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Troy Johnson Makes his Television Cooking Debut on Food Network

How San Diego Magazine's food critic went from writing about restaurants to cooking on national television


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Guy Fieri (left) checks in with Troy Johnson on a special edition of Guy’s Grocery Games, airing November 21 at 8 p.m..

I’m staring at the rows and rows of spices. Their names are written in some language I don’t understand. My vision starts to blur, hone into a tunnel, which makes me think about how New Yorkers always make fun of weekend warriors from Jersey.

Stop thinking about that, man. Focus. We need food and we need it quick.

Is cinnamon spelled with a C or an S? Why is it the perfect adult dancer name? If I ever become an adult dancer I will raise awareness for lesser known spices, like Sumac or Fenugreek.

Stop thinking about that, too, man. Focus.

I simply cannot find cinnamon. I can hear the clock laughing at me, as it manically throws its precious seconds onto the floor. And just as I nearly fade to black, a benevolent arm reaches up to grab cinnamon and hands it to me.

It is Aarti Sequeira, winner of season six of Next Food Network Star, and one of my greatest friends. And today she is my mortal enemy.

That’s not true. But, though my love for Aarti is immense, I don’t have her best interest at heart today. I’ve been forced to cook on Guy’s Grocery Games (GGG) on Food Network, a nationally televised competition show hosted by Guy Fieri. My competitors are Aarti, plus two of the country’s top chefs in Carl Ruiz and Duskie Esties.

I cook every day. But my main job as the food critic for San Diego Magazine is to write about restaurants. I eat at between three and 12 restaurants a week. My record is 25. Point is, if I’m at home cooking, I’m not doing my job.

Cooking is leisure. I cook with the speed of an injured, depressed sloth, often with a glass of wine in hand. I’m not a professional restaurant chef, who can either prepare a dish in 10 minutes or must find another career.  

"I cook with the speed of an injured, depressed sloth, often with a glass of wine in hand."

I’ve been a judge on GGG for 10-plus seasons. Although the judging table has its uncomfortable moments (none of us enjoy telling a contestant they are going home), the judge’s table is a five-star resort with unlimited boat drinks compared to competing in the GGG kitchens.

And yet when Guy and the producers said I had to compete in a judge’s episode, I agreed. Actually, I begged for a year to train. They said no. I said OK I like my job that sounds good please keep me around I have a child to feed.

For GGG, you have 30 minutes to plan, shop, and cook four dishes for the judges. I feel pretty good, estimate my chances of winning at somewhere near four percent. The clock on GGG is evil. I remember when the clock told Luke Skywalker it was his father. Fact: The minutes in a timed cooking competition contain only 10 seconds.

I won’t release any spoilers for tonight’s episode. But I will say that I nearly didn’t get my first dishes plated. Not because of time, surprisingly. But because my body had released so much adrenaline that my hands were badly, badly shaking. I had been pushed to my limits. I would like some wine. I’d would like a blankie.

But first, Guy says, “Let’s take it to the judges.”


Troy’s cooking debut on national television happens tonight, November 21, at 8 p.m. on Food Network, for a special “Joy to the Judges” episode of Guy’s Grocery Games.

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