Jeremy Ford is the winner of Bravo’s Top Chef season 13 and the Chef de Cuisine at one of Miami’s most prominent restaurants, Matador Room by Jean-Georges.
The 31-year-old chef, originally from Jacksonville, Fla., first developed a love for cooking after meeting his maternal grandmother when he was 14-years-old. The matriarch and chef taught young Ford about the intricate art of Italian cuisine, planting the seed for a future career in the kitchen.
Two years later at the ripe age of 16, Ford felt ready to begin his on-the-job education, and scored a position as Garde Manger at Matthew’s, a four-diamond Mediterranean-style restaurant in Jacksonville. Matthew’s helped develop basic chef skills for Ford including fine mincing vegetables, flavoring and balancing taste profiles.
One year later, Ford decided to broaden his horizons and head out west to Los Angeles. With no job leads, he went door-to-door seeking employment at the city’s top restaurants. He got his first break from world-famous chef Christophe Eme who was moved by the youngster’s sincere enthusiasm. After hosting the teenager for dinner at his renowned restaurant, L’Orangerie, Eme offered him a job. While cooking in the all French-speaking kitchen, Ford took in everything from ingredient fundamentals to the art of plating; he developed basic skills and learned the appropriate way to conduct oneself in a professional kitchen. Eme, an Iron Chef, was a disciplined teacher who taught his staff “the importance of loving the product.”
Ready for his next challenge, Ford obtained a stage at Patina restaurant under Master Chef Joachim Splichal. While “auditioning” for a role in the kitchen, Ford impressed Splichal with his seafood proficiency, and immediately secured a job at the restaurant’s busy fish station. Here, Ford refined his skills and precision while butchering up to 100 pounds of fish and 60 lobsters a day. The budding chef subsequently fell in love with seafood. “I love the delicacy that it takes to be a master at fish,” he says, “anyone can bring a steak to medium rare, but fish goes from perfectly cooked to horrible, very quickly.”
Ford’s stint at Patina ended when he returned home to care for his ailing mother. As he nursed her back to health through good nutrition, Ford’s destiny became undeniable. “All I thought about or talked about was cooking – I missed it so much.” During this time, he also became a father to his nine-year-old daughter, Maddy. With the goal of providing the best life possible for her, Ford moved to South Florida, where more cooking opportunities awaited him.
In 2008, Ford secured a position with the celebrated South Florida chef Dean Max at his prominent restaurant 3030 Ocean in Fort Lauderdale. Ford connected with Max in a way he’d never previously experienced in a kitchen, and over the course of five years, the protégé went from Sous Chef to Chef de Cuisine to Executive Chef to Corporate Chef of the company. As Ford continued to improve his cooking abilities, he says Max taught him everything from how to dress, to how to behave with class. “He was like a second father to me.” Side by side, the two “surfer boys” opened four restaurants and shined a light on the growing farm-to-table movement.
This education and experience allowed Ford to firmly cultivate his capabilities. He learned about the unique South Florida growing season and how to plan a menu around local produce. Combined with his French training and his unwavering love for seafood, Ford’s culinary point of view was decisively solidified.
Ford soon felt ready for the next step, and this time he went for gold – throwing his name in the ring as the chef of the new restaurant from Michelin-star celebrity chef, Jean-Georges Vongerichten in Miami’s highly anticipated EDITION hotel. Ford secured an audition for the role and was given 24 hours to prepare a recipe, which he then cooked in front of Vongerichten and his Director of Culinary Greg Brainin. “I was nervous,” says Ford, “this is one of the best kitchens in the world with the longest Michelin- star [rating] in New York history.”
Luckily, his skills paid off; Ford secured the job at Matador Room and was immediately sent to “Jean-Georges School” – 45 days of training in JG’s numerous restaurants around New York. Ford says of this experience, “You’re not just learning recipes, you’re learning a culture, a philosophy.” After additional months of menu preparation and kitchen renovations, Matador Room finally opened in December 2014 to rave reviews. “We worked for 41 days in row with no break,” Ford says of the opening, adding, “We haven’t stopped or slowed down since.”
At the exact moment most chefs would step back and enjoy their success, Ford decided to once again put his skills to the test. He signed up for Top Chef with one goal – to win. Fellow JG chef Gregory Gordette had recently won second place in the competition, and Ford knew he had to deliver to justify leaving his plum new job. While Ford hated being away from his daughter, he says he experienced “some of the coolest moments of my career” through the process (such as meeting his idol, Hubert Keller).