Human Diaries had the pleasure to interview Chef J. Looney. He’s a person who absolutely loves and appreciates food. It’s evident even in his choice of words, such as saying that food ‘consumes’ him (interesting and ironic), and that he wants to “break bread” with someone he wants to meet. Reading what he had to say reminds me very much of the movie Ratatouille, and also reminds me of Chef Didier in the movie The Last Holiday – two very good and very food-oriented movies.
We’re also impressed with Chef Looney’s dedication to his family. How wonderful that he can work with his wife, allowing him to enjoy his favorite thing while spending time with the woman he loves! It’s obvious that his wife and son are extremely important to him, and he makes time to balance his need for family with his passion for food.
His positive attitude and tone, when responding to our inquiries to be featured on Human Diaries, shine through in his answers.
We now present to you, Chef J. Looney, family man and food aficionado. Please join us in exploring Chef’s Looney’s enthusiasm throughout the interview.
Q – When did you know you wanted to be a chef, and what inspired you to do it? Do you enjoy it?
A – When I was young my father worked in commercial kitchens. I loved it. I loved visiting him at work and seeing the huge pots and the chaos of a kitchen. I knew I wanted to work in food. I lied on my first application making myself older so I got a job washing dishes at a local restaurant. I worked in food for several years, but after getting married and deciding I needed a “grown up” job I started working in Corporate America until the year I turned 40. I felt stuck. I wasn’t unhappy, but I didn’t feel ALIVE. After much soul searching I knew what I wanted. Food. I wanted to get back into food. I love it. I love the “dance” of the kitchen, the delight on someone’s face as you place a beautifully plated food in front of them and then the “Mmmmmm’s” that are made when you exceed their culinary expectations.
Q – What is your favorite food memory?
A – I have many favorite food memories. I love food. I love the complexity and the simplicity of food. The best thing I have ever eaten was au gratin potatoes from The Ritz Carlton in Naples. I still dream about it 15 years later. One of my favorite memories of food is simply sitting on the front porch after a long hot day in Cordoba, Argentina and eating a tangerine right off the tree. The juice dripping down my chin, the sweetness quenching my thirst. Food is naturally delicious just as it is.
Q – Do you eat your veggies?
A – I do, but I’m not a big fan of asparagus.
Q – What is your favorite kitchen equipment or gadget?
A – My 10” Shun knife. It is my go-to. I love it. In fact, if I were in a fire and I could only grab one item it would be this Shun.
Q – Could you please describe a typical work week for yourself?
A – During the week I cook for my Meal Delivery Clients and on the weekends I cater events, like weddings or Prom or private cooking classes, but on Saturday mornings you can find me at the Farmer’s Market hand selecting the best ingredients for the upcoming week.
Q – How do you get your inspiration?
A – My inspiration comes from everywhere. My favorite place to be inspired is walking through the Farmer’s Market and visiting with the local farmers. When they are excited about a certain carrot, cheese or almonds I get excited, too. I start thinking how fantastic an orange carrot sorbet would be or a maybe a cold smoked almond soup.
Q – What do you think is the most challenging ingredient to work with?
A – Red Wine reduction. There is a perfect timing to it. If you don’t reduce it long enough it’s too weak and acidic. If you go just one minute over it tastes burnt and bitter, but when you do it just right the sweet sticky heavenly nectar that is created is heavenly.
Q – Are there any particular dishes that you love or hate to prepare?
A – I hate fondant. Now, I am not a pastry chef. That is a skill I have not perfected, but I hate fondant. We fight with each other more than we get along.
Q – Any favorite cookbooks?
A – Momofuku by David Chang. He is amazing. His mind fascinates me. His creations excite me. I would love to break bread with him.
Q – Do you find it challenging to balance your time between your personal life and work?
A – YES! The challenge with loving what you do is you never stop doing it. It isn’t a 9-5 thing where you check out and go home. I am passionate about food. I talk about food, I plan food, I shop for food, I create food. If I let it, food would completely consume me. I have been very blessed to have a wife who loves and supports me. I want her to feel loved and cherished by me. For me, that means spending time together. I have to schedule it. Date night is always a priority. We work together every day and so we have had to implement the no “work” rule. Meaning we don’t talk about work on date night. Otherwise the only thing that changes was the scenery. I am grateful for the success I have in my life, but without her none of it matters. I have an amazing son who is at the beginning stages of creating his bliss. It is exciting and thrilling watching him take the steps at 25 that took me 40 years to get to. He challenges me and keeps me on my culinary toes. He’s the first one to let me know when I could reach a little further. I don’t want to miss out on his adventure because I was too consumed to notice.
Q – Where do you see yourself 5 years from today?
A – Still living the dream, the dream is just a little bigger to allow me to cook for even more people.
Q – Any funny kitchen incidents you want to share with our readers?
A – I had just hired a new line cook. He had made several mistakes, like many of us do, in his first 30 days. On one evening I was very frustrated with him. His mistakes were forcing my food costs to skyrocket, which meant I was now paying the price, literally. So I told him the next food items he drops or ruins is coming out of his check. Shortly after he was walking in the kitchen carrying a pan of freshly butchered steaks. Hundreds of dollars in meat. As he walked in he tripped over his own feet again, but this time instead of dropping everything all over the floor he appeared to be a tight rope-walker slipping and falling regaining his balance over and over until he safely made it to the prep station. I laughed and laughed as I was reminded we all need to know what it feels like to have your butt on the line to pull greatness from within.
Q – What do you do for fun?
A – I create food. I eat food. In addition to food, I love the movies. I love the smell of popcorn that wafts out at you as you open the theater doors. I love holding hands in the dark and watching a story unfold before your eyes.
Q – What do you think of Human Diaries?
A – I love Human Diaries. Any site that connects people through stories while offering recipes to make good food is my kind of place!