For more than 20 years, Johney Taylor has baked, sautéed, stewed and roasted his signature spice-laden dishes for Children’s Hospital Boston’s patients and employees. By now, he’s used to getting compliments from the Café’s customers about the inspired cuisine, but he’s always on the lookout for patients who don’t seem to be impressed by the day’s offerings. He’ll often come out of Food Services’ kitchen and walk through the Café to see if he can spy a disappointed diner. "I try to find kids looking around like they’re lost or like there’s something they want that’s not there," he says. "Then I’ll go up to them and say, "Would you like something special?" "As long as we have the ingredients, I’ll make it."
During one such scouting mission a few years ago, Taylor spotted Noah Hyde, who was examining the breakfast entrees without much enthusiasm. Noah, it turned out, wasn’t a finicky eater; he was on a strict diet due to his severe kidney problems. "We’d drive to Children’s from New Hampshire early in the morning and get breakfast in the Café before going up to the dialysis unit for Noah’s treatment," says his mom, Loren. "But on his special diet, there wasn’t much he could eat."
When Taylor approached Noah and asked what he’d like to have for breakfast, Noah came up with, "Pasta with butter and croutons." So buttered noodles a la crouton it was—every morning that Noah came to Children’s during his long pre-transplant treatment. "That act of kindness made every day easier for us," says Loren. "Johney was our savoir. Seeing him in the mornings became such a big part of our lives."
Taylor was all too happy to befriend Noah and whip up the made-to-order breakfast. In fact, Taylor can accommodate nearly any request by drawing on his extensive culinary background. His love for food is rooted in Costa Rica, where he lived until he was a teenager. There, Taylor’s family made meals infused with all kinds of herbs and spices. "I grew up in the country, where we cooked with fresh food from my grandma’s farm," he says. "We grew everything—coffee and cocoa beans, sugar cane, vegetables. We even raised our own cows, pigs and chickens."
After moving to America, Taylor expanded his cooking repertoire while working in several Boston restaurants. "I learned by watching and asking a lot of questions," he says. Now, he can cook anything. "Chinese, Italian, Asian, you name it—I don’t have a specialty," he says. He loves exploring new types of food and often suggests recipes for the Café to serve. Sometimes, Taylor will discover a new dish while eating out and rush home to recreate it. "I always look for recipes I’ve never heard of," he says. "I look at the recipe and think, How can I make this better?" Even at the end of his work day, when Taylor puts away his chef’s uniform, he goes home, watches cooking shows to find inspiration and cooks some more. "I cook every night," he says. "I like to use the basil, cilantro, oregano, thyme, rosemary and sage I grow on my back porch."
In January of 2008, Noah got a new kidney, so he hasn’t needed to come to the hospital nearly as much. And while the memory of his intensive treatment and surgery is sure to fade over time, Noah won’t soon forget his friend in Food Services. Now 6, Noah still visits Taylor during his follow-up appointments. "He’s doing so great," Taylor says. "He eats whatever he wants to now. But he knows that if he wants something special, I’ll make it for him. For the kids, I’ll do anything."
1 lb black beans (dried)
8 sprigs fresh cilantro
1 small onion
½ small red or yellow sweet pepper
3 cups chicken broth
2 cups white rice
½ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon oil
1 to 3 tablespoons oil to fry the Gallo Pinto
Cover and soak beans overnight. Drain beans and add fresh water to cover an inch above the top of beans, add salt and bring to a boil. Cover and reduce heat to a very low simmer until beans are soft (2 ½ to 3 hours). Chop cilantro, onion and sweet pepper very fine.
Add 1 tablespoon of oil to a large pan and sauté the dry rice for 2 minutes over medium heat. Then add cilantro, onion and sweet pepper and sauté another 2 minutes. Add chicken broth and bring to a boil, cover and reduce to a simmer until rice is al dente (still firm but not soft). Add beans and cook until rice is done. Serve.
The extra oil in the recipe is for when you reheat the gallo pinto. In Costa Rica, a lot of people have this the next morning for breakfast.