TV you crave

Chico State alum Troy Johnson gets his own Food Network show

Troy Johnson is a kitchen cut-up as host of the traveling food show <i>Crave</i>.

Troy Johnson is a kitchen cut-up as host of the traveling food show Crave.

Photo courtesy of FOOD NETWORK

Feed your craving:
Crave airs Sundays, at 6:30 p.m. on the Food Network. Check listings for additional showings.

Troy Johnson and I were roommates during my last two years at Chico State. As writers and editors for Synthesis magazine, we reviewed local bands, had similar majors and minors, and challenged each other intellectually, enjoying living in our world of intertwined interests.

One of the “assignments” we created for ourselves at the Synthesis was a food-review column called “Phood Kruhteek.” To illustrate how sophisticated and thought-provoking we were prepared to be, our review of Madison Bear Garden featured an image of the two of us with french fries rammed up our nostrils. Looking back on that moment, it seems obvious that at least one of us must have been destined for greatness.

“That was my first food column, the one I wrote with you,” said Johnson during a phone call this past summer. We were speaking for maybe the second time in 14 years. The 38-year-old Johnson was home in San Diego, his 5-month-old daughter was sleeping in a back room, and it was eight days before Crave, the television show he was hosting, debuted on Food Network.

The show follows Johnson as he travels the country searching out America’s most-craved foods and presents their historical and gastronomical significance with the help of scientists, chefs and gurus.

“It’s an irreverentially irreverant approach toward food,” he said. “A little bit of blasphemy, a little bit of homage.” Obviously, the french-fries stunt served as the catalyst to future stardom.

Johnson and I began rooming together in fall of 1995, and I have too many fun, fond and frenetic memories to remember—and dozens more that are vague and fuzzy. More than anything, though, we shared a true love of the written, spoken and sung (or mumbled) word.

In the spring of 1997, we officially became Chico State alumni and bid adieu to our West Third Street apartment. I hopped on a plane to Guam, where I’d meet my future wife, and Johnson headed home to San Diego, spring-loaded for success.

And while Johnson’s ascent to Food Network stardom doesn’t surprise me one bit, for him it was a circuitous route.

After graduation, Johnson got his start at the San Diego CityBeat newsweekly, working as the music editor for four years. During that time, he also hosted a pre-game TV show for the hometown Padres as well as a locally produced, live indie-rock program called Fox Rox.

“We featured bands that appealed to nobody with audible hearing except me and maybe four other people,” he said. “You know, things like Hungarian polka-core metal.”

Then the economy tanked, and Johnson lost both TV gigs in a week. Soon Riviera Magazine (a high-end style, culture and fashion magazine) hired Troy as a senior editor to cover bars and culture, which he knew all about, and also … food.

“I was like, ‘Food? Fuck food.’ I had zero interest,” he said. “So because I wasn’t into it but I’m very anal about not getting fired, I said, ‘I’ll do it.’ And I studied it.”

This is the genius of Johnson. His focus is unmatched. He absolutely loses himself in research and becomes comfortably oblivious to everything around him.

Johnson killed his first food-writing assignment in 2007, and has held the gig ever since.

Oh, and in 2008 he also somehow found time to pen a memoir called Family Outing about growing up with a lesbian mother.

Then came a serendipitous job post, to which Johnson responded, for a show Food Network was cobbling together. After viewing his audition tape, the network went off the menu. “They didn’t want me for that show,” he said. “They wanted to build a different show around the guy in that [audition] tape.”

Thus, Crave was born. Each show has a distinct theme—“Bacon: The Magical Meat Stick,” “Ice Cream: Socially Acceptable Lick Food,” “Cheese: Milk Does Hard Time”—and as the show’s head writer, he garnishes the science and history with his sense of humor and tidbits from his own childhood for that personal touch.

“If someone laughs, God bless them. If someone doesn’t laugh, they’re probably right,” Troy said. “I’m ready to just carpe diem the shit out of it.”