Why did I start competing?
I started competing initially because I wanted to get really good at ice sculpting, of all things. When I was younger, I attended a college, and I was taught how to ice carve and really the only way to practice as a student was to compete and it just sort of turned into this obsession. I realized that the more I prepped for competition, the better I got at ice sculpting and then that kind of rolled over into cooking and it just gave me an excuse to hone a skill, to practice harder and to do everything I could to get better at what I was trying to do.
What are some benefits of competition?
In my mind, competition is an opportunity to really learn a technique better than you would just doing it every day at work. It's a chance to focus on a skill. So, say you're working on a braise and at work you learned how to do a braise and you want to do a great braise so you read a couple recipes and then you learn how to execute that braise. When you're taking a braise into a competition and you want to serve what would be an exemplary braise, you go through and really hone in each individual step of that technique, understanding on a much higher level the carmelization that needs to go into it, the deglazing that needs to happen, the soft cooking process that needs to be applied. Competition then forces you into a specific set of parameters and you're forced then to try and do a braise or execute a braise in a particular amount of time, under a particular amount of circumstances, and your understanding rolls over into your day to day work. When you do that for an entire plate and say a hot food competition or if you're working on a terrine for a cold food competition, the repetition of that practice, you have no choice but to get better at what you're doing.
What has competition done for me?
To me, competition has been a fantastic way to really work to hone a skill, to dial-in a practice, and it's made me a much better cook as far as speed goes, as far as understanding goes. Competition is something that you do as I would say you could call it a hobby, it's something you do in your spare time when you want to obsess about something for the kitchen outside of the kitchen. Competition gives you a purpose to hone in a skill, to really dial in a technique, to understand food at a much deeper level. I used to spend my time diving into books and comparing different methods for executing something in particular and then pull those things together. Inevitably my cooking got better no matter what I was cooking, and it was through that focused repetition, that focused change in competition, that I saw those results in my day-to-day work.
Do you have to compete to pass the master chef exam?
There's sort of a myth that people seem to think that you have to be on the Culinary Olympic Team or you have to be a major competitor to pass the certified master chef exam and I don't think that's true. I think that it helps you prepare for the master chef exam. Everything is a process, and the master chef exam is a stressful, intense, mastery of the craft exam. So we're not thinking in terms of are you good at something, we're thinking in terms of have you mastered a technique? Now there's many different ways to get there. Competition is one of those ways that helps you find your way there, that helps you understand what mastery looks like and how to work towards that. I also think competition helps you meet people along the way to put you on that path. Other paths include you focusing on your work at your restaurant and working every day to master your craft or to prove yourself as a master of your craft. Some of my mentors never worked on the Culinary Olympic Team, some of them did. I think, for me, my path I worked on the Culinary Olympic team so that I knew that I was going to be ready for the Master Chef Exam. That's just something that made sense to me and that was something that practically seemed like the right path but by no means is it necessary
One of the things that I truly believe is that at the core of what we do, we're craftsmen. I pride myself on having passed the Master Chef Exam but I don't see that as an ending point for me, I see it as actually a whole other starting point. We are craftsmen and although food can be art, I think it's important for cooks, culinarians, sous chefs, chefs to remember that at the end of the day this is a craft. It requires focused practice and through that focused practice, mastery is entirely obtainable. That's what's most important to remember is skill can be developed. The skill to produce, to execute in the craft, is entirely possible. It's entirely feasible. Everything is an evolution of skill. When I competed to try out for the Culinary Olympic team that was another point for me to start again. A whole other realm of executing at another level. Now I have a base level standard of mastery for every project that I undertake and that's something that really excites me. I'm very much so interested to see where my path takes me next. I think it's so important to understand that when I set out on my path for mastery it wasn't a direct line, it's been a bumpy road of moving and of training and of falling down and standing back up but each and every time I've learned something. And that's the most important thing to remember. Nobody's perfect, nobody executes perfectly all the time and it's trying to fail forward so that every time you pick yourself back up you can be successful. It's so important to remember that what we do is a craft and it being a craft it's not natural ability, it's not God-given talent. It’s persistence, it's focused hard work and it's never giving up.
One of 73 Certified Master Chefs and Captain of the 2020 American National, Culinary Team USA, with stops in Michelin Starred Restaurants; The Moulin de Mougins and Eleven Madison Park, Chef Ford has established himself as a professional who is focused, driven, innovative and organized beyond obsessive.