Chef Johnny Iuzzini Is “Glad” To Be Cooking For A Cause That Helps Kids With Cancer

Johnny Iuzzini is living a delicious life. The Top Chef: Just Desserts judge is cooking up great projects in his life, including a meaningful partnership with Glad and kids’ cancer. We spoke to him about his plans to travel the U.S.A., doing what you love and what he and Willy Wonka have in common.

Let’s talk about your partnership with Glad and Cookies for Kids’ Cancer.

This is a very meaningful partnership for me. A lot of us don’t know that the leading cause of childhood deaths is from cancer. Since 2009, Glad has teamed up with Cookies for Kids’ Cancer to throw book sales and cookie exchanges. If you register your bake sale with the charity, $1 for every cookie sold goes to charity, up to $100,000.

And there’s also a virtual component to the fundraiser.

You can design a virtual cookie online, with the same dollar value. I love the virtual aspect of it, because it seems like every kid has an iPad and is more proficient at a computer than I am! [laughs]

I totally agree.

It’s a way for kids to get involved, to decorate a cookie, personalize it and do something great for charity. I lost my mom at a young age to cancer so it’s something very personal to me. It was right after high school. She had beat breast cancer twice but it came back. I think by Glad doing this it’s a wonderful way to get awareness out. I would love to see more bake sales. They disappeared, between allergies and people being afraid, they’re just not done as much as they were before.

Or simply not having enough time. When parents are working, it can be too much to have to bake a few dozen cookies, too.

That’s true, too.

Now we have to give a wink and a nod to Glad.

Well, if you’re doing a bake sale, how do you get things to and from the sale? Glad has been one of the premiere storage and plastic companies for a long time. It’s a necessity in my kitchen, both at work and at home.


And work is also Top Chef: Just Desserts on Bravo. I would say that you’ve been somewhat labeled as the bad boy.

That has been some of the perception. They brought me on because of what I’ve done in the industry at such a young age; the awards I’ve won, the pedigrees I have, and all the accolades. The thing is that I’m not going to sit there and zing you for the sake of zinging you. If I can back it up with technique, then I will give my opinion. It’s always constructive. I was excited for the show because it was the first time that pastry chefs got their due on TV. I was a co-producer on the show so I got to design what the challenges would be. We can show the range of what pastry chefs can do, so that was exciting.

And you’re planning to do your own version of Willy Wonka, right?

[laughs] My goal is to make my own chocolate factory. I want to go totally Wonka and make my chocolate from scratch. I also want to build a coffee roastery, and take the raw product of coffee and chocolate and make my own distillery of whiskeys, ryes and rums based on chocolate and coffee. I would do it in Brooklyn or Long Island City to start. It’s a new learning curve; I could have stayed at a 4-star restaurant forever. I felt like I was getting too comfortable, so the evolution is exciting.


Of all the things you like to make, what’s your favorite?

Chocolate. At Jean-Georges, I had a chocolate room where I would make 14,000 pieces of chocolate, like “I Love Lucy” style. I love working with it, but growing up in the Catskills, I love Concord grapes. I wait for them to be in season, and then I hoard them. I make cocktails and sorbets out of them. Those are my two favorite flavors, I would say.

While we were shooting, you were telling me about some of your really cool plans for this year.

I left Jean-Georges at the end of December. I had been in 4 star restaurants for the past 22 years. I wanted to change gears a bit. I’m always going to be a pastry chef, but I decided to travel a lot more. I was in Cabo this past week, diving and I went to Denmark for a big food symposium. Next week, I’m flying to San Francisco (my bike has already been shipped) and I have all these cameras attached to my bike. I’m giving myself three weeks to a month and zigzag across the country. I feel like I’ve traveled the world but I haven’t really explored my own country. I want to see Mount Rushmore and the Grand Canyon, but at the same time I want to find all these hole-in-the-wall places using social media. I’m going to say, “Hey, I’m on this road in this town. Where should I stop and eat?” I want to connect with the public and see the ins and outs of the country.

That is so awesome. Do you have any places in particular that you want to see?

I have a couple of points of interest; I want to hit some of the national parks. But part of this is because I’m an avid motorcyclist and I got into that as a hobby.


I always wanted to cross the border from California into Mexico on a motorcycle, so I might dip into Tijuana for a second and then pop back up into Texas. The whole point is to not have a game plan. It’s just to look at the GPS and say, “Where do I want to go today?” I did this when I was 22 years old. I bought a one-way ticket around the world, essentially and flew from New York to Hong Kong, to Australia to Thailand, to Russia, then to Czech Republic and other countries. I took nine months by myself backpacking. I knocked on the door of bakeries and asked to work, even for free, even if I couldn’t speak the language. Sometimes I just washed dishes, but I could see what they had done.

Wow, you have had some kind of life.

I’m a single guy; I don’t have a family or kids. I’m a little older now. These are the things that I sacrificed working in this industry. Working 16-hour days six days a week is not really conducive to positive relationships. I want to have kids, but not until I’ve achieved a lot of the things that I’ve wanted to achieve in my life.

It’s definitely easier to get those things done before you have kids, but you can still incorporate them. You have a little papoose on your back as you’re going down I-95.

[laughs] That wouldn’t be a bad thing. I’ll just make a little sidecar for my kid!

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