Interview with Chef Ford Fry of JCT Kitchen - Atlanta

October, 2007

Antoinette Bruno: When and why did you start cooking? What inspired you to pursue cooking professionally?
Ford Fry: While I was studying business at the University of Arkansas, I cooked on weekends for my fraternity. My parents encouraged me to go to culinary school, so I went to NECI.

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
of it.

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!