Each Saturday Chef John Ford prepares a farm-to-table dinner — in addition to everything else on his plate.
Stroll the State Farmers Market on a Saturday morning and you may see John Ford.
Sporting a black chef’s jacket, he’s been known to catch the occasional photo request, not to mention a grimace from a Red Sox fan eyeing his navy blue Yankees cap with white, embroidered team logo.
“That’s all right,” Ford, 30, says, grinning about the rivalry and his hat. “It always stays on.”
When Raleigh Magazine caught up with him earlier this year, he was preparing for a farm-to-table dinner at Cameron Bar & Grill. Ford began the special, Saturday-night dinners in May 2015. The meal is an addition to the regular menu, which is available, too.
To many, that may just sound like more work on an already-busy day in the restaurant world. But, for Ford, it’s an opportunity to be creative and use local, in-season produce.
“It gives me something different to do,” he says. “And I have great respect for fishermen … and the farmers who work so hard to bring us the amazing produce and meats. It’s not about slapping something on a grill and calling it a day. It’s about taking something farmers have and making something really awesome for guests.”
Each weekend he hits the market, often with his wife Natasha, and selects ingredients for side dishes; he picks the protein ahead of time. Ford purchases and cooks for about 20 portions. And the meal almost always sells out, he says.
To go with NC black sea bass, Ford buys turnips. But they’ll roast to a white hue, so he picks up oriental purple potatoes to bring color to the plate. Ford has favorite farm stands, such as the one with an array of herbs like Thai basils.
Working with food has been part of his life since he was a teenager growing up in northern New Jersey. His choice to attend culinary school at the Art Institute of Raleigh-Durham was no surprise to those close to him.
“My dad always told me, ‘If you’re gonna do a job, make sure you enjoy it,’” says Ford, who has been head chef at Cameron Bar & Grill for 15 months. “I enjoy it and take a lot of pride in what I do.”
And he’s willing to make it fun for those around him. Just ask the staff, especially the guy who likes to work to constant Whitney Houston music, which is fine by Ford.
“As long as they’re happy,” Ford laughs. “Because when we’re working and we’re happy, time goes by quicker and people are more willing.”
Chef John Ford preps a farm-to-table dinner each Saturday night. Here’s one example: North Carolina black sea bass, purple mashed potatoes with Goat Lady goat cheese, caramelized turnips sautéed with local spinach and topped with lemon-chive beurre blanch and sautéed leeks. (Beurre blanch = white butter.)