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 whatever 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.
Anxious to conquer new culinary terrain, Ford moved to the small town of Clifton, Virginia, just outside of Washington, DC, where he took on the pastry chef position at Trummer’s on Main, where Ford and Miller received coveted accolades and generous criticism. He then worked a brief stint back in the Capitol, at R.J. Cooper's Rogue 24, before heading South in 2011, taking on the sweets at Michael Mina's three-outlets in the Four Seasons Baltimore.
Interview with 2011 Pastry Competition Finalist Chris Ford of Four Seasons Baltimore — Baltimore, MD
Katherine Sacks: Why did you decide to enter the International Pastry competition?
Chris Ford: The first year was kind of a shot in the dark. I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t feel I was ready, but it was a challenge and that was pretty much why I did it. After my success, I wanted to come back and see if I could take it again. It’s a great competition: you meet a lot of great chefs and overall it’s a lot of fun.
KS: Let’s talk about the competition. What was your inspiration behind your Fromage Blanc “Mozzerella” with Pecan Meringue, Brown Sugar Syrup, Red Currant Gelée, and Squash Sherbet pre-dessert?
CF: The inspiration came from working with squash. I wanted to do, fromage blanc. It was really intriguing; there was a story behind it. The pairing came naturally. Fromage blanc is similar to cream cheese, so there’s a great pairing with squash. Naturally they came together.
KS: Tell me about your plated dessert, Pistachio Crème with Coconut Caramel, Cocoa Meringue, Candied Pistachios, and Praline Cocoa Sherbet . Why did you decide to go in this direction?
CF: I didn’t really have an inspiration for that one because we had to use the paste. I wanted to do something unexpected. I always like to do things I personally haven’t heard of. I say in my head, “does coconut go with pistachio and cocoa? It all fit for me, and it showcased the pistachio really well.
KS: Entremets are a pretty unusual choice for a pastry competition challenge. How did you approach that round?
CF: I think one of the most luxurious flavors is hazelnut, and one of the most luxurious products I work with everyday is chocolate. At the end of the competition you want to go big, and they are classic flavors, so for me [the brown sugar, cocoa, and hazelnut] is a beautiful pairing.
KS: How do you prepare for a competition like this?
CF: The pistachio dessert was really hard for me to come up with. I remember having a block, and plating it there at the competition, that was one of the first times I did it. The squash I worked on a lot, because I came up with it in the restaurant. It was already in production.
KS: What are the three most important things in competing?
CF: Be yourself, that’s number one. It’s a competition, so don’t start to question what you are doing. You need to stick to your guns and believe in yourself. Timing is everything. By looking around, you kind of see a lot of things. I learned so much my first year, what other chefs are doing. It’s a really valuable experience.
KS: What did you enjoy most about the competition?
CF: I love the crunch when you are in that third round. You are so tired, you are exhausted. That feeling of pure of exhaustion and fear … you are working like you have a gun to your head. That’s the fun part.
KS: And what advice would you give this year’s pastry chefs?
CF: I would definitely say be true to yourself and believe in what are you doing.
KS: What are you up to now?
CF: Well I am with Micheal Mina at the Four Seasons in Baltimore. They’ve kept me very busy. I’ve lost a lot of hours of sleep because of it. I’m executive pastry chef of the whole property (three restaurants and the hotel itself), and still trying to get the whole book thing going and run a blog. I love it. I like it much more than Washington, DC.
KS: Where will we find you in five years?
CF: Hopefully running my own empire, wherever that may be. I have a lot of goals for myself, but I can’t say what they are because I don’t know what they are yet. I just know they are really high. Hopefully I will have my own brand.
RecipesThe Fig: Fig Genoise, Fig Foam, Bittersweet Chocolate Sorbet, and Les Frères Panna CottaRosemary Lemon Sherbet, Basil Pound Cake, Candied Pine Nuts, and Passion Fruit Chocolate Genoise, Chocolate Mousse, Mirror Glaze, Chocolate MeringuePistachio Crème with Coconut Caramel, Cocoa Meringue, Candied Pistachios, and Praline Cocoa SherbetFromage Blanc “Mozzerella” with Pecan Meringue and Squash Sherbet