By Susan Payne
Having a seat inside of Jonah’s Kitchen, an elevated, yet fast casual restaurant in Santa Monica, is like having a meal with the celebrity chef himself, an al-fresco cooking experience.
Chef Jonah Johnson opened the restaurant in June, inspired by his travels through Latin America and made with love — organic dishes, fresh vegetables, sauce and food made scratch, cooked above a wood-fired grill.
“When we take the meats out of the smoker, everything we do is from scratch. It’s been a dream to open this and express the types of food and cooking I like to do,” Johnson said. “It takes after the experience you would have at my home.”
Although heavily traveled across the world, Johnson’s restaurant is an ode to the people in his life he has learned from: food and flavor stemming from a multicultural, ethnic background.
Mexican, Caribbean, Italian, and Korean, Johnson said, his menu is a mix of cultural foods over an open fire.
“I’ve experienced all those flavors, traveled and lived in some of these places, and I wanted to bring a multicultural smorgasbord of barbecue the way different cultures cook their food with fire,” he said.
Growing up in California, Jonah found behind the grill with his father more entertaining than playing basketball with the neighborhood kids. At the age of 10, his intense love of food began with one question: how did raw meat over fire, or fresh ingredients from the garden, become something that tasted so good.
“My father is a grill master, and I was intrigued by that as a kid, smelling barbecue and seeing the offset cooker and wondering why it tastes so good,” Johnson said.
Johnson’s aunt, Bethann, who lived in Minnesota, was another kitchen influence in his life. Bethann was a southern style cook who made sauces from scratch.
On the other side of Johnson’s family, Swedish, Serbian and eastern European food scented the air.
“Since I was a kid, food around me was always very different, but it was always really good. I was never stuck in one culture’s food. When I came to California, I fell in love with Mexican and Latin food,” he said.
Johnson’s journey to “try other people’s food” led him on a career path that accommodated that lifestyle, traveling and cooking for celebrity clients, including Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt and Gisele Bundchen. He’s also had the pleasure of cooking for Mick Jagger, Al Pacino, Tobey Maguire, Clint Eastwood, Tarantino and Steven Spielberg, to name a few.
“That’s the main reason I wanted to travel. I wanted to eat other people’s food and be inspired. I don’t eat at hotel restaurants, I want to eat what the people are eating the entire time,” Johnson said.
Jonah’s Kitchen, a culmination of his experience cooking and traveling, offers a unique menu, crafted for locals and LA visitors alike.
Here are a few picks:
- K-Town Chicken
- Ribs “Argentina Parilla” STYLE
- Crispy Potatoes
- Steamed (Koshihikari) Rice
- Gochujang Shrimp Tacos
- Vegan King Tacos
- Rice Pilaf with Grilled Vegetables
- Porterhouse Steak (for groups)
“We cook everything from scratch. When you have fresh vegetables, coupled with beautiful pork ribs from sustainable, high-quality farms and Japanese steamed rice, and nothing processed, you feel the difference.” Johnson said.
Jonah’s Kitchen is located at 2518 Wilshire Blvd in Santa Monica, open Tuesday through Saturday 12 p.m. to 12 a.m. Lunch hours are 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. and dinner is 5 p.m. to 10. The restaurant is closed daily from 4 p.m. and 5 p.m.