American chef Ben Ford's perfect outdoor parties are not only about great food but getting a bit down and dirty with a saw and a hammer.
In his first book "Taming the Feast," co-written with Carolynn Carreno, Ford shares recipes for a clambake and whole pig roast, including instructions for building a roasting box and cinder block pit.
The 46-year-old, who owns the restaurant Ford's Filling Station in Culver City, California, traced his penchant for building to his father, actor Harrison Ford, who had been a carpenter.
Ford, a Los Angeles native, spoke to Reuters about outdoor cooking, the local food scene and fish-head soup.
Q: Why did you write about outdoor cookouts in your book?
A: This is my next development as a chef. I was getting more into outdoor cooking. I'm also very interested in wood fires. Emotionally I really love that feeling of being around a big table with friends. I wanted to give people a blueprint and an outline for being able to create those events for themselves.
Q: What are your tips with cooking on an open fire?
A: Even on a charcoal fire, you want to rotate your meat and cooking around the grill. You want to have a very engineered approach to your cooking. I give some techniques to be able to achieve that.
Q: How has the L.A. food scene changed since you started as a chef?
A: When I first started out, I had to go to San Francisco to train because we had four, five good restaurants in Los Angeles. Even those five couldn't match with our top 50 now. For too long, L.A. has looked at San Francisco as its big brother, taking our lead in our cuisine from there. What's happening with Baja and in Mexico right now is amazing. Some of our bravest and most amazing chefs are from Mexico right now.
Q: What were some of your food memories growing up?
A: I went to Japan when I was 12 and then again when I was 16. I had my second or third day of fish head soup in the morning instead of the traditional corn flakes. I tried it and it was good. Even at that age, I started to have this notion you could put yourself in the hands of a chef and you would be rewarded with those experiences.
String Bean and Potato Salad (serves 8 to 10)
1/2 cup home-made or store-bought mayonnaise
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons white wine or apple cider vinegar
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for the boiling water and to taste
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
6 scallions (white and light green parts), thinly sliced on the bias
1/4 cup large shards semi-dry domestic sheep's milk cheese or a medium-aged pecorino
1-1/2 pounds fingerling potatoes or other small, thin-skinned potatoes, scrubbed
1 pound fresh green beans, yellow wax beans, or a mix of edible flowers, for garnish (optional)
Whisk the mayonnaise, oil, vinegar, garlic, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper together in a medium bowl. Stir in the parsley, scallions, and cheese.
Put the potatoes in a pot with water to cover. Add 1 tablespoon salt per quart water and bring to a boil over high heat. Cook until they're tender when pierced, about 20 minutes. Drain the potatoes and allow them to cool slightly.
Slice the warm potatoes 1/4-inch thick. Put the slices in a large bowl. Snip the ends off the beans.
Prepare an ice bath in a large bowl. Bring another pot of water to a boil and salt it with the potatoes. Add the beans and blanch them for one to two minutes, until they are just tender but still have some snap to them. Remove the beans and plunge them into the ice water to cool. (If you are using different types of beans, blanch them separately as cooking times will vary. Use a strainer to remove the beans from the water so you can reuse the water.)
Drain the beans and add to the potatoes. Pour on the dressing and toss. Taste for seasoning and add more salt or pepper if you want. If you like, garnish with edible flowers.