If Chris Ford weren’t a pastry chef, he might have been a fashion photographer. The subjects of his photographs today are much, much sweeter than the snaps of pouty, starved supermodels or arty shots filled with vacuous negative space that he might have produced as a photographer.
A photography enthusiast, blogger, and quenelling machine, Ford regularly posts flawless shots of his latest experiment, whether its his favorite new black sesame-chocolate macaroon creation or the latest raw ingredient that catches his fancy. The fact that he’s only 24 doesn’t seem to hold him back. He is busy making plans, like publishing his first cookbook by the time he’s 30.
A Florida native, Ford enrolled in Le Cordon Bleu Program at the Orlando Culinary Academy. His externship site, Norman’s of Norman Van Aken at The Ritz-Carlton, would end up being his first kitchen job after graduation. Here he met Clayton Miller, who is now executive chef at Trummer’s on Main. They worked together for two years before Ford left for the bright lights of New York City and a sous chef position at quirky dessert bar ChikaLicious. Chef-owner Chika Tillman’s ingredient-centric, modernistic dessert aesthetic had an enormous impact on him during his two years there and helped him make delicate flavors sing.
Interview with Pastry Chef Chris Ford of Trummer's on Main - Clifton, Virginia
Francoise Villeneuve: What inspired you to pursue cooking professionally?
Chris Ford: It started with my grandmother at the age of six. I was always around food in the kitchen; I guess that's where it was instilled in me. I’ve always cooked for my family. I wanted to pursue music and realized, ‘I cook all the time. I might as well pursue it professionally.’ Then I went to culinary school and it all happened. The first job I had was at Norman’s of Norman Van Aken at the Ritz-Carlton. I worked with Clay [Miller] for two years there, then at ChikaLicious in New York, and was [Chef/Owner Chika Tillman’s] pastry sous chef/pastry chef for two years, and then I came to Trummer's.
FV: Who were your mentors and what did you learn from each of them?
CF: From Chika I learned a lot. She was my main mentor. She taught me a world of things: flavor combinations, composition, the kitchen—overall a five-star performance in a kitchen. She taught me how to work with the ingredients, let them speak to you and they'll tell you what they need. You don't have to overpower it or over think it.
FV: Did you go to culinary school? Do you hire chefs with and without a culinary school background?
CF: I went to Le Cordon Bleu. I would prefer a bit of experience in someone I hire, although it doesn't have to be schooling. I gravitate toward real-world kitchen experience more than schooling.
FV: What advice would you offer to young cooks just getting started?
CF: Don't stop. Learn as much as you can. I spent every waking moment for the past five years doing what I'm doing. Be a sponge; take criticism, let everything absorb, be open, and learn as much as you can.
FV: What are your top three tips for pastry success?
CF: Don't stop believing in yourself, work hard, and have an open mind.
FV: What is your pastry philosophy?
CF: Don't over-complicate it. If it's peach, I want it to taste like peach. I want super-fresh and clean flavors. Keep it simple.
FV: Where do you like to go for pastry?
CF: Bouchon Bakery is one of my favorites. The Red Velvet Cupcakery in DC is really good. There's a chocolate store in downtown DC called Bellaggio; chocolates from all around the world, and so I go there instead of going to a pastry shop.
FV: What are some of your favorite flavor combinations?
CF: My favorite? I think, to be very boring, the most classic is chocolate and vanilla. Very boring, but I love those two ingredients and together they make sense.
FV: What’s your favorite pastry resource?
CF: Other than StarChefs.com, I have a lot of books. I would say my go-to would be eating out; I like to go out and experience other chefs and what they're doing. I might see them working with pineapple one way and say, ‘oh I didn't even think about that.’ It really provokes your mind. When I can't go out, I’ll go with books and blogs.
FV: How are you involved in your local culinary community?
CF: Last year I did Life is Sweet, and this year I’m doing it again. It’s an event that pairs up pastry chefs with buddies with special needs. We create a dessert, plate it, and serve it to 1,000 people. I just enrolled in “Chefs Move to Schools” too. At Trummer's on Main we do as many events as we can, like Taste of the Nation and Share Our Strength programs.
FV: What would you be doing right now if you weren’t a pastry chef?
CF: I would be a photographer. I would say for the past two years I’m into anything creative. I paint a lot; anything I can do with my hands I love. Photography is a passion I’ve really started pursuing over the last three years.
FV: What’s next for you?
CF: I had this goal to publish my first book by age 30; either a cookbook or food photography, kind of an all-in-one. I wanted to do something with recipes and photography and then my story. Everything I do in my blog in a book for the home cook, the professional, and the beginner, to give insight into how to get where I am as a chef.