It was there that Johnson first learned how to cook barbecue, an event that marked the beginning of his career as a chef.
At Queens Bully, a gastropub in Forest Hills, Johnson continues to serve barbecue dishes shaped by his years of culinary experience and cooking styles.
“Barbecue is not a sauce, it’s a technique,” he said.
Johnson, who goes by Chef Boots, showcases his skills and passion for barbecue through his careful
cooking process to produce menu favorites such as dry rubbed ribs and in-house smoked bacon that
takes four days to make.
He explained that each morning when he goes downstairs and places his 12 racks of ribs, he pays close attention to the meat because each animal is going to be different. He takes into consideration the animal’s lifestyle such as activeness and eating habits in order to determine its cooking needs.
“You really have to be involved early with your proteins because then it tells you what it needs, what it
wants to give it the best flavor profile,” he said.
Johnson describes his barbecue as Memphis style, which he learned to cook as a teen when his parents opened up their restaurant. His father would take him to barbecue with a friend, named Jimmy, who taught his father how to barbecue.
“They would sit back, playing dominoes, drinking Hennessy and tending the fire,” Johnson said.
He explained their method was direct heat barbecue, in which the fire is right underneath the grill and the cooking is done right on it so the person has to stand there to move and tend the meat.
Johnson does an offset smoke, in which his heat is offset so the smoke cooks the meat. He explained it is a slightly different style but falls under the Memphis type because it’s all dry rub and teasing.
He doesn’t cover anything up with sauces. This allows guest to fully taste their food and try different sauces.
“Maybe you may want a bite with nothing, or you’re going to dip that one or you want to go one regular one hot,” he said. “You can kind of play with it that way.”
Recently, Johnson represented Memphis and competed on Food Network’s Chopped Grill Masters, which is set to air on August 7 at 9 p.m. with a live viewing party at Queens Bully.
“I was on it, you have to come and find out what happened there,” he said, laughing.
After his parent’s restaurant closed down, Johnson worked all over the United States including Kansas City, Memphis, Texas, Los Angeles and Las Vegas.
In Las Vegas, he was the executive chef of the Yardbird, a southern style restaurant in The Venetian
hotel. He also had a barbecue food truck called Slow Cal BBQ.
“I would just sit there and do barbecue everyday so I perfected my craft and how I like to do barbecue,” he said.
During this time, he even made his own sauces with flavors such as peanut butter and blueberry until he finally bottled up his popular regular and “Damn Bro” barbecue sauce.
He sells these sauces online and uses them with his dishes at Queens Bully for guests to try.
“They go ‘damn bro,’ people love it,” he said.
Johnson said his move to New York was the right progression from California and Las Vegas. In his
professional career, this is his third time in New York after he opened up the California Pizza Kitchen in Manhattan and the Cheesecake Factory in Hackensack, New Jersey.
“It’s just been another opportunity to come back out here and I’m like third time’s the charm. I’m going to stay this time and just take it over,” he said.
Johnson explained his mentor chef was skeptical about his move to Queens to continue his career when compared to the city.
However, he said he felt confident about being in Queens and hopes to bring the same type of energy
and love for food as city chefs to create a voice in Forest Hills and compete with restaurants on Austin
“I’m arrogant in my kitchen but I’m very humble about it because I really want people to feel my heart
when they taste my food,” he said.
Read a food review of Queens Bully on the Forest Hills Gardens Blog.