Adventurous Cooking with Chef Ben Ford
TJ: How did you first get interested in working with food?
FORD: When I was a young child I enjoyed being in the kitchen with my mother. I had to suppress my passion for food for years because I was trying to play baseball professionally. When I was about 20 years old, I had to figure out a second career. I had no formal training, so in 1987, I grabbed a couple of my mom’s kitchen knives, drove up to San Francisco, and got a job in North Beach. Pretty soon after that I was working in Chez Panisse.
TJ: Did you want to become an actor?
FORD: No, acting was never an option. I was fairly adverse to nepotism in my family. I wanted to know what my own achievements in life were. I was a late bloomer and didn’t know myself well enough to even consider playing other people. I did the reshoots for my dad and some voiceover work in the new Blade Runner, but it’s not my chosen profession.
TJ: Have you been to Japan?
FORD: I lived there for two brief periods. My dad was doing beer commercials and other things. When I was about 16, we lived in traditional inns in Kyoto and Tokyo. This is when I lost my inhibitions for food and that helped me towards becoming a chef. In Kyoto, our breakfast usually consisted of a fish head soup. My brother and I decided against eating it for the first three days. By the fourth day, we were very hungry, decided to try it and were rewarded! At that time, I decided to become more explorative as far as food is concerned.
TJ: Can you tell us about Ford’s Filling Station?
FORD: It was a place to come fill up and this filling station idea became our way of explaining the gastropub [a pub that specializes in serving high-quality food]. We were losing our abilities to butcher ... so we started raising our own animals about 80 miles north of the restaurant. When we first went into Culver City, there wasn’t anything there. People thought I was crazy, but I saw it as a part of a renaissance. Now the neighborhood has 62 restaurants in three blocks, so we started a new restaurant row in Los Angeles. I sold that restaurant after 10 years, but we found a new community in the business traveler and a downtown community.
TJ: Can you tell me about your new cookbook Taming the Feast?
FORD: When I was raising these animals, I realized they didn’t fit well into a conventional oven and I got interested in wood fire and outdoor cooking. It hit me that we’ve only been cooking inside for the last 150 years and we had been cooking for a thousand years outside. So I developed these feasts that would involve a whole pig or planking fish over a large pit to inspire people to cook a big meal for themselves, their friends and family. My best memories have always been around big tables where people are eating and drinking a little too much and I wanted people to be able to recreate that. There’s no book out there that shows you how to cook for a large group of people. Every recipe is only for six to eight people.
TJ: What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced in your career?
FORD: People who don’t know my career and just know of me as a celebrity’s son. I’ve been a chef for 28 years. It’s been a great asset [to be the son of a celebrity], but at the same time it’s been a detriment. It definitely gets people to come in the restaurant and they realize there is great food there. Whatever gets them in there I am fine with, but it’s up to me to keep them after that–and we do.
TJ: Can you tell me about your plans for the future?
FORD: Hopefully more restaurants. There is a TV show in development and I’m working on a second book.
TJ: What advice would you give to someone who wants to become a chef and start a new restaurant?
FORD: Document your creativity. Creativity is the first thing to go when you’re stressed. tj
The complete article can be found in Issue #276 of the Tokyo Journal. Click here to order from Amazon.