Sizzle Simmer Sauté — Northview grad returns home to assume position as chef

by Jennifer Ruple

Jennifer Ruple

Sylvania native Casey Johnson has spent the last 12 years learning the ropes of the restaurant industry. In August, he returned to town to fulfill the role of Chef de cuisine at 5th Street Pub in Sylvania. “My primary focus is on building the leadership team in the kitchen and getting them back on track after a bit of a staff turnover,” he said. Johnson will bring his management skills to oversee the Sylvania restaurant as well as its sister restaurants, 5th Street Pub in Perrysburg and Luckie’s Barn and Grill in Oregon.

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Casey Johnson

Johnson received his training at the Culinary Institute of America in New York. Since then he has worked in various positions throughout the food industry. Most recently he served as corporate executive chef at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio where he oversaw ten dining halls, concessions, the dietary department and was chief sanitarian. He also managed the catering department which provided food for 80 to 100 weddings a year. Prior to the university position, Johnson worked as a sous chef at Mancy’s Italian Grill for three years. He also served as the food and beverage director for over two years at the Hilton Garden Inn in Findlay, Ohio.

For Johnson, a 2006 graduate of Sylvania Northview High School, the decision to become a chef didn’t happen right away. “Truthfully, it was out of the blue that I went from wanting to be a zoologist to an architect to a chef,” Johnson said. “I was really getting into the glamour of the Food Network. Then I joined the food industry and fell in love with it,” he added. In 2005 while still in high school, Johnson got a job as a dishwasher and later became a line cook, which was the hands-on experience he needed to be accepted into culinary school.

“I really want to welcome Casey back to the community,” said Bruce Rahe, 5th Street Pub’s executive chef and culinary partner. “Our team was missing an arm, and Casey was that arm. For him to have that impressive of a resume at a young age, he can bring a lot of opportunities for us. We want to be able to grow our restaurants with our goals and mission and his knowledge,” he explained.

In addition to providing assistance to the executive chef, Johnson has several personal goals. “My passion within the industry is a bigger drive of farm to table. I’m really trying to push locality,” he said. “If chefs did that more, we could really help the planet.” Johnson admits that the restaurant business is tough, especially for women. “It’s a harsh industry, and my drive is to work from the inside on how chefs treat employees with more respect and fairness. I want to make this industry a safe industry for women and my daughter one day.”

When Johnson is not at work, he’s busy spending time with his wife Erin and 2 ½-year-old daughter Elizabeth, hiking, taking photographs and cooking … Italian food, of course. “Italian is by far my favorite cuisine. The Italians have a true passion and respect for the ingredients, as opposed to the French who are about controlling the recipe,” explained Johnson. “I love making fresh pastas. I’m dabbling in breads and I love risotto. I live my life on carbohydrates,” he laughed. “Food is my hobby and passion, but it’s also my career and my love.”

Thank you to Chef Johnson for sharing two of his favorite autumn recipes. Enjoy!

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Roasted Sweet Dumpling Squash

Roasted Sweet Dumpling Squash
Serves 4

2 sweet dumpling squash, quartered and seeds removed
4 Granny Smith apples, peeled and diced into ¼-inch cubes
¼ cup light brown sugar
2 teaspoons Chinese five spice powder
¼ cup honey
2 tablespoons agave syrup
½ teaspoon kosher salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into ½ tablespoon pieces, plus 1 tablespoon for greasing baking dish

Heat oven to 375 F. Place squash quarters, skin side down in a greased 3-quart baking dish.

In a bowl, toss apples with brown sugar, five spice, honey, agave and salt. Apples should be evenly coated, and a light syrup should begin to form in the bottom of the bowl.

Evenly distribute mixture into squash quarters.

Place a ½ tablespoon of butter on top of each squash quarter. Loosely cover dish with foil, not allowing foil to touch squash. Bake 30-45 minutes on middle rack. Check for doneness by gently sticking a fork in the squash’s flesh. Flesh should be tender.

Spoon syrup from the bottom of the baking dish over the squash and enjoy.

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Parmesan Risotto with Butternut Squash

Parmesan Risotto with Butternut Squash
Serves 2

Parmesan Risotto
1 cup Arborio rice
1/8 cup Spanish onion, minced
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus 2 tablespoons to finish
¼ cup dry white wine
1 quart seasoned chicken stock
2 tablespoons high-quality grated Parmesan cheese

Seasoned Chicken Stock
1 quart chicken stock
2 teaspoons Kosher salt
1 bay leaf

Butternut Squash
1 cup butternut squash, diced into ¼-inch cubes
2 teaspoons olive oil
2 teaspoons thyme
½ tablespoon unsalted butter
¼ teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper

For the stock, bring ingredients to a boil. Reduce heat to low and keep stock warm.

In a sauce pot, melt 2 tablespoons of butter over medium heat. Once butter has melted, add onions and sweat until very aromatic, roughly 2 minutes.

Increase heat to medium-high and add rice. “Toast” rice over medium heat until it begins to smell nutty. Continue stirring through this entire process to avoid any color forming on onions or rice.

Carefully add white wine to rice mixture. It should immediately boil and evaporate, leaving very little liquid behind.

Reduce heat to medium.

Using a ladle, add hot stock to rice mixture in 1 cup increments. For each cup of stock added, simmer and stir the rice until majority of the liquid has been absorbed. Only use a wooden spoon or rubber spatula to stir your rice, metal utensils will break the rice and ruin the texture.

After the second addition of stock, begin adding stock in ½ cup increments. Only simmer rice until about half the added stock is absorbed. You’ll do this for 2 total additions.

At this point, 3 cups of stock has been added to the rice. Taste the rice to see if more cooking is needed. The rice should be firm, but not crunchy.

If rice isn’t fully cooked, add another ½ cup of stock and simmer until mostly absorbed.

Once rice is fully cooked, remove from heat. Add remaining 2 tablespoons of butter and 2 tablespoons of Parmesan.

Stir vigorously until both have melted. Risotto should have the same consistency as oatmeal. If it seems too thick, add more stock and stir to thin it out.

For the squash, heat olive oil in a small sauté pan over medium-high heat. Once oil is shimmering, add the squash, thyme, salt and pepper to the pan. Sauté for roughly 5 minutes, just until the squash isn’t crunchy.

Add butter and allow it to brown a little with the squash, roughly 2 minutes.

Using a spoon, portion risotto onto a plate and serve squash on top.

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