On the Line: Marc Johnson Of Oak Grill, Part Two
Daydreaming about his next tee time
Photo courtesy of Oak Grill
Part two is where we learn a little fact we otherwise wouldn't know about our featured subject. Whether it's about their childhood or hobbies, I usually stumble across some insight that causes me to respect them even more. In the case of Marc Johnson, I get the story behind his nickname, Moki.
I always prefer that you begin at the beginning, which means clicking here for part one. Then you can power through the second part with ease.
We saw you studied to be a sculptor in school. What changed your mind and caused you to be a chef? I have always loved working with my hands, and when I didn't get into business school I decided to go the art route. It gave me a sense of freedom. I couldn't paint or draw, but I was good at sculpting. It was sort of a natural fit, because as a chef, you are kind of a sculptor as well. Also, at the time, Moki's Open Kitchen was in full swing, and I was really able to imagine a future on the culinary side, so I opted to go that direction instead.
Where does your nickname Moki come from? When I was around six years old, there was a young girl who lived across the street. She couldn't say her 'R's, so Marc sounded like "Mok." Eventually that evolved into Moki, and somehow it stuck.
Where did you grow up, and where's home these days? I was born in Santa Monica, grew up in Pasadena. Today, I live in South Orange County-- Ladera Ranch, to be exact.
What's your favorite childhood memory? One would be going on fishing trips with my dad. And another one of my earliest memories is of Santa Monica, when my family used to take me to the UCLA Rec Center. We'd all picnic together, and I'd enjoy just running around and jumping into the swimming pool. It was such a great time. Yet looking back, it was so very simple.
Differences between living working in Alabama versus California. The pace of life and the people. Everything in Alabama is much slower. People there tend to appreciate the slower pace, as they seem to take more time for themselves (versus the very quick-paced Southern California lifestyle). Also, people connect more to the outdoors and seasonality in Alabama.
Last book read or movie watched; how was it? A New Napa Cuisine - A Cookbook by Chef Christopher Kostow from The Restaurant at Meadowood. His sense of using everything at his front door and crafting it is truly refreshing, and I really appreciate the amount of restraint he displays as a chef. Most of his dishes have a sense of raw nature. It is a great book! As for movies, I just saw American Sniper and loved it.
We read about your recent culinary workshop at Great Park. What did you present? I created a farm-to-table approach by keeping it simple and utilizing the items that were grown on the farm. I did a salad with aged olive oils and vinegars. I tried to use as much of the products on hand and have the menu served be seasonally driven.
Do you have any skills that have nothing to do with food? Golf-- I love it, and I'm pretty good at it. I golf aywhere and everywhere. My wife gives me a hall pass to play! I love Oak Creek, Big Rec, Pelican Hill, Black Gold, Monarch Beach, Los Lagos - all of them.
Another thing people don't know about me-- I love to sweep! My hidden skill is with a sweeper and dust pan.
How did you meet your wife? I met Abbey through a mutual friend here in Orange County. One of my old roommates knew her, and the two of us hit it off from the start. Plus, she's been around since the beginning of my culinary journey.
Hardest lesson you've learned. Everyone in this industry wants to grow. For that to happen, people eventually move on. You embrace that, but it's also difficult to see someone you've bonded with to move on. Of course, it means that someone new is coming in-- which is always fun.
Tell us something most people don't know about you. I have sort of an obsession with socks. My favorite brand is Stance, as they are really comfortable, high-quality and have bold designs.
You have a whole day to yourself. What do you do? Wake up at 6 a.m. Have coffee. Head to golf course for 7 a.m. tee time, and I'm back home by 11 a.m. Make a sandwich. Take a nap. Wake up and play with the dogs. Go to the beach with my wife and relax. After the beach, we head out for sushi. Come home, watch some Netflix and be in bed by 10:30 p.m.
Last thing you looked up online. RV campers that attach to a car. My wife loves camping, so I checked out Airstreams.
What would you be doing if you weren't in this business? I would likely be doing something in sales, or become a professional golfer.
What turns you on-- creatively, spiritually or emotionally? Creatively, what excites me is that I can be inspired anywhere-- from shopping, reading a magazine, or just talking to my team about new items coming into season. There is always a secret element that ends up on our plates, which comes from that creative outlet. I can see the dishes before I actually make them. Once we run with it, that's when the different elements come through. I just love the unexpected.
Get the Food & Drink Newsletter
Our weekly guide to Orange County dining includes food news and reviews, as well as dining events and interviews with chefs and restaurant owners.