A popular restaurant in the heart of downtown Omaha was “Home” to an internationally-known chef for one night only. It’s the world of fine dining from Paris brought to the Metro by one of its own.
“We have 5 hours to get these done,” Chef Austin Johnson emphasizes to his crew, working on a beautiful squash-blossom wrapped striped bass.
It’s the culmination of a dream menu, years in the making.
“It’s myself on a plate. It’s everything I’ve learned over the last 17 years in the kitchen, starting in Omaha,” explains Chef Johnson.
Block 16 owners Paul and Jess Urban sought out Chef Johnson at Frenchie Restaurant in Paris.
“He’d made mention that he would love to come home to cook a dinner for his family and friends and people who helped him along his way,” said Jess Urban.
“This dinner isn’t possible without the chefs that made me cook with them when I was 14 in Omaha. And it’s not possible without Mrs. Biding from Millard West,” said Chef Johnson.
Sunday night, he honored them with a meal inspired by his travels and work in restaurants across the world.
“Parisienne meets Omaha...Minnesota ducks and Hudson Valley foie gras and Japanese fluke and local carrots,” Chef Johnson explained the menu.
It’s taken five cooks three 16-hour days preparing it.
“Just pounding out some fluke. It’s going to be one of the first courses for tonight,” said Johnson’s sous chef from Paris, Australian-native Dale Sutton.
“We bit off a really big ambitious menu...We flew in truffles, black truffles from Australia because they’re perfect right now...We have these ducks that we flew in. They’ve been hanging for almost 14 days, so they’re getting really dry and kind of agey and we’re going to roast them.” said Chef Johnson.
“We’ve got a whole fridge full of beautiful, beautiful little garnishes. And little textures and little hidden things in there. It’s just going to be beautiful,” said Sutton.
“Paul and I just helped to facilitate this event for him, but it’s very much Austin’s dream and Austin’s vision,” said Urban.
But, as far as Johnson has travelled, nothing compares to mom’s home-cooking.
“I have her special recipe banana bread that I’m trying to do as the final course,” explained the chef.
“I’m confident in my recipe, so I think it’ll be great. He’ll put his final touches on that,” said mom Gayle Johnson.
It’s an experience that means as much to Chef Johnson as it does to the diners.
“For me it’s home because this place feels like home. The kitchen feels like home, the people I’m working with feel like home. But it’s also my home,” said the chef.
The meal served 64 people at 175 dollars per plate, with an optional 75 dollar wine pairing.