CHAD JOHNSON: It’s pretty basic. We make homemade breakfast sausage, which is pretty simple, with ground pork, lots of fresh sage, black pepper and spices. I don’t let the kids use the meat grinder—I usually take care of that part. Addyson does like to make scrambled eggs. She has a little spatula. She’ll help stir. 



We have to ask…who does most of the cooking at home?

CHEF CHAD JOHNSON: That’s one of the most common questions that I get and my wife gets: Does she cook or do I cook? And the answer is: I cook. Love her to death… cooking is not her thing. 

ASHLEY JOHNSON: I try… (laughing) 

CHEF CHAD JOHNSON: I don’t get to cook as much as I used to in my current role at the restaurant. While I’m always in the kitchen, I don’t always get to be the sauté cook or the grill cook, so I do a lot of meal planning on Sundays and Mondays if I’m home. I’ll cook throughout the week and get everything set up so she can finish it in the oven for the munchkins. 

What are some family favorites?

CHEF CHAD JOHNSON: We do a little bit of everything.  Everyone in the house likes fish. Brussels sprouts are everyone’s obsession. We roast them in the oven dry until they are crunchy. They get like potato chips. 

ASHLEY JOHNSON: I always joke that I sort of get the credit because I warm it all up and give it to them. It’s nice for me because it makes my life so much easier during the week. 

CHEF CHAD JOHNSON: I do it for myself as well. When I get home from work after a 12 hour shift and it’s 9 at night, I’m just hungry and I don’t want to cook. So I’ll be the first to admit that if I can come up with something semi-homemade that tastes good that I can just throw in the oven and heat up, I’m a fan of it. 

CHEF CHAD JOHNSON: When it gets cold, I make gumbo. I love gumbo. I’m still a big fan of a simple roast chicken, like chopped up chicken, veggies, herbs, white wine. Literally, you throw it all in one pan and fire it up in the oven. 

The munchkins like pasta. We’ve been on a big pasta kick lately, so we’ll do pasta and red sauce. We’re still working on getting them to branch out. They still like a lot of their food separated, so she wants the spaghetti and the sauce but she doesn’t want the sauce on the spaghetti. We’re working on it. 

ASHLEY JOHNSON: It’s phases. We keep putting it in front of her and we say, take one bite and then we can move on, but just try it. She’ll try one bite. 

CHEF CHAD JOHNSON: I’ve had good luck with quesadillas with them and we always have cheese around. We’re big cheese geeks. 

CHEF CHAD’S SECRET TO A QUICK DINNER: Double the recipe and freeze the other half for easy dinner prep when time is tight!

Chef-Chad-JohnsonWe heard Addyson say she loves her play kitchen! Do we have a future chef in the making?

ASHLEY JOHNSON: They make menus and they will serve us and ask us what we want. 

CHEF CHAD JOHNSON: Or she’ll tell you what they don’t have! They got a play spaghetti pasta kit for Christmas, so now we have spaghetti. 

What are your favorite things to do in Tampa Bay as a family?

CHEF CHAD JOHNSON: We love the Riverwalk. Just as you know, if you have small kids, sometimes just getting out of the house is the goal! 

ASHLEY JOHNSON: Addyson can scooter up and down the sidewalk. We even do that with friends a lot just during the day. 

CHEF CHAD JOHNSON: When the weather is nice, we like Honeymoon Island because it’s a little bit more quiet than the Clearwater Beach and St. Pete Beach scene for them. 

Do you have any favorite place to go out to eat as a family?  

CHEF CHAD JOHNSON: If I get them alone, I like to take them to lunch. I think it’s hilarious to take them out to restaurants and let them order. Even if I know she’s going to say chicken fingers, it’s just funny to watch: She’s such an adult going through the process to order. But, taking them out anywhere, I always get the check when I order the food, so we can make the immediate dash. Really it’s more ambiance. Any place that’s outside, so if they need to let off some energy, they can run around a little bit. 

We went to the Columbia Restaurant last week and she ate an almost entire loaf of Cuban bread. She likes the 1905 salad. We bounce around, we try different stuff. 

Where are your favorite places to go in Tampa Bay on date nights?  

CHEF CHAD JOHNSON: When we get out, Rooster & the Till is one of our favorites. Ferrell, the chef there is a good buddy of mine. They always do a good job. Whether it be an anniversary or birthday, we usually make it to Bern’s once a year for a date night. We like to hop around and try four or five places a night—we’ll go to one place and check out the appetizers and the scene. Sometimes the best date night is having grandma and grandpa take the kids and staying home and not setting an alarm clock for school. 


How do you find balance at home with two small children?  

CHEF CHAD JOHNSON: I use the phrase ‘pick and choose your battles’ a lot. Some nights that means giving in—like last night, that means letting the 5-year-old sleep in her sleeping bag instead of her bed. Pick and choose your battles. Ashley and I, we do a good job of divide and conquer. We give each other our own time.  She goes running to de-stress. I actually go to the grocery store to de-stress. Believe it or not, that is my zen place going up and down the aisles of the grocery store. 

ASHELY JOHNSON: I do the moms group and we have play dates. I think it’s more of constantly doing things we all love. I love jogging, so we go jogging and she goes in the jogging stroller. 

I used to teach, so I like to craft. I don’t know if I’ve helped them become more crafty, but they love to color now and we do all of that kind of stuff. 

I’m an outdoors girl too, so I can live at the park—we shut it down the other night. What a privilege to live here with the weather.


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