Kitchen Close-Up: Inside Chef Ford Fry's Atlanta Kitchens

Chef Ford Fry

All photographs courtesy of Ford Fry

Atlanta chef Ford Fry has plenty to keep him busy. He has five restaurants— JCT Kitchen, No. 246, The Optimist, King + Duke, and St. Cecilia—with a sixth on the way. He's currently up for a James Beard Award for Outstanding Restaurateur and his King + Duke was recently named one of GQ's 25 Best Restaurants in America. We've loved his Mangalitsa Pig Oreos and pizzas in the past, so today Fry's helping us kick off our new Kitchen Close-Up series by letting us check out the professional and personal items that help make his kitchen sing.

Chef Ford Fry's Gray Kuntz spoon

Irreplaceable small tool or gadget

My Gray Kunz spoon. I'm not on the line much anymore, but when the guys are slammed I'll pop back there, get in everyone's way, pull the spoon outta my pocket, and whip up something. It's an awesome tool for anything: I can cut and sauté and do the whole meal with it. When a cook or someone we've trained up from a dishwasher gets to sauté, we give them a Gray Kunz spoon to tell them they've made it, and the look on their face is awesome. Mine's so old and beat up, and feels like a part of me now.

Chef Ford Fry's Grillworks Grill

Item worth saving a kitchen fire

This would probably be the source of the fire, but I'd rip out my Grillworks grill—I'd jump in the fire to rip it out. You have to really love and baby whatever meat is on a grill, and you can on these—you can crank them up and down and change wood out easily for different types of food. The fat rolls down into this trough that we fill with herbs and lemon slices, and we baste whatever we're cooking with all the fats and juices that have accumulated throughout the night. It takes me back to the time when people were cooking over fires in their homes, getting the taste of their food from smoke and wood and, being from Texas, I kind of have to have wood everywhere around me. I love the industrial look of it. We're working on one for my house now.

Family connection

The wood that's here in Georgia is primarily oak and hickory, but pecan brings me back to my past. When I was a kid we had a ranch in south Texas, and that's how we cooked; we'd go into the woods and pick whatever wood we could find. The smell of mesquite and pecan wood always brings me back to that old, smoky grill.

Chef Ford Fry's childhood journal

Favorite souvenirs

My grandparents were very educational, and took my sisters and me on two trips Europe—England, Germany, Belgium, France. My grandfather paid my sisters and me a hundred bucks a day to write a journal of what we learned that day or what inspired us on our trip. I went back and looked, and my journal is all about the food: "I got pressed duck today" or "We woke up in this guest house and they served smoked meats for breakfast." It was all about what I was eating. I have it up on a shelf now for people to look at occasionally.

Essential ingredients

Salted butter is a staple for cooking proteins. We have unsalted for, say, glazing vegetables, but we use salted butter for cooking meats and fish—it takes it to another level. And fresh thyme, because that always goes in the salted butter when I'm basting meat or mushrooms. I love the good butters—Plugra, Kerrygold—so if I'm going fancy it's one of those.

Secret Weapons

A lot of people emulsify sauces with butter, leaving a pool of butter at the bottom, which is fine and delicious. But I emulsify sauces with brown butter to give them a little glaze, as opposed to finishing with regular butter. People don't know why they like it more, and it could be overwhelming if it was a big dish, but in a little small bite it's so good.

Chef Ford Fry's kitchen

Station that Matters

Dishwashers. I have a strong passion for people, and when I see a dishwasher here I see their family inside them, and want to take care of them, because they're going home at the end of a hard day and taking care of their family. I love talking to them about their heritage and their lives—a lot of times I know my dishwashers better than I know some of my cooks or servers, just because I've got a heart for them and I love watching them grow. I don't know, maybe I'm just a softy.