Chef of the Month: Ruth's Chris chef says ‘try, try again’

Pam Griffin
Ruston C. Johnson, executive chef at Ruth’s Chris Steak House Destin, is the first Chef of the Month for The Log.

This year, The Log will start a new recipe feature — Chef of the Month. The first is Ruston Johnson, executive chef at Ruth’s Chris Destin for almost eight years

“I love going to work every day,” Johnson told The Log. “It’s more like seeing your family after being off for two days.”

Johnson worked in construction for his dad, but at the age of 12 or 13 he knew he would rather be a chef.

“Building a house usually takes three to four months before it’s done,” Johnson said. “When cooking, I can see satisfaction on a guest’s face almost instantaneously.”

 Johnson graduated in 1996 from Johnson & Wales College of Culinary Art in Norfolk, Va., which has since been combined with the campus in Charleston. With five roommates, “we all helped each other through the hard parts and actually made school seem very easy.”

Chef Johnson was asked for his opinion about ingredients and cooking.

Q: What is your favorite cuisine?

A: I love to cook Cajun food. There are so many different types and styles that the choices are endless. 

Q: What are your favorite foods to cook with?

A: There are so many different ingredients now that it’s hard to choose just one. Bacon, duck fat, fresh herbs, Maytag Blue Cheese, just to name a few.

Q: What is the most necessary ingredient for the majority of recipes?

A: Bacon, butter, garlic and heavy cream. Fresh cracked pepper and Kosher salt are a must in everything!

Q: What do you like to eat when you’re at home?

A: I like to cook Southern comfort foods like collards, blackeyed peas, BBQ pork and brisket, or anything I can put on the grill every Sunday.

Q: What is your favorite food to eat?

A: Anything I cook and my friends would say the same thing! I would say crawfish boils in the spring. That is also my daughter Harper’s favorite and the spicier the better.

Q: Any advice for the home cook?

A: Never give up when something doesn’t work out. Try, try again. My motto is “To cook is to feed the soul.”

Chef Johnson’s Crawfish Etouffee

1 lb. salted butter

2 cups diced onion

1 cup diced green bell pepper

1 cup diced celery

2 bay leaves

1 Tbsp. fresh garlic

2 tsp. white pepper

2 tsp red pepper

1 Tbsp. chix base

1 tsp. whole dry thyme

1 ½ tsp. paprika

1 ¾ cups flour

1 qt. water

1 ½ cups heavy cream

1-2 lb. fresh crawfish tail meat

Fresh sliced green onions

Melt butter over med to low heat. Then add all ingredients except flour, water, heavy cream and crawfish.

Cook till vegetables are tender, about 6-8 minutes. Whisk in flour and cook for at least 5 minutes; then add water and heavy cream.

Cook for about 10-15 minutes until thick, then add crawfish and cook only until they are heated through, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat and serve over hot steamed rice. Top with fresh green onions.