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Spotlight on: Chef (aka Stephen Johnson)


Many of you will remember our former Head Chef, Stephen Johnson, or ‘Chef’ as he was always known at The Buttery. Anyone that referred to him as Stephen was met with the resounding remark of ‘WHO?!’ by his loyal kitchen team.

Chef Stephen Johnson and his team on a stairwell in The Buttery Glasgow

His recent retirement was a sad day for us all, but as the old saying goes ‘all good things must come to an end’.

We wanted to take this opportunity to spotlight on a man who made The Buttery what it is today, let you know a bit more about his extensive career, and even a little around what he has been up to recently.

A Career That Spans Decades

In an incredible profession that has spanned over 40 years, Stephen’s first stint with us was back in the 90’s, where he was the Head Chef at the former Buttery Restaurant and Belfry Wine Bar. Here, he oversaw all operations of the two AA Rosette awarded establishment. The venue was quite different to The Buttery we all know today. The bar and dining room were split by a set of velvet curtains, and they would usually seat around fifty covers a night.

Chef Stephen Johnson and two team members outside The Buttery Glasgow

This was more of a classic fine-dining restaurant, with the servers donning white aprons and gloves, having an almost Victorian feel to it.

Stephen adds: ‘we used to serve every main course covered in silver cloches back then. The guests always thought it was incredibly theatrical and amazing how the servers remembered everyone’s meals despite being covered up’.

He also noted the magnificent smells of the food and herbs that would hit the patron’s nose when said cloches were lifted.

The Early Years

Prior to his time with Two Fat Ladies at The Buttery, Stephen worked in some of the best kitchens up and down the UK, including the prominent Turnberry Hotel and Golf Course as Senior Sous Chef. He even had several stints working in Iceland and America too, moving to the US with his wife Julie to work in Colorado and New York.

While in Colorado, he worked at a ski resort and observed that the kitchen was quite casual in comparison to anywhere he had ever worked before. He adds: ‘the Americans were quite laid back compared to me and a few Scottish colleagues. So much so, we ended up getting left to run the kitchen a lot the time’.

Chef Stephen Johnson cooking with a team member inside the kitchen of The Buttery Glasgow

New York was a different kettle of fish though, with Chef working in a very exclusive private members club. A standard akin to the style of kitchens he was used to back home.

While Stephen and Julie had thoroughly enjoyed their time away in the states, they were missing family and friends so decided to move back home.

Stephen even had a few stints at showbusiness during the 80’s and 90’s. He appeared on Icelandic culinary star Siggi Hall’s cooking show, preparing some Buttery favourites. Chef also appeared on This Morning, doing a cooking demonstration and on another occasion, they visited his home where he prepared the iconic chicken stuffed with haggis in an Arran mustard cream sauce – a dish that still makes an appearance today on The Buttery’s menu.

Going Out on Their Own

In July of 2000, Stephen and his wife Julie decided to ‘go out on their own’, as they say, and took over two venues, Lux and Stazione, in Glasgow’s West End. Lux was a modern Scottish restaurant with a real fine-dining feel to it, while Stazione provided diners with an unforgettable taste of the Mediterranean.

He notes: ‘owning our own restaurants was a challenge that we both thoroughly enjoyed. We applied the same ethos we always have – giving anyone with the willingness to learn a chance. Allowing them to carve out a successful career in hospitality’.

Chef Stephen Johnson and Operations Director Rory McGinley outside The Buttery Glasgow

Many of Stephen’s colleagues from the former Buttery joined the teams at Lux and Stazione, and he was an indispensable mentor to any up-and-coming chef in the industry.

Both restaurants traded successfully for over ten years, but Stephen and Julie then hung up their aprons due to the rising costs of business rates unfortunately making trading unsustainable at the time.

Stephen, not one for the idea of early retirement, decided to get back to work soon after.

A Triumphant Return

He returned to The Buttery in 2010 and had been the beating heart of our kitchen until late last year, displaying his innate talent, determination, attention to detail and, above all else, professionalism. Stephen’s ethos has always been to invest in training the team from the ‘ground up’, offering positions to those with no experience and allowing them to carve out a career in hospitality at one of the city’s most iconic culinary venues.

Chef Stephen Johnson standing outside The Buttery Glasgow

It is a credit to Stephen that he has built such a strong team around him and ensured that The Buttery, as we advance, has a chef brigade that will carry on his legacy, with a familiar face even stepping into the role.

New Beginnings

The Buttery kitchen is now being steered by the incredible Craig Brown, who actually previously worked under Stephen at Lux and Stazione restaurants. They have known each other for numerous decades.

Stephen noted: ‘when Craig started with us in the restaurants, he began as a Kitchen Porter, quickly and impressively working his way through the ranks. He is always keen to learn and has also worked at some of the top hotels and restaurants in the country. Passing on the role of Head Chef to him was a no-brainer in my eyes’.

The Quiet Life

Nowadays, Stephen enjoys a quiet life away from the hustle and bustle of The Buttery kitchen. He loves nothing more than spending time with the family and friends, not forgetting the odd day out on one of his several motorbikes.

He noted: ‘I get to catch up on a lot of DIY, gardening, dining out, holidays and, most importantly, time with family and friends. I have to say, Julie deserves it more than anyone. She’s put up with my working lifestyle for over 40 years, so it is great being able to spend quality time together now’.

Chef Stephen Johnson cooking inside a kitchen

While we absolutely miss Chef every day at The Buttery, we could not be happier for him enjoying his time in retirement. His influence in the kitchen still remains to this day and will continue to do so indefinitely.

He is still a familiar face in our restaurant, albeit at the other side of the pass, and we light up every time he joins us in the dining room with family and friends.

Here’s to you, Chef.  

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