New England natives and immigrants alike are privileged. They have access to some of the best seafood and the best chefs in the world. How much better can it get when you are able to put those two benefits together?
Mary Beth Lawton Johnson, a GA based super chef, has been doing exactly that for over seventeen years. This certified Executive Pastry Chef and Chef de Cuisine is also the founder and co-owner of Creative Arts and Media. This full-service media company deals with types and styles of food…and so much more!
“[CAM] offers food styling from implementation to creation and design. We provide food photography and copy-editorial work as well as interior styling for all forms of media,” explains Lawton Johnson.
“I really want to just sit down and get it all out on paper,” says the author and columnist who regularly contributes to a number of luxury publications, including Upscale Living.
While these credentials and venues provide a variety of ways to flex her culinary muscle, Lawton Johnson feels most at home when she is at sea.
“As a professional chef in yachting,” Lawton Johnson says, “I am in an industry where it is all about first-class service and five-star cuisines…You can’t have an off day and say you will do better tomorrow. You only have one chance to get it right the first time.”
Speaking of “first times,” Lawton Johnson’s initial experience with onboard cooking was not successful.
“I distinctly remember interviewing with an agency in Ft. Lauderdale who placed crew on some of the highest-end mega and superyachts,” she recalls. “Their lead agent, who could make or break your career, looked at me with a deadpan expression and said I didn’t have any qualifications to cook onboard yachts. I was completely devastated!”
Though it might have crushed other cooks, this early insult only made Lawton Johnson work harder.
“That lit a fire under me,” she says. “I was not going to be told I was under-qualified.”
After several years of sleepless nights spent curled up with cookbooks, Lawton Johnson received her certification from the American Culinary Federation. Today, as a member of the James Beard Foundation, the International Association of Culinary Professionals, and the American Culinary Federation, Lawton Johnson has plenty of wind in her professional sails to keep her cooking career sailing forward.
“Now I am invited to teach and speak at culinary schools and events,” she says, “which is the highest honor I can think of!”
Not that her life has been bereft of other exciting moments…
“I did meet Shaquille Oneal,” she says, recalling an unexpected interaction with the NBA superstar. “I was in the middle of making lunch for the ship’s owner when I turned around and found myself eye to eye with his belly button.”
From British author, Lord Baron Jeffrey Archer to TV legend Johnny Carson to “Shaq,” Lawton Johnson has had her share of celebrity moments. She has also had adventures of other sorts as well.
“On one occasion the yacht ran out of fresh produce while in the San Blas islands off the coast of Panama,” she recalls, explaining that such provisions are often scarce and that she had to charter a plane to go grocery shopping!
“It’s easy if you are in a restaurant and can call your supplier,” she stated, “but when you are in the middle of nowhere… you have to be extremely creative with what you can find.”
Such creativity has always been Lawton Johnson’s way, however. Even in high school, where she failed home economics, by the way, Lawton Johnson was not one to follow directions.
“Today… my dessert creations run from modern to classical to rustic homemade,” she says. “I guess I was and still am the rebel!”
When onboard, however, Lawton Johnson has to tow the longest line, lest she walks the plank.
“The people who you work for are some of the world’s elite,” she says, describing some of her larger-than-the-average-home venues as “floating palaces.”
As her clients are among the wealthiest and best-fed people on the planet, demands are high. Still, even though she may not have all that much time to sit back while onboard, Lawton Johnson is able to enjoy the ride.
“This profession…is more than I thought it would be,” she says. “Who wants to be landlocked all the time when I can get up and look outside my porthole and see a different island in a foreign port or experience different cultures and cuisines?”
Ms. Lawton Johnson knows that this career she has been in since 1991 won’t last a lifetime, but she is more than happy to sail on into the sunset.
“How I got started in this industry is truly a blessing,” she says, “and a case of the wanderlust.”