Chef Jeremy Ford is many things: the winner of Top Chef season 13, the co-host of Tru TV’s Fast Foodies, and the culinary mastermind behind Miami’s Stubborn Seed and The Butcher’s Club, a new modern steak house inside the PGA National Resort. But perhaps the descriptor he’s most proud of is father of three. The native Floridian always takes Father’s Day off and spends it with his daughters the best way he knows how: picnicking by the water, playing some Rummikub, and cooking dinner at home. PBI recently caught up with Ford to chat about family, cooking, and his latest venture.
PBI: What’s one of your earliest memories of cooking?
Ford: One of the biggest ones that I remember—when the switch turned on for me—was when we were searching for my mother’s birth parents, because my mother was adopted. They were Italian; her mother didn’t even speak English. When we found out who she was, she invited us to her home, and she was cooking in the kitchen, making a slow-cooked prime rib kind of thing with these big garlic cloves stuffed in the middle. I remember wondering how the hell did she get the garlic cloves in the middle of the roast? Obviously now, looking back at it, she rolled it; you butterfly the meat open, then you put the garlic cloves in, you roll it up, and roast it. Back then I had no idea. I remember her slicing into it, and that’s the moment when my future began.
Growing up, did you cook at home with your parents much? What would you make?
We did a lot of grilling. My dad or my uncle would go fishing and they would bring it back to the house. We used to grill cobia. It’s one of my first memories of paying attention to the grill. And a lot of fried chicken, a lot of that.
How do you like to share your love of cooking with your kids?
I love to cook with them, they don’t like to cook with me. My oldest, she’s very interested in baking and pastry. If I cook dinner, she’ll be more apt to take the dessert preparation. She does a really good flan, but my favorite thing she’s ever made was this gooey brownie-Oreo thing.
What’s something your kids like that surprises you?
My 14-year-old eats everything because I started her very, very young growing vegetables and stuff at the house. She does really well with raw fish, which is strange to me. It’s a textural problem for most people. We were in L.A. shooting season two [of Fast Foodies] and she came to stay with me for about a week on her summer break. It was so cool because I took her out to Spago—Wolfgang Puck’s flagship—and the waiter was so shocked that she was eating caviar and the little raw salmon “ice cream cone” thing that he does. She loved all of that stuff.
What would be your top tips for preventing picky eating in kids?
One, you have to lead by example. If you’re eating mac and cheese out of a box, they’re going to want mac and cheese out of a box. It starts with the parents leading by example and showing that they eat their vegetables. Secondly, I think when you’re younger you’re more apt to be stubborn, so you’ve got to really start breaking that young instead of waiting until they’re already set in their ways. And then introduce things without forcing. Forcing a child is the worst thing to do, because you get frustrated, the child gets pissed off, and no one wins that battle.
Do you have any secret weapon ingredients, techniques, or recipes you whip out when cooking for kids?
For parties and stuff like that, I usually don’t go too healthy, to be honest. I’ll usually make a homemade pizza on my Kamado Joe, an outside wood-fire [grill] that I cook in a lot. Everyone loves pizza, and I feel like when you do a homemade pizza, you’re probably using much better cheeses than your typical pizzeria would. You’re going to have fresh ingredients [and] a fresh tomato sauce.
What’s a celebratory or guilty pleasure meal for you?
McDonald’s [laughs]. I cook at a fine-dining restaurant in Miami and high-end food is what I see day in and day out. To be honest, when I leave there, what I love most is like a simple bowl of pasta or like a cheeseburger from McDonald’s.
That ties into your show, Fast Foodies. If you were a guest on the show, what fast food dish would you want the chefs to create for you?
I freaking love Krystal. Those little chili pups, the little chili cheese dogs, they’re insane. … I think Kristen Kish, another one of the hosts on the show, has made me a lot more nostalgic with the food that she cooks. She makes you think when you eat her food. She [creates] a lot of these moments where you’re like, wow, that’s really smart. Having a little more fun and playfulness, I’ve definitely leaned on that more.
How would you describe the overall concept behind The Butcher’s Club?
The Butcher’s Club is really a place where everyone will find something yummy on the menu. We’re supporting a lot of local farms, so you’re going to taste a lot of freshness in our vegetables and salads. We’re buying lettuces and tomatoes strictly from local farms. You’ll get a very fresh approach to a modern steak house. I think what we’ve done there is create a lot of your classic, staple dishes. We have a mac and cheese. We have a creamed spinach, but the way that we do our creamed spinach, for example, is we take tons of tarragon, dill, and basil, and we blanche all those herbs and whip them into this creamed spinach. So, yes, it says creamed spinach on the menu, but you’re not getting a frozen spinach, thawed out and mixed with heavy cream and garlic powder. We’re taking the fresh approach to everything we do there. We’re buying some of the best meats that you can find in the country, and we’re making it delicious and simple for everyone.
What excites you most about creating food for The Butcher’s Club?
The Butcher’s Club is actually the food that I like to eat. I like simple. I love eating at Stubborn Seed—don’t get me wrong—but I crave meat and potatoes. When those doors open at 5 o’clock, [I’m] the first order, getting a steak, some creamed spinach, and the bravas, because those are my three favorite things.
What’s one culinary lesson you took away from your time on Top Chef?
One of the main things that I learned very early in the competition is that anything you put on that plate will be judged, so the wording in which you write your menu is very, very crucial to what the guest—or judge, in that case—is going to perceive this meal or this dish as. If I say it’s a financier and it doesn’t turn out like a perfect financier, then I’m going to be ridiculed.
So it comes down to setting expectations correctly?
Yes. Being very clear in what you want your guest to perceive your dish as is very, very important. Sometimes you can word things in a way that sends the wrong signal to the guest, and you have to put thought into that. You have to think, when I read this dish, where the first part of it is in bold writing, that bold writing needs to give me a very, very clear projection of what I’m going to be getting. There are 100 [lessons] that I could tell you, but that’s the one that still to this day, when I’m writing a menu I’m like, wait a second, that doesn’t sound right.