Jeremy Ford of 3030 Ocean in Fort Lauderdale: Interview With the 22-year-old Chef

Categories: The Verbal Nosh
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Jeff Stratton
Jeremy Ford sits in a prime spot, geographically and careerwise. He's chef de cuisine -- that means he pretty much runs the show -- at 3030 Ocean. The beachfront eatery inside the Marriott Harbor Beach hotel is perhaps the swankiest restaurant in Fort Lauderdale. Not bad for a 22-year-old.

Ford landed the job after his predecessor, Paula Da Silva, appeared on the reality show Hell's Kitchen and then split to run the restaurant at the Eden Roc resort in Miami. The big boss -- Chef Dean Max, who started up 3030 Ocean and now oversees a five-restaurant kingdom -- trusted Ford enough to hand over the keys earlier this summer. Ford now handles the day-to-day tasks at 3030 while Max tends to the empire. 

New Times
met up with Ford in the dining room during a brief calm before a Saturday night storm. In a totally awesome interview, he told us how he strategized his way to his current position; how French chefs used to torture him for having long hair and talking too much; and why working at 3030 is the shit!

What is your culinary background?
I grew up in Jacksonville. When I was 9, instead of watching Barney or whatever, my mom would put on the Food Network or The Galloping Gourmet. He was my favorite. From then on, I've been intrigued by food and the happiness it brings people. I feel like I'm doing more than feeding someone. We do a taste menu here that's seven courses, and you can see the glimmer in someone's eye after they've had that experience, especially if they've never had high-end food before. 

It's really exciting for me being back there [in the kitchen], because while I don't cook everything that comes out, I'm at least orchestrating it. But it's intense. These guys will tell you when I do taste menus, it's not fun. It's hard-core. I'm up in everybody's shit. 

In Jacksonville, I worked at a really nice restaurant there called Matthew's, run by Matthew Medure, who came from the Ritz-Carlton. I started working there at 16, illegally. I went to school all day, got out of school, and went straight to Matthew's. It was intense, man. I'd get out of school at 1:30 and start work at 2:15.

Did you like school?
Hated school. Hated school. Just wasn't into school. I knew my ultimate goal was to be a chef, and just from researching school, I knew I didn't need to put myself through four years of a CIA bachelor program to do what I wanted to do. I had friends that went that route -- and one of them works for me right now.

Sometimes the degree isn't really a plus.
It can be a huge debt on your shoulders, and you have to pay that off, and that can add a lot of stress to you finding a job. So I bypassed that. I was 16, working at Matthew's, and I did pantry. It wasn't your normal pantry, though -- I wasn't just tossing salads. It was really high-end. He had carpaccios of tuna, salmon, and bison. I got thrown into that place and didn't know what I was getting into. I was thrown into a four-star environment.

Did you stay there after high school?
Yeah, I stayed there about two years, and then I realized I needed to get out. So in 2002, I moved to Los Angeles. I went to L'Orangerie, which was an immaculate French restaurant. Everyone was French except me and my best friend. We were on a journey to find the ultimate restaurant. That was our goal. We worked everywhere. But when we walked in the doors of that place, we were like, "That's the one." When we walked in, there were huge bouquets of flowers, a piano player, and gold everything... this was like, high-end. When I walked in, I knew, "This is where I'm gonna become a cook."

So I went from Matthew's, where I could barely hold my own, into a five-star, five-diamond environment. I walked in, and they put me on poisson, fish, which is crazy -- everywhere I've worked, I've been thrown into fish. 

It was meant to be.
Yeah, and now I'm here at a seafood place. I know that every step I've taken was definitely meant to be taken. And every place I've landed, I was meant to be there. But the French guys I worked with there were intense. I had really long hair, I was all rockered-out, and they would come up behind me, yank my hat off, grab me by the hair, and slam me up against the wall if I messed something up. If something was not perfect, it was over. They would throw pans, turn the ventilator off -- if we started talking too much, 'cause my friend and I were the only ones who spoke fuckin' English, and it would get a little loud -- so then they'd cut the ventilation system, no fan. 

How did you get from L.A. to here?
I stayed about a year and a half at L'Orangerie. But you can pretty much soak up a chef's knowledge in a year. You see the whole season. So, after a year, it was like a repeat, seeing all the same things. I wasn't a chef yet -- I was cooking -- and my goal was to go and soak up every guys' knowledge in the city. I went to Patina, to their flagship restaurant on Melrose Avenue, so my standards never dropped. I stayed there about eight months because my mother had gotten ill, so that's when I made my way back to Jacksonville in 2007.

What happened?
I got a phone call from my father one day, and he was like, "Dude, I don't think she's gonna make it." And me and my mom are so close -- even now, I talk to her every day.

Was she the first person to teach you how to cook?
Yeah, she drove it into me. We didn't make gourmet food; it was Southern-style cooking. We cooked the best chicken and dumplings you've ever had, the best collard greens and mac 'n' cheese. As a kid, I did homemade dumplings on the countertop, with flour everywhere, man. 

She didn't want me to go to L.A. -- what mother would want her 17-year-old son to move away? But she knew my goal. She said, "I know you're not going out there to party or do dumb stuff." Which, of course, I did. But I worked too. 

It hurt to leave the job at Patina, but I knew I had to be home. I told the chef that day, and he had just offered me a junior sous position in Las Vegas. So I was like, "Fuck, man, this could be a huge thing for me." If I'd gone that route, who knows what would have happened? But family comes first, man. Especially my mom. So I made my journey home. 

What did you do?
I came back, and I worked for my father, believe it or not. He owns a big construction company there. I worked for him for three months, and I was miserable because I had come from all this food and this French restaurant, and then I tried to go and work with these douchebags... They had their own art, and I respect it, but it's not me. They were just dirty and sloppy, makin' a mess everywhere. I was like, "This is not me, Dad." 

How did you get back into cooking?
Well, I went and found this great French guy, of course, named Jean Jacques. I started at the restaurant, Le Paris, he was opening. I came in as the sous chef. When you say L'Orangerie to a French person who knows what they're talking about, it opens up doors. Even with Dean, when he saw it on my résumé, it's a door-opener. When Jean Jacques offered me the sous chef position, I was freaking out. He had a huge Eiffel Tower taller than the ceiling. I was shocked -- I didn't know if that place could go over in Jacksonville. But he didn't want to do super-high-end French style food; he wanted, like, the classics...

French country food?
Yeah, country French, like coq au vin, stuff he grew up eating from his mom. I thought it would be an opportunity to redefine these old-school dishes. I would take coq au vin and remanipulate it, deconstruct it, or do something fun with it but still have all the flavors he wanted. I was there about nine months, and then, at the beginning of 2008, I took over. Jean Jacques came and said he wanted to promote me, have me take over the restaurant. And the chef there was a douchebag -- he saw me as a threat, you know? 

Which you were!
Yeah, 'cause I was impressing the owner, impressing the guests, getting lots of emails... just doing what I do, man. Not trying to push anybody out, just being me. He offered me $600 a week, and I was like, "I'm rich!" I was only 19. Then, right after I turned 20, this food writer came in, and she just fuckin' went ballistic -- I blew her out of the water, and she gave me a two-page write-up in this magazine.

That must have helped your trajectory too.
Yeah -- people read in a magazine that you're 20 years old and you're the fuckin' chef de cuisine? That's really good. It's a really cool trip I've been on. So I took the chef de cuisine position, killed it, and then, toward the end of 2008, I started talking to Dean online. 

And he's probably a tough guy to impress. 
Well, yeah, he knows his stuff, obviously. We started talking, just bullshitting, and then we had this hour-and-a-half-long conversation where he said, "I've got a sous chef position coming available." I already had a chef de cuisine position, but I came down here, and I was like, "This is the shit."

Had you been to Lauderdale before?
No. But I'd always wanted to. I felt like this could be the next big food city. And I think it's evolving into that. It just takes some people here to get out of the steak-house mentality. 

Tomorrow: Jeremy talks about what's wrong with South Florida restaurants, and the one fish he can't face life without.
 

Location Info

3030 Ocean Restaurant

3030 Holiday Drive, Fort Lauderdale, FL

Category: Restaurant


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