Get to Know Guy's Grocery Games Judge Troy Johnson
As a journalist and food critic for San Diego Magazine, Troy Johnson has eaten at his share of restaurants and lived to write about it. He's also previously hosted Crave on Food Network. Currently he serves as a regular judge on Guy's Grocery Games, where he mixes his culinary knowledge with a bit of comedy. Find out Troy's opinion on one of the show's most-difficult games, his take on the food from his childhood and his favorite place to eat in his hometown.
Get to know this Triple G judge, and tune in to watch Troy on Guy's Grocery Games on Sundays at 8|7c.
Do you prefer shopping in a small market or in a supermarket?
Troy Johnson: Never trust myself in a supermarket. Way too many options and way too little attention — actually, a deficit of attention. I walk into a supermarket and I walk out three and a half hours [later] with, like, a Super Bowl party worth of food, so I prefer a small, contained area to keep myself from myself.
Do you prefer self-checkout, online ordering or a real person?
TJ: A real person, because there's always that chance that they are going to give you something on sale at the last minute and not mean to. I love that. I love being in a grocery store. I love seeing things; I love feeling them. I love discovering new ingredients that … I have no idea what they are, especially going to Asian markets. I love going to Asian markets and just looking at and reading it like a new book that I've never read before.
Is there one thing you can't leave a grocery store without?
TJ: Coffee! Usually, every single time I go, I have about nine bushels of kale, because kale is kind of the way I balance out my life — after eating at so many restaurants during the week (they are short on kale, usually, and heavy on pork belly). So at lunchtime and anytime that I'm making my own meal throughout the week, it's usually heavy on vegetables, a bunch of leaves. I'll even juice a lot. So kale, and/or shallot. I'll get shallot every single time too. I love shallot. It's just that sexy, you know, it's like the onion's best version of what it could become if it was a better thing.
What's the one thing you love/hate most about grocery shopping?
TJ: I love free samples. It doesn't matter how far in my career I ever get, I will love a good free-samples station. I'm such a sucker for a free bit of food. It can even be something traumatic from my childhood that my mother cooked awfully and this woman with a hairnet is cooking it again. I should run from it, and I still have to go to that free-sample station. You know, [at] one of my favorite grocery stores, Trader Joe's, you get the free coffee every day. To me it's just those touches, it's like, you know, going to a 5-star chef and he gives you one of those mignardises — that little candy at the end. You're like … "I feel special. Thank you very much."
Give me five ingredients or less in coming up with your best dish.
TJ: I would probably buy a premade curry, coconut milk, chicken and two veggies — whether they be bamboo and mushrooms [or two other vegetables]. Yeah, because I love making curries. I would rather make it in a mortar and pestle, but if I've got to use the jarred curry sauce, it's not that bad; it's pretty good. Usually I make a Penang curry, although I love a green curry too.
TJ: My favorite game on this show, mostly because I'm a little masochistic, is Can Can — because it is such a sad, sad game that sucks the soul out of a chef by its stem. You know, it's just ... some of the hardest, prepacked, preseasoned, precooked things on the planet — try and freshen them up. Because, I mean, you are starting at negative 5 and you're just trying to get to 0 or 1. It's such a hard game, and some of the dishes that you end up with are so funnily inedible, that you just crack up through the nausea.
TJ: I feel like for the first nine years of my life I was just shoveling raisin after raisin after raisin into my mouth. My biggest food memory from my childhood is ramen and bagel dogs, because that's when I fell in love with food, because that's when I was denied any good food that didn't go into the microwave or you didn't have to fork holes in cellophane. I was denied any of that until I was 18 years old, so that's why I fell in love with food, because … poor Mom, great in so many ways and I love her until the ends of the earth, but an oven will make her break out in hives. So, my favorite memory is me sitting down with two packets of ramen, filling my insides with enough sodium to preserve [them] for a thousand years.
TJ: I love doughnuts. Deep-fry anything in that much glycerin, sugar and everything else. It is warm bread. … I could eat bread and butter for the rest of my life, as long as it was warm butter with a little bit of sea salt. So warm bread with a ton of sugar and deep-fried oil on it. I mean, that's like they reversed kryptonite for me. It's just, like, that's my catnip: doughnuts.
TJ: My last supper would definitely be Thai food. Big, sloppy, chili, oily, drunken noodles with duck, because duck is one of my favorite proteins. It's a little funky, it's a little greasy, it's a little bit like me.
What's the most-surprising or oddest thing we'd find in your fridge, food or otherwise?
TJ: My wife is Afghan, and they have a thing called doogh, which is basically a creamy yogurt drink. It's like thick, curdled, salted, limed milk. And you take one sip of it, you'd feel like you're drinking something like a dairy product that was left out on the shelf at room temperature for way too long and then put back into the refrigerator to pass off as some sort of refreshment. It is the most unpalatable drink I've ever had in my entire life, and my wife loves it, and God bless her for that.
Where do you see dining trends going? Do you have one you absolutely love or hate?
TJ: I love that great, high-end chefs or very talented chefs are no longer feeling that they … have to do four-star service. They don't have to put the bell, the whistle, the light, everything else or the bazillion-dollar interior decor — they don't have to put all of that in a restaurant. They just have to cook good food. One of my favorite restaurants in San Diego is [Carnitas' Snack Shack, where] a three-star chef [is] cooking pork belly out of a window in a to-go little box. He's a big boy, and he can barely fit into the kitchen. You get your food, you walk it yourself to a picnic table and you eat it, and it's fantastic. … That's my favorite move, is that all of these chefs are going into the street.
TJ: I'm finishing my book right now … . It's a series of essays about food and about having been a food critic … for about eight years. You know, some of the things I've done, [like meeting] the face of tequila, the oldest tequila farmer in the world, down in Jalisco, Mexico … . The first time I ever ate a fish as a sushi chef, pulled it out of the tank … . All those kinds of stories. It's going to be basically … David Sedaris of food.
Quickfire (Name the first thing that comes to mind)
Favorite food city to eat in: San Diego — I'm from there.
Favorite holiday: I like Christmas. The reason why I like Christmas is because everyone doesn't expect you to cook quite as much as Thanksgiving, so you know the ambitions are a bit tempered and the food is usually better.
Favorite kitchen tool: The Microplane or the mandoline. The mandoline is one of the most-deadly, vicious, beautiful machines in the kitchen.
Favorite sweet or dessert: I eat ice cream like it's going out of business. If I ever become 9,000 pounds in life, you'll know that I just couldn't resist going to like a commercial ice cream maker and eating my way out.
Favorite salty snack: Chocolatey pretzels — salty and sweet — or yogurt-covered pretzels.
Tune in to Guy's Grocery Games on Sundays at 8|7c.