Food & Wine Classic: Meet Jeremy Ford, Bravo TV’s “Top Chef”
There’s only one moment as clear in chef Jeremy Ford’s mind as the day his daughter was born: the day he won Bravo TV’s “Top Chef.”
The executive chef at the Matador Room, a Jean-Georges restaurant in Miami Beach, lined up alongside fellow finalist Amar Santana and waited to hear Bravo TV host Padma Lakshmi announce the winner of Season 13. Ford says there was probably about five minutes of actual, stomach-churning waiting, “but I swear it felt like an hour.” It took a few seconds for the victory to sink in, Ford remembers, but once it did, he knew it was one of the proudest moments of his life.
The “Top Chef” awards package is generous — this year the prize money was $125,000 — plus chefs get to showcase their talent at the Food & Wine Classic, an event Ford says he’s always wanted to be a part of. Ford was already thinking back in April about the products he’ll be using at the Classic, when he envisioned a lot of local produce from Colorado and other local ingredients to be the stars of his dishes. He also plans to carry on his fish legacy, he says, noting that fish got him far during many demanding “Top Chef” challenges.
Confidence isn’t something Ford seems to struggle with, but he’s had plenty of recent ego-boosters as chef to help him along. Take the opening episode of “Top Chef” Season 13, when Ford won the first challenge, sending a message to the other 16 contestants that he meant business.
“Confidence is something that, as a chef, you’re always second-guessing yourself,” Ford says. “Every dish you create, you think about it 19,000 ways, always wondering if it’s the right thing or as good as it should be done. I gained confidence in the beginning because of that win.”
The “Top Chef” honor has catapulted Ford into the world of celebrity chefs, an identity that hasn’t hit home yet.
“At heart, I’m just a cook. I started out as a young dude who just wanted to learn, just fascinated by cuisine and flavors,” he says.
The Florida native developed a bit of a surfer-dude reputation on the Season 13 show. He said “dude” and “bro” a lot and took a little heat from the judges when he came up with a “Taco Dudes” concept for one of the challenges. It would be a gastropub-type place, with “hot chicks serving the food,” Ford told the judges. Lakshmi wasn’t amused, and the other judges weren’t impressed. The challenge didn’t serve as another confidence-booster for Ford.
“You’re a one-man band (on ‘Top Chef’),” Ford says. “There’s no one to save you if you
fall or crash.”
That reality helped Ford with time management, a skill he’ll likely need this weekend for the Classic. Another skill he seems to be constantly honing is to believe
in himself and his flavors.
He uses what he says are “funky techniques” — think spherification (molding foods in spherical shapes with thin membranes and liquid centers) and molecular gastronomy (using the chemical and physical traits of ingredients to enhance their presentations) — but flavor is always the end goal. You won’t see Ford using powders and gums in ways where they don’t also pack powerful flavor.
While Ford has $125,000 in “Top Chef” winnings, which many past winners have
used to open their own restaurants, Ford is content at the Matador Room under the mentorship of Jean-Georges Vongerichten, where he says he’ll continue to build upon his skills and experience as a chef. He’s enjoying the culinary spotlight on the heels of his
“Top Chef” win, but he’s not trying to get ahead of himself, either.
“You have to go with your gut, man,” he says.
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