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Valley foodie finds fulfillment as TV chef, teacher

An intense and creative love for food has Oakdale native Dana Johnson in 'perpetual motion' with a cooking class at Figamarole in Ceres, serving up private cooking parties and charity events, posting instructional videos, and hosting a monthly food segment on Fox Channel 40 television.

Johnson also teaches an occasional cooking class at Modesto Junior College for the adult program at Direct Appliance.

October is a special month for Johnson, who will be celebrating her five-year anniversary at Fox 40 News as the guest chef in a segment airing the first Friday of the month at 9:25 a.m.
“Showcasing easy and healthier menu choices on a stage with a live crowd is beyond fun for me, especially when the audience is engaged, questions are coming, and laughter is inevitable,” Johnson said.

SaveMart in Riverbank is sponsoring Johnson’s anniversary party at Fox on Oct. 3, where she will be creating a variety of dishes with filet mignon including pizza, salad, and a butterflied filet with some shoe string beets with a Cabernet Sauvignon reduction.

Johnson’s concept is “minimal ingredients, maximum flavor.”

Charities are also something close to her heart, especially for disabled adults like Johnson’s oldest daughter.

“I have three kiddos that amaze me on a daily basis,” said Johnson. “I believe there is way more life for me and mine to experience, to thrive in the present and embrace in the future.”

Over the Labor Day weekend, Johnson volunteered at Color the Skies at Mistlin Park in Ripon, where she organized and presented culinary demonstrations at the SaveMart stage.

“I think 30,000 people came through the event and it all benefits the Children’s Hospital Central California,” said Johnson. “Jessica Coleman is the founder and the president and she just does it from her heart and it’s amazing the time and dedication that she puts into it.”

Sciabica’s, a California olive oil producer in Modesto, recently celebrated its 70-year anniversary and Johnson did culinary demonstrations at the party.

Also on Johnson’s plate is writing articles for the Chef View segment in the Modesto View Magazine, which is a local monthly publication. Johnson focuses on small restaurants and culinary businesses in the surrounding area.

Johnson enjoys sharing her passion for cooking with private culinary parties. A routine cooking party would be about 10 men and women with notebooks and index cards since the 10 to 12 recipes in a two-and-a-half hour time frame are all original recipes and can be taken down for later use. Then there is the tasting.

“We eat as we go, everyone is laughing and interacting, everyone leaves learning something, everyone leaves with a recipe and it is minimal ingredients and maximum flavors,” said Johnson.
“They go home and make it and it keeps carrying on for $50 a person.

“It is a lot of fun and everybody has a good time.”

Johnson also teaches classes at Figamarole in Ceres. She will be holding a Comfort Food Class from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Oct. 14 and a Thanksgiving Leftover class from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. on Nov. 11. For more information on these classes, email

Johnson has also been known to enter a culinary contest or two. She took home the top prize in the Rachael Ray, KCRA 3 News and Mercy Hospital “Build a Better Lunch Contest,” and took third place in the New York City Food and Wine Festival’s National Pork Board contest with Guy Fieri as the celebrity judge.

The well-rounded Johnson also has experience being a presenter on the eHow website and has made instructional videos on everything from making paper boxes out of Christmas cards, clay pots for kids, making envelopes, or getting a burnt smell out of your house. The videos have reached 22,000 views, so you never know what to expect in Johnson’s day; there is no ‘typical’ day.

“One day I am doing an interview with a restaurant owner and one day I am taking my daughter to UC Davis for a doctor’s appointment,” said Johnson. “I am constantly putting something on my plate.

For more information on Dana Johnson and her services email or visit Dana’s Family Kitchen on Facebook.

And leaving with a few words of advice, Johnson offers: “Treat people how you want to be treated and don’t forget that a smile is contagious.”