Co-Owner: Ford’s Filling Station
9531 Culver Blvd.
Culver City, CA 90232
Yelp: 3 stars
Interview Date: Thursday, May 13, 2010
Benjamin Ford grew up in the Hollywood Hills in one of those houses where the kids came over to hang out and stayed for days. Benjamin’s mom fed them all with fresh food often sourced from her garden. It was in this environment that Benjamin became interested in food. “I was as likely to be found in the kitchen as in the backyard,” he says.
The only competing passion was baseball, at which Benjamin was talented. He played through high school and then while attending the University of Southern California (USC). When the head coach moved on in his junior year of college, Benjamin dropped out to pursue a major-league career. Unfortunately, he got hurt while pursing his major-league dream and had to abandon it before getting very far.
Reconnecting with his love of cooking, and partially fueled by a short stint working at Greens Restaurant when he was 15, Benjamin headed to San Francisco and “banged on every back door to try and convince someone to hire me,” he says. He was hired in the kitchen Raff Restaurant, and then heard of an opening at Chez Panisse and immediately applied.
When his application was rejected, he wrote a letter, begging them to hire him. They did, and he spent two years under the tutelage of Chef Paul Bertolli. “I learned integrity and responsibility at Chez Panisse that has impacted me in a big way,” says Benjamin. “In many ways, it set the precedent for how I work now.” After two years at Chez Panisse, Benjamin left to work at the Skywalker Ranch. “It was a cool place – they had wild horses there for effect,” says Benjamin. “It was there that I started to embrace the coastal Marin lifestyle.”
In 1993, Benjamin left San Francisco after six years to open Opus Restaurant with Chef Eberhard Mueller. “Working with him, I learned more refined cuisine – more subtle flavors and delicacy,” says Benjamin. “He was a wonderful chef from whom to learn how to cook fish.”
Benjamin left Opus to take what he calls a “money job,” working at a corporation of seven restaurants located from San Diego to Pasadena. “I wanted to learn the business side of restaurants,” says Benjamin. “I had a great window, but did very little cooking.” Moving on, he joined Chefs Mark Peel and Nancy Silverton at Campanille. It was at Campanille that Benjamin regained his passion for cooking. “It was my first time being part of a ‘super line’” he says. “It was amazing – there were no slouches on that one. I regained my passion for cooking and learned about production. It was a very challenging, excellent working experience.”
After a few more jumps, Benjamin finally achieved his entrepreneurial dream and opened Chadwick restaurant in 1999 with colleague Govind Armstrong, with whom he had worked at Campanille. “It was a little house on Beverly Drive, and we won multiple awards almost immediately,” Benjamin says. “We assembled a superstar team and created an organic vegetable garden in the back yard.” The servers were all expected to harvest and connect with the food, with the idea that their understanding of the ingredients would translate to the guests. “It was then that I took on the notion of reconnecting people with food sources,” says Benjamin. The team sold the location (now Urth Caffe) but have retained its name; 11 restaurants have been opened by its former employees to date, including Wilshire (Andrew Kirshner); Grace (Neil Frasier) and Table 8 (Govind Armstrong).
With Chadwick as a strong foundation, Benjamin was looking for a new concept when he discovered the emerging gastropub trend. “Ford’s Filling Station (opened in 2004) was the second gastropub in the U.S.,” he says. “The emphasis is on keeping the community connection of a traditional pub while elevating the food and service.”
At Ford’s Filling Station, “craft is really important, and we do as much by hand as possible,” says Benjamin. They also work with “whole animal” techniques – bringing in whole pigs, deer, rabbits, and chickens among other animals. Benjamin has also personally visited all of the farms and dairies that supply the restaurant. “We focus on teaching everyone about the ingredients and building a connection with the food,” says Benjamin. “This way we can really challenge the guest.” Some challenges include menu items like a whole pig dinner and head cheese.
Benjamin is already seeking opportunities to extend the gastropub concept into new areas – specifically, he is interested in opening a Moroccan/Indian-themed gastropub and a Mexicali gastropub.