F&W Star Chef
Experience: Ritz Carlton (Naples, FL, Aspen, CO and Houston); Ojai Valley Inn & Spa (Ojai, CA); EatZi’s (Atlanta)
Restaurants: JCT. Kitchen & Bar, The Optimist, King + Duke, St. Cecilia, Superica (Atlanta); No. 246 (Decatur, GA); The El Felix (Alpharetta, GA)
Education: New England Culinary Institute
Who taught you how to cook? What is the most important thing you learned from him or her?
“Her” name is New England Culinary Institute. I had never worked a cooking job before, and my prior cooking experience consisted of busting into the Sigma Chi house kitchen late at night to fry up some cheese. What NECI taught me was that I will never stop learning how to cook. Every day is something new.
What was the first dish you ever cooked yourself? And what is the best dish for a neophyte cook to try?
My first thing I learned to cook was mini burgers. They’re now called sliders, I guess. You could say I was country before country was cool. My parents had ground beef in the fridge, so I cooked them up and sold it back to them.
The best dish for a neophyte to cook is a simple roast chicken. Just buy a great quality bird.
Who is your food mentor? What is the most important thing you learned from him/her?
My food mentor was Freddie, my grandparents' housekeeper. She cooked with serious soul. What I learned from her is that vegetables just weren't themselves without “bathing” with a little pig—preferably smoky pig!
Favorite cookbook of all time?
I'd have to say Edible Selby. It’s just a cool book.
What's the most important skill you need to be a great cook?
Is there a culinary skill or type of dish that you wish you were better at?
Baking bread is such a cool science, and I really wish I was better at it—or had the time to focus on it.
What is the best bang-for-the-buck ingredient, and how would you use it?
Local, in-season carrots. Wood-roasted and never peeled. At King + Duke, we are roasting them with local beets and serving them with sheep’s-milk feta and harissa.
What is your current food obsession?
I'm currently obsessed with Thai street food. The flavors are just amazing.
Name three restaurants you are dying to go to in the next year and why?
Lafayette in New York City, because I am a fan of Andrew Carmellini and of Roman and Williams’s design work.
BoccaLupo in Atlanta, because Bruce Logue is a buddy and is pretty passionate about pasta.
I am also looking forward to Gunshow in Atlanta from Kevin Gillespie. Kevin truly deserves all the good he has, as he is super passionate about food and just a genuinely awesome guy.
Best bang-for-the-buck food trip—where would you go and why?
Austin, Texas, because you can find the best barbeque all over.
What is the most cherished souvenir you've brought back from a trip?
It’s my Boston Red Sox hat. It's like my AmEx; I never leave home without it. I got it over a weekend trip to Boston while I was attending the New England Culinary Institute in 1991.
What do you consider your other talent(s) besides cooking?
It may not be playing guitar, but it could very well be buying guitars. I tend to think the more expensive, the better I will be.
If you could invent a restaurant for your next (imaginary) project, what would it be?
It would be called Electric Ladyland. I'd play all Hendrix on vinyl and have numerous smokers smoking all kinds of meat, fish and game.
If you were going to take Mario Batali out to eat, where would it be?
I think I'd take Mario to Tandy Wilson's City House in Nashville. Just a cool joint, and maybe Tandy would bring in The Black Keys to hang with us.
If you were facing an emergency and could only take one backpack of supplies, what would you bring, and what would you make?
I'd bring some fire bricks, a grill grate, a hatchet and some matches. This way, if I run into the Duck Dynasty guys, they can catch me some frogs to grill up.
What ingredient will people be talking about in five years?
Not kale! Since good farm carrots are “in” now, I assume they will be talked about five years from now.
Name two or three dishes that define who you are?
Steak frites. I make it with simple "beefy" loose-grained steak, like prime skirt steak, hanger steak or—even better—a bone-in rib eye. I've battled grilling versus pan-roasting in salted butter. Grilling gives me the smokiness and pan-roasting intensifies the beefiness. So what I do now is pan-roast it in salted butter on top of a wood-burning grill to get the best of both. I serve it with house-made fries from peeled Idaho potatoes, rinsed and soaked in cold water overnight. Then we cook them twice, once in 300-degree oil until just tender, then we let them cool. Once cool and ready to eat, we fry again at 375 degrees and toss in lots of salt. I like the steak topped with a classic compound butter, which when it melts, mixes with the meat juices and makes good dipping for the fries. I serve with veal marrow bones with rustic toast and parsley salad. The marrow is so flavorful, with wood smoke flavors spread on rustic toast and topped with a simple salad of Italian parsley, raw shallot, candied Meyer lemon peel, lemon, extra-virgin olive oil, salt and freshly cracked pepper.
I also love chef Anne Quatrano's turbot with local savoy. It’s simply sautéed fish over lightly wilted savoy cabbage and sauced with a light buttered chicken jus.
How it represents me: Fat, fat and “get ahold of yourself, Ford!”
What do you eat straight out of the fridge, standing up? What is your favorite snack?
I'd have to say a salsa that I typically make by roasting everything on the wood grill with some chips. My favorite snack is, hands down, french fries.
Best new store-bought ingredient/product and why?
Sir Kensington's ketchup. Great stuff!
Five people to follow on Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook?
First, Ford Fry, @cheffordfry
And then: Hugh Acheson, @HughAcheson
Tony Bourdain, @Bourdain
Napoleon Dynamite, @NapoleonDynamite
Chris Cosentino @offalchris
Do you have any food superstitions or pre- or post-shift rituals?
Ten minutes before service, I tell the staff, "Stop, put away what you are doing and mop!"
After service, I have two SweetWater Indian Pale Ales and some cheese fries.