Chef Ford Fry
JCT Kitchen |Atlanta
At JCT Kitchen & Bar, Ford Fry has created a new type of outlet for Southern food in Atlanta. Years working at EatZi’s taught him that his customers wanted cuisine with a home-cooked feel, and his restaurant background showed that diners wanted a fun, comfortable, but hip space. The restaurant he conceptualized, JCT, is a mixture of just that – a cool bistro atmosphere with timeless cuisine, and distinctly Southern character.
Fry attended the New England Culinary Institute and held sous and executive chef positions at The Ritz Carlton in Aspen, Houston, and Naples, the Snowmass Lodge in Snowmass, CO, and the Ojai Valley Inn and Spa in Ojai, CA. At JCT his focus is delicious, approachable food that people can come back for week after week – that means moist, brined fried chicken, garlicky shrimp and grits with grilled bread, and steak with rich turnip gratin and onion rings. The structure itself – with an open upstairs oyster bar and deck with live music and a view of the city – creates a neighborhood vibe in an up-and-coming, industrial part of town.
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AB: Where have you worked professionally as a chef?
FF: I’ve worked at three Ritz-Carltons – in Naples, Houston and Aspen. I also worked at the Ojai Valley Inn & Spa, and spent many years in a corporate role at Eatzi’s in Texas and then in Atlanta.
AB: Would you recommend culinary school to aspiring cooks? Do you hire chefs with and without a culinary school background?
FF: I would – I think it teaches professionalism and work ethic.
AB: Who are some of your mentors?
FF: Xavier Soloman of the Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay; Nick Morfogen of Ajax Tavern; the team at Balthazar. I also learn a lot from traveling and going to restaurants.
AB: What question gives you the most insight to a cook when you’re interviewing them for a position in your kitchen? What sort of answer are you looking for?
FF: ‘Tell me of a specific time where you went above and beyond to please a guest.’ I like this question because it shows their passion for service. If they do not give me an example of a specific incident and speak vaguely, I know they are full
AB: What advice would you offer young chefs just getting started?
FF: Work at great places, no matter what.
AB: Is there an ingredient you feel is particularly underappreciated or underutilized?
FF: I love mushrooms – they have so much amazing flavor.
AB: What are a few of your favorite flavor combinations?
FF: I hate chocolate and raspberries, but love chocolate with cherries. Also red meat and apples, and brown butter and caramel.
AB: What is your most indispensable cooking tool?
FF: My carbon steel beveled knife, and my Aztec Wood Burning Grill,
AB: Is there a culinary technique that you have either created or borrowed and use in an unusual way? Please describe.
FF: Slow braising – I’m all about doing things slow and right! I also like to hand tear croutons, toss them with olive oil and coarse salt, and cook them in the oven at 450°, stirring frequently. They become two-toned, crispy on the outside and soft inside.
AB: Where do you like to go for culinary travel?
FF: New York, Napa, and London – it’s the new Paris. Paris hasn’t really progressed in the last few years; Napa has grown a ton. New York has such great competition – it keeps things going.
AB: What are your favorite restaurants – off the beaten path – in your city?
FF: On Buford Highway, Havana Sandwich Shop for Cuban sandwiches and Ming's BBQ for the roasted pork and Chinese broccoli. Nuevo Laredo is a Tex-Mex joint with good cheese enchiladas, and Fritti in The Highlands has great pizza.
AB: What trends do you see emerging in the restaurant industry now?
FF: Atlanta is into big, shiny restaurants right now. And across the country gastropubs have become very popular.
AB: What is your philosophy on food and dining?
FF: I focus on technique, and I want to keep it casual and fun. I want guests to feel comfortable here – and the price point needs to be reasonable.
AB: If you weren’t a chef what do you think you’d be doing?
FF: I’d be a tennis player.
AB: What does success mean for you?
FF: Success is running a restaurant that makes people feel good – where people come back week after week. In five years I hope to have a number of new restaurants open. I like to change things up a lot!
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