Ben Ford Takes THR’s Taste Test
Just in time for the Fourth of July, the chef-owner of Ford’s Filling Station talks about how his father, Harrison, influenced the DIY approach of his new grilling cookbook.
Ben Ford was far ahead of the Culver City dining curve — as well as L.A.'s gastropub game — when he opened Ford's Filling Station eight years ago in what was then a neighborhood hungering for chef-driven restaurants. "There was nothing down there when we started," he says. The spot closed June 29, soon to be reborn at the J.W. Marriott that's part of L.A. Live. (In the meantime, another Filling Station refuels customers at LAX.)
The flux comes nearly two months after Ford released Taming the Feast, his 288-page ode to grillin', smokin' and roastin'. "This is what's going on with me as a chef right now," says Ford. "Over the last couple of years I've gotten involved with the raising of our animals. They didn't fit into a conventional oven very well so we figured out how to prepare them outdoors."
Ergo, the veteran of the quintessentially Californian kitchens of everyone from Alice Waters to Nancy Silverton has put together a unique cookbook, one which comes replete not just with recipes but, according to its literature, "easy-to-follow step-by-step instructions, drawings and timelines for constructing a baking barrel, cinder-block oven, smoking shed, and roasting box in your own backyard."
In other words, you'd better be handy. "There's a big do-it-yourself element," Ford says. "It was influenced by my father." (Yes, that would be Harrison.) "We had a big woodshop growing up – we made treehouses and boxcars and furniture. All sorts of practical things."
BEN FORD'S THR TASTE TEST
"Crudos, BBQ and almost anything vegetable from the Eastern Mediterranean. I love what's happening in Israel. I'm also trying to localize the identity of ‘Southland' cuisine by incorporating and infusing border flavors and Baja flavors into my cooking."
Known for Cooking
"Whole suckling pig, wood-fired pellas, a great whole fish and BBQ."
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"Arzak in San Sebastian, Spain."
"Tacos from La Reyna in downtown Los Angeles."
"I really love beef heart. I'm kind of obsessed, actually. First tasted it at St. John in London and more recently have found it on the menu at Bestia — my favorite restaurant in Los Angeles — where they do a beef heart tartare that is to die for."
Simply Won't Eat
"Don't love sea urchin unless it's in a sauce or if it's not absolutely fresh."
"Smoked bacon: I try to avoid it, but there is usually a big pile of it atop the stoves in my restaurants and it's just so easy to grab a piece. I have to occasionally just cut myself off."
"I eat very clean. Berries and a high-protein cereal for breakfast. A salad for lunch. Occasionally for dinner I like to take the gloves off and just enjoy the experience of a great restaurant or local dive. Love tacos, noodles and dumplings — and sushi. Los Angeles by far has the best in the country. It's where sushi first landed in the U.S. and still owns it."
"Writers, musicians and other artists. People with a creative voice generally are great storytellers. They also take my mind out of the kitchen and help reinvigorate the creative process for me. Of course, I like to have my wife with me to share the experience."
"Dirty glasses or silverware. When chefs use too many ingredients on a plate or over-sauce their food."
"I want Los Angeles chefs to embrace the Southland region and bring more of a regional identity to their menus."
"When I was 12 and having one of my first really fancy meals, I was presented with a finger bowl with which to wash my hands. Well, I am sure you know what happened next — I drank it. That was embarrassing. I had dinner recently with Andrew Zimmern, the world's greatest eater, and my stomach was a little off. He was ripping the heads off shrimp and sucking on the heads. Usually I would have been right there with him. I just pushed my food around on my plate, but I think it was obvious. Terribly un-chefly."
"There is a great robata I visited in Tokyo when I was 14. I can't recall the name but it was one of the best meals of my life and one I haven't been able to reproduce anywhere else."