Ford Fry

Chef, Restaurateur

Atlanta

Executive chef Ford Fry owns several wildly successful Atlanta restaurants, including JCT. Kitchen & Bar on the Westside, No. 246 in Decatur and his newest, The Optimist and Oyster Bar at The Optimist, also on the Westside. In May 2013, Fry debuted King + Duke in Buckhead, where he focuses on open-hearth cooking, and early 2014, he'll debut his newest concept, St. Cecilia, which will server Northern Italian and Mediterranean cuisine. All of his restaurants — whether Italian, seafood or Southern-inspired — use locally sourced ingredients because, Fry says, they taste better and he can partner with suppliers and celebrate the seasonal harvests. His philosophy has worked and won him much acclaim — Fry landed on the James Beard Foundation’s 2013 semifinalists list for Outstanding Restaurateur. 

  • On March 29, 2013
    Sarah Gleim is now following Ford Fry
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    Jordan Lawson is now following Ford Fry
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    Hayley Bosch is now following Ford Fry
  • On March 29, 2013
  • On March 29, 2013
    Andi Berens is now following Ford Fry
  • On March 29, 2013
    Ford Fry answered the question: Ford Fry

    What does Ford Fry typically order when he goes out to dinner?

    I tend to stick to something on the fatty side; if I saw duck, I would go with that, or maybe a really great heritage-breed pork rack or veal chop. I like more of a rib eye or fattier cut of meat, not necessarily steak. I lean toward the meat.
  • On March 29, 2013
    Ford Fry answered the question: Ford Fry

    What is the best meal Ford Fry has ever eaten?

    I could say The French Laundry was probably the most refined meal where every course had great flavors and really stood out. That was probably the most perfect meal. I’d have to lean toward Hen of the Wood in Vermont. And Tertulia has really been one of my recent ones.
  • On March 29, 2013
    Ford Fry answered the question: Ford Fry

    What does Ford Fry love most about his job?

    I like the cooking aspect, I like coming up with specials, I like running the menu, but what I get more excited about now is watching a vision play out how it was intended to. I meet with the designers and write the menus and come up with the idea of how the restaurant should translate to guests. Then when it opens, I read blogs and reviews that say the language that I intended, and that’s really cool and rewarding for me. That’s half of it.

    The other half is having the ability to turn it up with a local chef who is super talented. He may not have everything he needs to go out there and start his own restaurant, get his own place or get the credit for what he’s really doing, but I love putting someone in that position and watching him succeed. It’s that development side — building people’s careers. I think where it really hit me hard was in Santa Barbara, when I was an executive chef and we had a company picnic where my cooks, sous chefs and everybody brought their wives and kids. Everyone was out there. It was really interesting because day-to-day, you’re in this stressful environment. But when I start seeing their wives and kids, I really start recognizing them as people, not tools. It really excited me and made me think that how I treat this person at work, he’s going to carry it home. Not only that, I’m also responsible for his well being and developing him. I feel like I’m held accountable, that it’s my job to see him through and see him move forward. That’s also really rewarding as well.
  • On March 29, 2013
    Ford Fry answered the question: Ford Fry

    What is Ford Fry’s favorite cuisine?

    I respect more of the Southeast Asian stuff. Everyone loves that. It’s very mysterious for Americans and American chefs on how to really get these flavors. I’m obviously intrigued by it; I like big flavors like that. When it comes to American, I lean toward more classic, but classic by way of using wood, cooking off wood and using whatever is local and fresh. It’s not that it’s cool to be local; it tastes better if it’s local. If it just came out of the ground, it’s super fresh. It’s not altered. I typically lean toward something that is cooked over burning wood in some fashion or another. Barbecue makes me excited every day.
  • On March 29, 2013
    Ford Fry answered the question: Ford Fry

    How does Ford Fry come up with his menus?

    When we’re about the open a restaurant, I’ll go to the chef and talk about the food. We go eat around and start talking about what we really like and what we feel like Atlanta really needs, as well as what we’re really passionate about cooking. I’ll have the chef write a menu, and I’ll write a menu. Typically the menu ends up leaning toward the one that I wrote. Over time, really rapidly after we open, it starts to become their version of my vision of the restaurant. It enables them to run with it and make it their own, but it’s kind of a good way to get them on board with the identity of the restaurant. A lot of times, restaurants get kind of lost. I think that’s important. A lot of it is me spending time with them and talking about the ideas and simplicity. I try to also keep them grounded and say, “Remember, you’re not writing a menu to impress other chefs; you’re writing a menu to impress the diner, as well as writing a menu to cook what you’re passionate about cooking.” I think a lot of people try to do things to impress a chef or outdo other chefs in some way, and it may not make sense. The food will taste better or be better if it’s done in a more classic way.
  • On March 29, 2013
    Ford Fry answered the question: Ford Fry

    What is Ford Fry’s favorite cookbook?

    There’s one called the Edible Selby, which is fairly new. I like it because it kind of highlights different restaurants all over the country and what they’re doing with food and technique. It does have recipes and things like that, but it’s a really cool book. I like Hero Food. I was reading it and saw [author] Seamus Mullen was from Vermont. Vermont’s philosophy is very much like northern California when it comes to local farms and sourcing locally. I learned this from a chef friend of mine just by eating at his restaurant Hen of the Wood in Waterbury, Vermont. It’s just awesome. His setting is really cool. It’s in this old mill of some sort right on the river in Waterbury.
  • On March 29, 2013
    Ford Fry answered the question: Ford Fry

    How did Ford Fry get into the culinary world?

    As a kid, it was through my travels. I was just interested in eating all the time. We would say, let’s go see the Eiffel Tower so we can go eat here. Or let’s go see the Louvre so we can go eat there. There was always that element of eating and exploring and being adventurous with food. Did I ever think I was going to be a chef? No. I grew up kind of country club boy, so I went to college, joined a fraternity and majored in business but had no clue what I wanted to do. We’d come home, and I would surround myself with friends who liked hunting and we’d always have to do something with the stuff that we caught fishing or hunting. We’d come home and bust the door down in the kitchen because it was locked, and we’d use the kitchen to cook stuff up. I kind of did that in high school as well. I had friends with Louisiana heritage, so we always cooked on weekends. My parents knew I really liked to eat, and there was a bunch of articles coming out in The Wall Street Journal talking about culinary school and a chef as a fast-track career, and it starting to become popular. This was back in the late ’80s early ’90s, so my dad was like, “Why don’t you go to culinary school?” I never cooked in a kitchen before, but I had waited tables. I was the worst waiter and bus boy. I’d eat the food as it came back. Then I said, “Okay, let’s go to culinary school.” So I packed up and drove my Jeep up to Vermont, and I just loved it. It was something I was excited to do. I loved the cooking aspect, I loved the food, and I loved eating it. I just got really lucky. It was an amazing fit. That’s what got me into it.
  • On March 29, 2013
    Ford Fry answered the question: Ford Fry

    What are Ford Fry’s favorite ingredients to cook with right now?

    Mushrooms are always my go-to. At No. 246, we’ve got a guy who’s out in the woods half the year picking stuff, and he only brings stuff to chef Drew Belline. That’s his only spot, so whatever pops up. I love cooking pretty big clusters, and you can just slice off a slice of it and roast it in a pan like a steak.
  • On March 29, 2013
    Ford Fry answered the question: Ford Fry

    Aside from a chef’s knife, what is Ford Fry’s most important kitchen tool?

    Your sauté spoon. Or I’m always zesting with a microplane and grating cheese with a microplane. As far as small things, it’s that sauté spoon because you can sauté with it, cook steaks with it, baste steaks with it and flip fish with it. Everyone wonders why I don’t use those big grill utensil sets that you find at the grocery store on my grill. I don’t know, I don’t like them — they don’t feel comfortable to me. I typically use my spoon.
  • On March 29, 2013
    Ford Fry answered the question: Ford Fry

    Where in Atlanta would Ford Fry get the ingredients for his ultimate dinner party?

    For my ultimate dinner party, I’d make paella. I would go to Star Provisions for the best rice. Then probably one of my restaurants to get the seafood. But if I had to, I could go to the Dekalb Farmers Market for clams or cockles. Some sort of great-quality chicken as well. The sausage, I really like in a paella as opposed to using a chorizo I tend to find at Patak. They are so cheap, but they have this one and it sits out from the cooler, hanging on a stick. It’s heavily smoked and more dried, so it’s a little bit chewy in the paella, but it just imparts that smoke into the whole paella. So that’s where I go for that one, it’s the best one I found so far.