Dan Johnston – Chef & Catering Manager, JBS Australia

Mastering the delicate world of beef with Dan Johnston at JBS Australia

There are people who love beef, and then there are people who live beef. Dan Johnston, JBS Australia’s Corporate Chef, undoubtedly falls into the second category – spending each day meticulously sourcing and serving the finest Aussie cuts to his customers. With his craft expertly refined, we sat down with the beef aficionado to talk about his journey in the beef industry and why, for him, Australian produce will always take top shelf.

A foodie at heart

Fuelled with a passion for delighting people with memorable culinary experiences, Dan began his career in the food industry over two decades ago. 16 of those years have been spent as a chef, creating masterful dishes for diners across Australia, with JBS Australia’s Corporate Chef his proud title for the past five years.
As Corporate Chef, no day is the same for Dan. Leveraging his culinary expertise, catering skills, and ingenuity, he plans and prepares taste sensations for staff and guests, spanning diverse settings. “I can go from volume-based catering for corporate staff with dishes like braised beef and carne asada to heightened experiences for corporate meetings showcasing seared tomahawk and flat iron steaks. I also craft unique, elevated menus for special events featuring crowd pleasers such as rib fingers and steak tartare. I love the diversity and quality of produce I get to work with every day and delighting patrons with the finest beef.”

No matter where his career has taken him, Dan’s food philosophy has always remained the same: food should make people happy, and substance should trump style. “Food doesn’t need to be pedantic. It can be, and there’s a place for that, but ultimately simplicity and deliciousness are key.”

This passion for simplicity extends from his own kitchen to others, with Dan preferring to dine at restaurants that champion natural flavour and let quality ingredients speak for themselves. Just like Brisbane’s Moda, a Spanish restaurant that celebrates both tapas and steak, which he declares as his favourite culinary destination right now. “It’s very beef orientated, focusing on the ingredient and not trying to turn that ingredient into something that it isn’t. The produce really shines and I have so much respect for that.”

A thoughtful approach to bringing the highest-quality beef to the table

Heading up a supportive team that all operate on the same wavelength, Dan works with beef products end to end, ensuring only the most premium, high-quality produce ends up on his customers’ plates. Through every step of the process, sourcing the best is always Dan’s top priority, because, as he attests, it’s what makes or breaks the end result. “Consistency is so important and JBS can provide that – a large, established and experienced company offering the same level of high-quality beef, every single time.”

Part of this ambition for excellence is choosing homegrown Australian beef, notorious for its quality assurance, high food safety, and remarkable shelf life. Admitting he’s a little biased, Dan holds firm on Aussie beef’s dominance. “I haven’t had a whole lot to do with overseas beef, but I’ve worked with lots of international salespeople who say unanimously, across the board, our beef performs as well if not better than anywhere else globally.”

When asked of his preferred cut, Dan is hard pressed to commit but manages to narrow it down to the rib finger. For now. Unknown to most, Dan’s secret is a cut he’s become synonymous with using, experimenting with it in the last year and transforming the humble cut into his version of a ‘beef nugget’ that’s become something of a cult classic in Dan’s circles. The final product – a culmination of 16 hours of low, temperate cooking – “has the perfect amount of collagen, fat and meat, and is so tasty and crunchy people go crazy for it”.

Insights into trends

Having been at the forefront of the food industry for over two decades, Dan acknowledges its incredible diversity and evolution. While he embraces modernity and the inevitable new trends that come with our evolution as a culture, he’d like to see trends that lean towards a shift in our over-consumption culture. Less greediness and more moderation in dining. “I think we should be consciously aiming to eat more mindfully in general – smaller amounts that are savoured”.

Staying inspired

With a high standard to maintain across the JBS Australia network, Dan eagerly draws inspiration from skilled abattoir workers who are surrounded by meat every day, describing the experience as transformational. “We run tours through the abattoir, and I’ve never taken a chef through who hasn’t been changed by it. There’s nothing quite like getting up close and seeing the precision, dedication and care that goes into beef production firsthand.”

He also admits his access and ability to hand-pick premium beef products is a privilege and this allows him to keep inspired by always having a sensational base to build menus around in line with the seasons.

Lessons from culinary pioneers

Having donned a chef apron for 16 years, Dan has inevitably formed ties with fellow peers. Sammy Burke from MLA, who he has worked with in a few different ways over the years, is someone he particularly looks up to. “The pure passion he possesses for his craft and what he’s done for the industry is amazing. It’s something I aspire to do in my own work.”

When asked which celebrity chef he’d choose to dine with, Dan singles out Wolfgang Puck, for his old school food philosophy, unique inventions, and modern takes that have seen him evolve over several decades.

Crafting a legacy

Reflecting on what a culinary legacy means to him, Dan says it all comes down to effort and care. “For me the most important thing is getting chefs and the public to understand and appreciate how much work goes into finding the best beef. How many people are involved in getting it to the restaurant in that little cryovac bag. It takes so many people and processes to get it right and onto the plate.” The same goes for the treatment of animals, which Dan says absolutely affects the meat quality. “I want people to know how much love and care goes into the animals and how important that is when it comes to not only the way it tastes but how you should feel eating it. We wouldn’t be anywhere without these animals so we need to treat them with respect. JBS only works with producers who meet the strictest standards in that regard so I know I can trust what I’m getting.”

As Dan continues to bring people joy through food, he intends on sticking to an ethos he’s always lived by: “We work in hospitality, be hospitable. This is something I really work to instil in my staff. It’s about welcoming people before anything else. This is a service business and we’re here to make people happy and give them an experience – it’s about so much more than just putting food on a plate.”