If you’ve dined in Atlanta recently, there’s a good chance it was at one of Chef Ford Fry’s many restaurants. The Houston-born chef/restaurateur is quickly becoming a prolific name in Southern food culture, and for good reason: among other accolades, his seafood hotspot, The Optimist, landed on Bon Appetit’s list of the 10 Best Restaurants in America.
In anticipation of his upcoming stint at Euphoria, I chatted him up to find out who he’s watching in the food world, what crazy contraption he’s using in his kitchens, and what he’s got in store for his special Euphoria dinner at the Lazy Goat.
You grew up in Houston and have put down roots in Atlanta. What is it about the South that keeps you around?
Well, I grew up in Texas, went to college in Arkansas, and have worked in California and Aspen, but I wanted to really settle in Atlanta for work. I love Atlanta and the South – it’s close to the mountains, close to the beach, it’s hilly, quite different from where I grew up, and I really love how green it is. It’s turned out to be just a really cool city. I also love that you can branch out and road trip to all these other great Southern cities.
You’re set to participate in the Lazy Goat’s Guest Chef Dinner. Can you preview what you have in store?
I’m working alongside Michael Kramer – his background, and where he’s come from, he’s just a fantastic chef. Basically, we get on the phone and start talking about what would be fun. A couple of my places are doing some fun things with pasta, so I thought it would be fun to do kind of a pasta tasting. You’ve got the four hor d’oeuvres and then a six-course dinner – primarily it’s a pasta tasting menu, but I think that’s a great way to incorporate interesting ingredients, like spinach, quail, lamb, foraged mushrooms… I think it’s fun. The thing I like about a pasta tasting is that you’re able to have these small dishes that don’t take long to eat, but that give you those bursts of massive flavor. I know Michael has a bit of an Italian flair so my first thought was an Italy meets the South kind of thing.
What are your thoughts on the Greenville food scene? Will you be able to fit in any extracurriculars while in town?
I don’t have anything planned yet, but I’m really looking forward to it. I’ve heard it’s amazing and that it will really surprise me. I’m definitely looking forward to seeing what’s happening there.
You’re known, among other things, for your successful festival approach (Fry has spearheaded the popular Attack of the Killer Tomato festival in Atlanta for six years). What pleases you about the festival atmosphere?
I really love festivals that are fun, where people can come together and everyone just loves food. I love the combination of food and music together – that’s something we emphasize in our restaurants. I loved hearing that Edwin McCain was a big part of this festival. When you’re working in a busy restaurant every day, it’s nice to have a cool getaway and experience something different.
Also, I think it’s nice that Greenville is so close to Atlanta. It’s, like, hey, this is who we are, we’re only a couple of hours away, and it’s a great opportunity to show that we’ve got great restaurants and this is what we’re like.
You’re definitely on the minds of diners in the South and across the country. What chefs do you have your eye on?
I’ve been looking at Nashville a lot – I’m a big fan of Tandy Wilson, who’s at City House. Another guy, Josh Habiger, who was with Catbird Seat and also has Pinewood Social, is working on some new stuff – I’m always interested in seeing what he’s up to.
Those are kind of the newer faces I’m watching. In Atlanta, of course, we’ve got Angus Brown, who I’m always interested in.
Have you been able to dine in Greenville before?
I haven’t been to Greenville before – I’m really looking forward to it. Nothing is planned so far – I’m kind of hoping to leave that to my friends at Euphoria, but I am interested in checking out Restaurant 17.
And now, I’d like to ask you the same five questions I ask every chef, known as The Foodist Five over here.
What’s your favorite kitchen gadget?
It’s actually a fish tank aerator. It really helps aerate sauces and vinaigrettes to make them lighter on the oysters.
What do you cook at home?
What’s your deserted island ingredient?
It has to be a bone-in ribeye.
What has been your most memorable meal?
Tertulia in New York.
Give me three words that describe your cooking philosophy.
Simple, seasonal, yummy.
Interested in Chef Ford Fry’s Guest Chef Event at the Lazy Goat? More information here!
Euphoria Greenville is happening from September 18-21 in Downtown Greenville. Event and ticket information here.
mid twenty Country boy who makes knives.
Blog post by guest blogger Eleanor Vaughn, a Greenville native, who writes about the Upstate’s food community in her blog, The Greenville Foodist. She will be covering Euphoria Greenville 2014 for Gap Creek Gourmet. You can contact her here.
*Photograph by Emily Schultz