Chef Wayne Johnson Takes a Hiatus From Cooking for the First Time Since 1985

By: 
Julien Perry
chef wayne johnson chef at rays boathouse seattle magazine
Chef Wayne ordered a latte with a side of nothing on his plate.

He left Ray’s on Tuesday and now, after nearly 30 years, chef Wayne Johnson is taking a much needed (and deserved) break from the restaurant industry. And don’t even think about asking him what’s next. He's not planning a damn thing.

I met up for coffee with the completely relaxed and happy looking chef this afternoon near his home in West Seattle. Because, you know, he has time to do that sort of stuff now. 

“I don’t just want to jump back into something. It feels pretty good right now. You get to a certain age and you start reevaluating how you want to go about life. One of the things I realize is that all of my extra hours have gone to work and not my family. I think at this point, I want to make sure that as I restructure and go forward, I give them that quality time back. I owe them that.”

Johnson has a wife and three grown boys (ages 18 and 23), who have never known their dad as someone who didn’t spent countless hours working in a kitchen. It was something that definitely ate away at him while he rethought his career.

“When I took on the position over at Ray’s, I figured after year two if I was still putting in the hours, I probably didn’t want to go further than that.”

He says a typical work week was 60-65 hours, because if you didn’t realize, being an executive chef is much more than just cooking. There’s food costs to budget, product ordering, menu making, butchering, hiring — the list goes on.

“When you get to this point where you’ve done it a couple of times, if two years isn’t happening…and a lot of it is how you build the support around you, whether you’re allowed to do that or not, the depth of your sous chef and the depth of your kitchen help. I could see it was another year, year-and-a-half in the making — that’s a lot more stolen time from the family.”

Johnson really had his work cut out for him. After being brought on to tackle the Ray's revamp that saw its Shilshole doors close for a complete overhaul in October 2012, he had the difficult task of trying to draw people away from the bar and restaurat crawl kingdom known as Ballard Avenue and over to a much more secluded side of the neighborhood. 

It was a job that also took him away from his 12-year tenure at Andaluca  — the job that initially brought him to Seattle following a string of other cooking gigs in California. (With his resignation comes word that Ray's executive sous chef Paul Duncan will take his place).

“As far as work and going forward, it’s on the back burner with the preface of how that quality time falls into place. I’m not just jumping into a job for money. Done that.”

"I’m going golfing during the day on Monday with a buddy of mine and meeting up with a couple of chef friends next week for dinner. All that has been gone for how many years? It’s kind of nice just to think in that mode right now.”

When I asked Johnson what he had planned after our coffee date, he quickly replied, "I have to go hang out on Alki." 

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