Think Like a Top Chef

© Javier Ramirez

By Christine Quinlan Posted July 21, 2016

Want to cook as masterfully as Jeremy Ford, the latest Top Chef winner? Get the best fish you can, a good supply of vinegar and salt, and maybe a blowtorch. 

Jeremy Ford, the newest Top Chef, drops a lot of dudes and bros in conversation. But if this makes the 30-year-old Florida native seem laid-back, his rivals know otherwise. During season 13 of the show, whether he was preparing Dungeness crab for rapper MC Hammer or searing halibut with solar power in the desert, Ford cooked with the utmost seriousness. The reality show wasn't Ford's first competition: He got his current job as chef de cuisine at Jean-Georges Vongerichten's Matador Room in Miami Beach by winning a two-day trial, beating 30 other contenders.

Ford has been cooking professionally since the age of 16—ultimately deciding restaurant kitchens offered a better career path than heavy metal music. Over time he developed a personal style: “My approach is vegetable-forward. I also use a lot of fish, and there is always a good amount of acid and salt in my food,” he says. His recipes reflect his strong point of view, particularly the simple but flavor-packed red snapper with sweet and hot pickled grapes—new take on a dish that helped him snag the Top Chef title.

Ford shares a few tricks he picked up from the show, plus some practical rules for acing every dish.

1. Grate cured meats. "My fellow Top Chef contestant Chad White Microplaned beef jerky, I think, onto carrots. I stole the idea and grated Ibérico ham on top of my cheese course. It adds umami, and the thin pieces just dissolve on your tongue."

2. Pickle fruit. "On the show we made buttery chicken with crispy, fatty skin and creamy squash. I was looking for somehing sweet and sour with enough acidity to stand up to the richness. I could taste the dish in my head. I went into the cooler and the grapes were there, so I put them in rice vinegar with serrano chiles, a little honey and some salt, then mixed everything together. It came out really well." 

3. Turn up the heat. "One of the biggest mistakes people make is not having a hot enough pan. This can make a piece of fish or chicken go from crackly to soggy. Your skillet needs to be really hot, more than you think, to get good caramelization."

4. Try a blowtorch. "I like to quickly blowtorch chiles. It takes off the fibrous skin without actually cooking the pepper."

5. Crumble your salt. "Don't be afraid to use coarse salt to finish a dish; just be sure to roll and crush it between your fingers first. Salt balances and enhances flavor." 

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