Summit County Farm Bureau member, Chef Johnny Schulze has been the heart of Summit’s Plow to Chow for the past four years, but did you know that his Zydeco Bistro food truck, which sells unique Cajun and Creole dishes, has won mobile cuisine’s 2017 Cajun Food Truck of the Year? Johnny, who prides himself on fresh local ingredients, whenever possible, has been supportive of our local farmers for years. Wanting to know more about this hardworking, supportive member, we contacted him and asked if he would share. In his words …
I am first generation German American, both my parents are German born. I was born in Boone NC when my dad was stationed at Fort Brag, but we moved to Baton Rouge, LA where my dad was a college professor, when I was just two years old. I have one younger brother, Tommy, who still lives in Baton Rouge today.
Growing up in Cajun country is really all I remember as a kid. I learned how to fish, cook and eat fish from childhood friends who are natives of South Louisiana. My dad would take me fishing at age 4 to places like Cocadrie, Golden Meadow and Grand Island. We would catch speckled trout, flounder, red fish, drum and the occasional electric eel. When I was in my teens, I learned how to hunt deer and other small game with friends. I liked fishing the best and still try to get down there every few years to fish in the brackish waters of South Louisiana.
As a teenager, I would fly off in the summer to visit family in Atlanta Ga., where my uncle was a chef and restaurant owner. My uncle, Chef Paul, did his training in Switzerland as a chef’s apprentice. Working with him in the kitchen planted the seed for me to become a chef. The next summer I visited Germany and stayed with my Aunts and Grandmother, learning about our family’s past when they owned an Inn and Restaurant in Pressburgh before WWII. When the Russians moved into the area, they made our family Inn a government building, just after WWII. Today it is once again a hotel/restaurant called Hotel Albrecht (Albrecht is my mother’s maiden name).
As a 17 years old, wanting to grow and see more of the world, I enlisted in the Louisiana Army National Guard. Undecided as what to do with my life, I decided to try college at LSU while serving my obligation in the Army reserves. While in college I figured that I might as well join ROTC and get paid to go to college, so I transferred to another college, SLU in Hammond, LA and became a Cadet in the LA Army National Guard. College graduation brought my commission as a 2nd LT, the decision to stay in the reserves, marriage to my college soul mate, Pamela Barrilleaux and the possibility of being shipped out to Iraq. Fortunately, the war ended soon after so my unit never made it out of the states. I started my culinary training in the fall of 1991, studying as a chef’s apprentice in New Orleans and receiving my Associate Degree in Culinary Arts from Delgado Community College, New Orleans in December 1994.
I first started cooking professionally at the Hotel Intercontinental New Orleans the summer of 1991 and finished my apprenticeship at a restaurant called Andreas in December 1994.
While on a humanitarian mission in Central America (Guatemala and Honduras) in 1993 with my reserve unit, I watched how the mobile kitchens worked in the Army and thought that I could do this back home. Later that summer I cooked at Jazz Fest in New Orleans and leaned how to set up and cook for an outdoor event. It was at that point, the goal to cook in a mobile kitchen serving Cajun and Creole food was established.
About that same time, my wife took a teaching assistant job at UCONN and I started my first job at a restaurant near New Haven, worked for another restaurant closer to Hartford and cooked at a seasonal restaurant on Nantucket in the summers. My wife graduated from UCONN with her PHD and she took a job at UAKRON as a professor in August 2000, which brought us to this area.
I started the food rig construction in 2010, about the same time I left my job of 10 years as a chef here in Wadsworth. It was Mardi Gras 2011 when I started the food truck. Working in the food truck here in NE Ohio, I do events, private catering and set up at local wineries, breweries and serve at small local business that want to experience Cajun & Creole cuisine. I met the owner of 101 Bottle of Beers on the Wall in Kent, serving there on a few occasions. It was that meeting that turned the page to another chapter of my cooking profession, opening The Bourbon Street Barrel Room in Tremont (Cleveland) in the fall of 2014. I am the consulting chef at BSBR but I keep my food truck operating in the months when the weather is not so cold. I may have two jobs that keep me busy, but they also give me more time with my family and friends.
My future vision and goals are pretty simple, continue to cook and work as a chef consultant and run the food truck part time. Recently I decided to work with a co-packer and start producing a few of my food truck’s signature sauces, seasoning and mixes. Later this summer the first batch of sauces and seasoning will be available for retail. I am excited to see how this turns out. I like cooking and doing what I do because I enjoy it, it doesn’t feel like a job to me. Although cooking comes easy to me, I have to admit it is hard work that is not for everyone. Serving food to the public is special to me and I really like making people happy that appreciate what I do for them.
My wife and I have started traveling more and visiting with our family in South Louisiana and across the United States. We also have been to Germany to visit with my family there. I am most proud and happiest with my family and our 2 children. My one true hobby is still fishing with my family and friends back home in South Louisiana. Looking back, it is very satisfying at what Pamela and I have accomplished together, thus far. As they say back home, Les Bon Temp Roules (let the good times roll).