He was twice named "Best Chef" in Boston for his work at The Blue Room, and the honors are already piling up for chef/ owner Steve Johnsonat his latest project, Rendezvous in Central Square, located in Cambridge, MA. A university grad (B.A. in French language & literature) who acquired his cooking skills on the job, he spent six years at Hamersley's Bistro before becoming a head chef, first at acclaimed Boston tapas spot Mercury Bar, then at The Blue Room. His new place, located inside a former Burger King, has already been tabbed as the city's Best Restaurant Debut of 2006 by Boston magazine. We caught up with him on his houseboat, which is docked at Buzzards Bay in Massachusetts.
Here's a Fridge Raid question we seldom ask: Do you have a fridge?
No. I'm off the grid here, so I use this stainless steel Coleman cooler. And plenty of big ice cubes.
So you're roughing it.
Sort of. The propane refrigerator I had was more trouble than it was worth—unless you could be on the boat all the time.
Given those limitations, what's your cooking situation here?
Well, my houseboat cookbook would be a short one.
But good, we'll bet. What's in it?
Oh, seafood dishes with fresh veggies. This is a fishing community, so sushi and sashimi are no-brainers.
What local seafood is good?
I can get hardshell littleneck clams by hopping off the boat at low tide, walking across the flats and raking clams for the meal.
Nothing's fresher than that.
There's more. Oysters are available upriver a little bit; blue crabs, too. The big fin fish we get here are bluefish, striped bass and flounder.
It's a chef's paradise! How do you heat all this stuff up?
It's a little like camping. There's a three-burner propane stove I use, and l also grill outside on a Weber Smokey Joe.
It's no wonder you live here.
Oh, this isn't full time. I have an apartment in Cambridge, 10 blocks from Rendezvous.
Do you get here often?
My time availability comes and goes. This used to be my inexpensive weekend home. With the new restaurant, I'm lucky to get 24 hours here now, usually during the week.
Say, where exactly are we?
About an hour and 20 minutes by car south of Boston. The boat is docked on the Westport River estuary in Buzzards Bay.
It's a sweet spot. Did you buy the boat here?
No. I found it on a tributary of the Ohio River near Marietta, OH. We trucked it back here. It's 35 years old and 35 feet long.
This boat's from Ohio?
Yes. That's where I grew up— Mt. Vernon, OH.
You must have gotten a good deal.
A very good one. A new houseboat like this one would cost $100,000.
OK, but a new one would have an engine.
True. I took the engine out to create more room. There's about 200 square feet inside. The deck area outside is big.
Is this a year-round retreat?
Seasonal. The boat spends the winters on dry land.
Hey, we love your setup here. Call us if you ever want to sell.