Chef Ben Ford officially earned his cooking stripes at some of the country’s most established restaurants and alongside several of America’s most treasured culinary icons. He has a successful chain of restaurants, Ford’s Filling Station, based on the fundamentals of teaching, cooking and foraging, and was awarded the prestigious Cochon555 prize. Despite all the accolades and achievements, it’s the large-scale home entertaining he grew up with that’s fueling his current passion. His cookbook, Taming the Feast: Ben Ford’s Field Guide to Adventurous Cooking, focuses not only on bringing people together to eat good, sustainable organic food, but gathering lots - and lots - of people together to eat sumptuous feasts.
Ben grew up in a creative, DIY environment. His family lived in the Hollywood Hills in the 1970s, a time when it was a haven for bohemians, artists, and hippies - not movie star moguls. His mother was a cook and illustrator, and he often helped her in the kitchen. His father, Harrison Ford, was a carpenter before he became an actor, and parlayed to Ben the joy of working with your hands, and the importance of perfecting and respecting craftsmanship. As a family, they would spend the summer at a lake house in Wisconsin, and both home and away, big get-togethers would call for creativity and feasting. Ben witnessed, first hand, the magic that takes place when you bring together friends, family, and food, and it stuck with him.
A nod to his father’s influence, Ben adopted the ability to create with his hands, a skill that eventually found its way into his cooking. Traveling extensively through South America and across the US, he was enamored by the hand-crafted cooking mechanisms used in homes, from roasting sheds to cinder block pits, many of which became the blueprint for his own versions years later.
SHORT STOP TO SLOW FOOD
Cooking professionally didn’t immediately occur to Ben. Initially, he pursued his dream of being a professional baseball player at USC. The training taught him important lessons in commitment and teamwork, but ultimately, after many injuries, he was forced to give it up. Spending a semester abroad at the University of Dijon in France, Ben admired and respected the European routine of going to the market daily to buy fresh produce and meat. He appreciated the Slow Food Movement, noting that the time and effort it took to cook had a truly positive effect on the end result.
When Ben returned to the States, he studied at the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco and was schooled in the ethos of using local seasonal ingredients by the country’s most prolific organic chef, Alice Waters, at the famed Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California. He returned to Los Angeles and honed his traditional French-cooking techniques as Sous Chef at Eberhard Mueller’s Opus in Santa Monica. After tenures at two seminal Los Angeles restaurants, Campanile and Eclipse, now “Chef“ Ben, was named Executive Chef and created the concept for The Farm of Beverly Hills. There, he perfected his flavorful, earthy cuisine and became skilled in the operations of running a restaurant.
In 1999, Ben realized it was time to have a project to own and develop, so he opened the restaurant, Chadwick. The local and seasonal high-end California-Mediterranean menu earned him rave reviews and national acclaim, including a coveted three stars from the Los Angeles Times, one of the first restaurants in Los Angeles to receive this high rating. Following 9/11, Ben desired a way to make his style of food more accessible to the average American, and he experimented with Ford’s Filling Station, a place to enjoy real sustainable food with friends and family, in Tulsa, Oklahoma, opening in 2004.
The concept ended up being one of the country’s first ‘gastropubs’, and was so successful, he relocated Ford’s Filling Station back home to Culver City in 2006. In 2012, he won the Cochon 555 prize for snout-to-tail cooking with dishes like pork belly Benedict with soft poached egg, Fresno chili and bacon hollandaise. Recognizing a lack of good food in airports, a second location premiered in the Delta Terminal at LAX in 2013. While the original Ford’s Filling Station closed in summer 2014, a new location opened at the JW Marriott at L.A. Live in winter 2014.
PLANTING THE SEEDS
Listening to and learning beside acclaimed Master Gardener and family friend, Alan Chadwick, instilled a deep connection for Ben to the earth and its elements through gardening. Ben and his wife, Emily, encouraged their two sons to put their hands in the soil early on, as it fosters an understanding of the fragility of life, and shows them the connection with food. Ben launched a garden at Farragut Elementary School in Culver City, dedicated to teaching students about planting and harvesting an organic garden, and encouraging kids to appreciate the holistic approach to growing their own food.
Ben is also proud to be part of the newly created American Chef Corps, a program of the US Department of State – a network of chefs from across the United States who have agreed to serve as resources to the state.
TAMING THE FEAST
Seeing a gap in the market for a cookbook that celebrates and demonstrates artisanal techniques to the keen BBQer, DIY enthusiast, and adventurous home entertainer, Ben created Taming the Feast: Ben Ford’s Field Guide to Adventurous Cooking. Tapping into his childhood outdoor feasting memories, the book features step-by-step illustrated instructions for nine menus with meals like a box-roasted spring lamb to cater for 40, and a Cedar-Planked Wild Sturgeon that will feed 45-50 hungry mouths all playing starring roles.
Like his approach to snout-to-tail dining, everything is accounted for with each chapter focusing on not only the execution of the main meal ‘event,’ but also the other key feasting components. The sides, the drinks, music suggestions and other large scale dining suggestions are all covered, as well as delicious recipes for one of the other bonuses of hosting a feast: the leftovers.