This guy not only whips up amazing concoctions à la a “tribute to the beautiful woman”—Bittersweet Chocolate Crème finished with crushed, candied violets, hazelnut sherbet, praline syrup and cassis meringue (winning him Food & Wine magazine’s People’s Best New Pastry Chef 2012)—he snaps pictures of his culinary creations all day long, then goes home and posts them on his luscious photo blog, Butter Love and Hard Work. While baking and prepping, the chef says, he’s already composing the photographs in his head: “…that light shining on the powdered sugar just so…” (Foodies, do not miss this one!)
We talked to Chef Ford about cooking with, and for, kids—a topic dear to his heart, since it was his grandma who ignited his passion for baking.
FS Family: So your granny made you the chef you are today?
CF: No question. She would pick me up from elementary school and I’d stay with her til my mom got off work. She’d mostly be baking and I’d join her. In fact, I was more excited to get out of school to do that than anything else! She loved to have fun, to research. About twice a week she made white “butter bread”—definitely my favorite. I started making bread when I was six. My first childhood memory is food.
FS Family: Describe your “it” moment.
CF: The first time I saw yeast and grasped the science behind it. It was mind blowing to mix yeast and water, and then, an hour later, have this giant blob of dough. That started everything for me. It’s so simple, but so good.
FS Family: We have to ask, why did you name your blog, “Butter Love and Hard Work”?
CF: I love this question! After the three pillars of my life: my grandmother, my mother and my father. My success so far is based on the great attributes I got from them. Hard work is my mother’s work ethic. Butter is my grandmother, because she gave me the culinary bug. Love is my dad: whatever he did, he loved it, owned it and was very passionate about it.
FS Family: You have such fond memories of baking with your grandma… how can we parents create those with our kids?
CF: Cook together on the weekend when you have time. Do a big batch of something like chicken noodle soup. Give the cold roasted chicken to the kids so they can pull apart the meat. It’s super hands-on. That’s why I love banana bread. Do a bunch of banana bread, then freeze it. Or give your kids a bit of bread dough and have them knead it, then watch it rise. You can freeze the baked loaves, too. Pizza dough is a great one as well.
FS Family: And for those of us who cringe when the kids start dropping eggs everywhere and creating havoc in the kitchen?
CF: I always liked to mix and get my hands messy. Just give in to it. Give a banana to the kids and say, go to town! Mash it up, use your hands and smoosh it, whatever… I can just imagine the smiles. Plus, it makes the bread moister because it’s not puréed. Even with cookies, little ones can cream the butter and sugar with their hands.
FS Family: Clearly, you are the king of sweet decadence. What about today’s fear of indulgence in our culture?
CF: I think it’s all in moderation. What I always set out to do when I started blogging two years ago was I wanted to change the way Americans view desserts. Food is so manufactured today. It’s miles away from the kids eating it: they don’t know how it’s made, where it’s made. And a lot of is all sugar; you don’t really taste the strawberry, just pure sugar. Even if you’re baking at home with the kids, you don’t have to use a box mix with processed ingredients. Make a great banana bread with honey versus a pound of sugar. Make real sweets, not like the kind out of the vending machine.
FS Family: How to strike a healthy balance and restore joy around eating?
CF: Planning ahead. It’s definitely healthier to eat at home and buy local ingredients. Make big batches on the weekends and freeze. Make one dish, then use parts of it for other dinners that week. Make a soup. My dad always made chili and we’d eat through out the week in various dishes (OK, by the end, we hated chili!). The American way is: quick and get it to go. But that’s so bad for you. Go back to all natural, and simplicity. Introduce healthier ingredients to the kids that they may not be familiar with.
And getting together around table is so important. Cook and gather ingredients together. Make something up and say, let’s bake it. And just laugh at whatever comes next.
FS Family: We love your creativity: using steeped wood to evoke “the aroma of a freshly broken branch.” How can we inspire our kids to tap into theirs?
Kids can get especially creative with cookies. Take a simple chocolate chip recipe and let them add a bunch of ingredients; invent their own cookie.
FS Family: What’s the best recipe to make together with kids?
CF: Ice cream. You do need an ice cream machine, but it’s so versatile. As long as you have the correct base, you can put anything in it. If you give the kids a blank canvas, it lets the creative side speak: what flavors do you want? Go to pantry and look. Then they get to taste their idea. For me, that was always the most amazing thing: I thought of this and now I get to taste it. It’s like exploring the kitchen.
FS Family: Anything else?
CF: A lot of people think restaurant food is difficult. Or our desserts are too fancy. But it’s really no different from home recipes. Some might take longer, but for the most part, it’s simple stuff in an elegant way. Don’t be intimidated. Be adventurous. It’s not hard!
FS Family: Describe your relationship with food.
CF: Definitely obsessed. Passionately obsessed.
FS Family: What’s the best aroma in the kitchen?
FS Family: The yuckiest?
CF: Burnt sugar.
FS Family: Choose one: a piece of bread or a slice of pie?
Granny’s Banana-Nut Bread from Chris Ford, Four Seasons Hotel Baltimore
This recipe is my grandmother’s. It’s better after two days because of the moisture, so I reworked the recipe to make it just as moist out of the oven. It’s a great kid-friendly recipe. It’s super simple to make—just wet into dry ingredients and done—and there’s no right or wrong. The batter feels weird because the bananas are gooey—I mean, I’m smiling about it and I’m 27! I add pecans, but grind them up so that you get the essence, but not the big chunks. (I hated nuts as a kid.) You can enjoy it for breakfast, snack or dessert. Here at our Four Seasons café, we grill it French Toast-like so it’s crispy outside, with a moist center. We top it with cinnamon-butter and butterscotch syrup, or try honey or any syrup you like.
Spray three loaf pans with non-stick spray or line with and parchment paper, if desired. Scrape off vanilla bean and rub scraped vanilla bean into sugars. Mix all dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Separately, mix together all liquid ingredients, then add to the dry ingredients while mixing with beaters on low speed. Be sure all ingredients are evenly incorporated. Scrape the bowl to thoroughly combine. Fold in pecans last. Distribute batter into prepared loaf pans. Bake at 350 degrees F for 45 minutes. Lower oven to 325 degrees, and continue baking until internal temperature reaches between 195 and 200 degrees F. Makes three loaves. (These freeze really well.)
This is a great soft pretzel recipe. You can do it in loaves, as twists or pretzels. You put it in a baking soda bath: dunk for 30 seconds to a minute, then egg wash, salt and bake it. Baking gives the pretzels that golden brown skin and that special flavor, which comes from the baking soda bath. It’s not complicated. And they freeze well. I actually developed this recipe for brunch just messing around. I researched it and threw mine together by combining other methods.
Combine all dough ingredients, except salt, in a Kitchen Aid mixer and mix on low speed for five minutes. Add in salt and mix on medium speed for another five minutes. Transfer dough to a greased bowl and let stand at room temperature for one hour, or until it has doubled in size.
Punch down the dough after it has proofed. Cut off about four ounces of dough and roll into long strands. Take the two ends of the dough and pull them towards you, forming the classic pretzel shape. Transfer onto a greased sheet pan and let them proof for 20 minutes.
While the dough is proofing, bring water and baking soda to a boil in a large pot. Drop the pretzel in the boiling baking soda bath for 30 seconds. Transfer onto greased sheet pan, brush with egg-wash and sprinkle with kosher salt. Bake pretzels at 350 degrees F for 10 to 12 minutes; they should be a beautiful golden-brown color when they are done. Serve immediately and enjoy warm! I like to dip mine in a nice, spicy mustard. Experiment with dipping sauces with the kids. Makes 12 pretzels.
Read more on Baltimore in Four Seasons Magazine.
Read more on Chef Chris Ford in Four Seasons Magazine.
Chris Ford is Executive Pastry Chef at Four Seasons Hotel Baltimore. A graduate of Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Orlando, FL, Ford gained experience in kitchens throughout the Washington, D.C. area before joining Four Seasons’ Wit & Wisdom. But critical acclaim is nothing new for him. As the pastry chef of Trummer’s on Main in Clifton, VA, Ford was named one of StarChef’s “Rising Stars.” Ford describes his aesthetic as “elegant nostalgia”—his ode to PB&J takes the form of brioche macarons filled with cassis jam.
View all posts from Chris
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