Ben Ford is a famous American Chef and the owner of the “Ford’s Filling Station” brand of restaurants. He is also the son of actor Harrison Ford. We spoke with him in Istanbul, where he was on vacation with his family.

Thanks for making time for us during your vacation. How is it going so far?
Thanks for having me. I am really enjoying my visit here so far. It has been wonderful. It’s my first time in Turkey and it is a great experience. The whole family is here, and we are really enjoying it. The people are very warm and friendly. We spent the whole day shopping in the Grand Bazaar. We have been to Sultanah- met and of course the Bosphorus, which was wonderful.

Where else in Turkey do you plan to go?
We planned to concentrate on Istanbul on this trip. I’m a history buff, so there is a lot for me to see here. When we come back the next time we will visit other cities and see what Turkey has to offer. I know that one city does not show you the whole country, and I’d like to see more.

What impressed you most about Istanbul?
That’s really a hard question. Of course, you have a very rich his- tory. To have such a big city in which the historical aspects are preserved and co-exist with the modern life is impressive. Also the people, they have been wonderful. Wherever we went ever- yone has been really welcoming and we made many friends.

What about the cuisine?
The cuisine…that’s an easy one. I’m Mediterranean trained, and this was an extension of it. It was really nice to see the Eastern part and Istanbul sits in between a lot of it. From the street food to the best restaurants, there is great diversity to experience here, and I think we experienced most of it.

Can you tell us a little about your career? You started at a very early age.
I’ve been cooking for 28 years, so it’s been a long career. I’ve seen a lot. I started in the Bay area, around San Francisco, working with a wonderful chef named Alice Waters at Chez Pa- nisse and she really laid down the foundations for me in terms of what we call “from the farm to the table” cooking. My big thing is to close the proximity between the farmland and the back door of the kitchen, to bring that culture into the kitchen as much as possible. These last few years I’ve been trying to concentrate on American regional cuisine. I spent so much time in the same area that maybe I forgot how big a country we have and how much diversity there is in the US.

How did your interest in ‘farm to table’ cuisine begin?
I started cooking with my mom. We always had a garden in the backyard and it was wonderful as a child to get your hands on soil, understand the fragility of life, understand where things come from. And of course when things flourish we had wonder- ful vegetables to cook with. Of course you want to know what to do with it next, and my mother was a wonderful cook. She really was able to help me learn the beginnings of cooking and she really encouraged me.

You also built a garden in the backyard of a school…
Learning is really important to me, and since I had a wonderful experience putting my hands on soil as a child, I wanted to pass that on to the next generation. Our schools consist of a lot of concrete and asphalt. It’s nice for the kids to have a garden to understand how things grow. If you understand how important water is, how nutrients are important, that actually helps you in how you choose to live.


What do you like cooking the most?
That’s really a hard question because I just like cooking and I pride myself in having a diverse portfolio. The majority of what I have been doing these last few years is really my personal style. After 28 years I have a restaurant style which is very developed and is sort of a compromise between my guests and myself. My outdoor cooking style is something that is new to me. It is my next chapter, and it has brought me outdoors, cooking with wood, cooking in an indiginous manner. We have been cooking inside for only about 150 years, so there is a long history of cooking outdoors. We’ve also been raising our own animals for our restaurants and doing that has led me to cooking outdoors, since it is hard to fit large animals into modern ovens. I also developed a cookbook around outdoor cooking.

Nowadays people are living alone, eating alone. You encourage people to have big feasts with friends and family…
My next cookbook is probably going to be about cooking for two. I know there’s a market for it and people will appreciate it. I always want to encourage people to cook, I want to encourage them to have a large table. As a child we always had a big table with kids around it and that’s a magical thing. I try to draw an outline for people to do that for themselves.

You travel a lot. Does traveling contribute to your work?
Yes, I think you take every influence, every experience home with you. I try to expose myself to other cuisines and get myself out of my comfort zone. I knew that coming here was going to wake up my Mediterranean side of cooking. There are definitely things that I will take home with me.

Are you taking back any recipes?
No, I am not. The wonderful thing about cooking, trusting yourself as a chef is that if you know what something tas- tes like, you can go home and reproduce it, and possibly put your own twist in it.

You also build your own cooking equipment. Can you tell us about it?
Yes, I live in a big city and I like to cook outdoors. If I was in a rural setting, I would do a lot of the cooking on the ground. So I build these contraptions to be able to cook in a similar manner in this urban setting.

Which cuisine impresses you the most?
I’m into full flavored cuisine, so the refinement aspects of cuisine are not as important to me anymore. A new flavor, a new ingredient, a new spice… These are the things that interest me the most at this point in my career.

Where else would you like to travel?
It’s a big world out there! At this point I’m also looking to return to places I have been before, to refine the expe- rience. I loved South America. And I would like to come back here as well.

What do you love about south America?
I think because of the wood fire cooking they do so well over there. One of the things about cooking with wood is that it adds another tangibility to the process of cooking. You have to trust in yourself, you have to use your natural senses, touch, feel and smell become very important. I also like the risk factor, I like cooking on the edge I guess.

What are your future projects?
I’d like to write another book, I’d like to do more restau- rants. My main concept is the Ford’s Filling Station brand, and we’re working on some other things that I can’t really go into right now because they are trade secrets, but we have some wonderful things on the horizon and this is the most exciting point in my career.