Our Culinary Director

Breaking Bread

Good food shared with great people—that is what is important to me. I believe that food, lovingly prepared, can ignite a passion, heal a relationship, and bring people together. It’s the cornerstone of a well-lived life. Nourishment on all levels begins with the farmers who plant the seeds, and continues seamlessly to the chef who makes the food, and the person who washes the plate after the meal. Food connects us all. Good food makes that connection even more meaningful and nourishing.

My love and deep appreciation of this aspect of food arose out of the roots of my childhood, my family—I have been cooking for as long as I can remember. I never gave it a second thought, and whatever I made was good. Usually, it was better than that. Different types of cuisine inspire me. My idea of fun is getting lost in Chinatown, picking vegetables at a friend’s farm, or perusing the artisanal foods at farmers’ markets.There is a strong component of versatility in my cooking that stems from the diversity of both my heritage and my life experiences: I am of Jamaican descent, and grew up with a Puerto Rican stepfather. I spent more than a decade in New York City before arriving here in Gainesville, where I satiated the occasional bout of wanderlust with trips to Italy, France and Spain.

Memorable moments in my life seem almost always to be marked by food, as if that is the currency of thought, and that those soul-deep food-associations press themselves into my psyche with the power of flavor, aroma, and texture—my graduation dinner from Eastside High School at that little place in the Sun Center; eating Tieboudienne with my Senegalese friends the night before the Twin Towers went down; and my pregnancy, punctuated by gallons of Julie’s Organic Vanilla Ice Cream and generous servings of juicy, rare steak.

When I was 16 years old, I entered the food industry and have never left. I paid my way through college working the front of the house at iconic Gainesville restaurants like Leonardo’s 706 and Ivey’s Grille. Restaurant work or catering was frequently a second source of income for me while I was living on my own in New York.

While I appreciate and respect all “food filters”—those dietary preferences or restrictions adopted to satisfy spiritual, philosophical, or biological need—I personally have none. I can and do cook for all types of lifestyles: vegetarian, paleo, raw, vegan, kind, and anything else under the sun. My main concern is that it is tastes good, which means a whole lot more than it does to the palate—for me, good taste embodies a preparation and ingestion that works in harmony with the body/mind, the local economy and ecosystem, and the earth.

In a former life (before my beautiful and brilliant daughter Zora Sunshine was born), I worked in Public Relations. I also founded and published a lifestyle magazine about Brooklyn, and worked in Marketing for an educational facility focused on holistic learning. These days, I express my artistic vision through food, a love and a skill that Zora seems to be adopting into her daily play.

When I’m not working or actively engaged in rearing my daughter and answering her 400 daily questions about life, I am planning my farm restaurant, dancing to soulful house music, or writing my recipe book…and trying to catch up on sleep. C’est la vie! I wouldn’t change a thing.

I wholeheartedly believe that what you put into life, you get out of it. The same goes for the body. It is my mission, my life, to feed people truly exceptional food, because I believe it helps to make people happy….and being happy—fulfilled, living, loving, playing— is what matters.

With Love,

Gail Johnson

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