Chef Jeremy Ford is Livin’ It Up on truTV’s Fast Foodies

Fast Foodies, photo provided by WarnerMedia
Fast Foodies, photo provided by WarnerMedia /

If you’re at all like me, the pandemic has caused television watching fatigue and left you either bored with the medium or in a desperate search for something fresh. For me, truTV’s Fast Foodies appeared at an opportune time, mercifully breaking my boredom logjam. Thanks to the obvious chemistry that exists between show hosts Jeremy Ford, Kristen Kish, and Justin Sutherland, Fast Foodies delivers.

Acclaimed chefs all, Ford, Kish, and Sutherland exhibit the talents that have made them successful in the kitchen and on our television sets while allowing themselves to be immersed in the levity that ensues in each episode of Fast Foodies. In the case of Jeremy Ford, the fact that his Miami Beach-based Stubborn Seed restaurant is lauded as one of the city’s finest and that he won Top Chef California doesn’t remotely preclude him from embracing the show’s much lighter tone.

It’s that culinary versatility that compelled me to ask Chef Ford what his initial reaction was to being asked to do Fast Foodies with Kristen Kish and Justin Sutherland.

“So many emotions actually. For me, you know, out of the three of us, I do a lot of fine dining, right. I mean, Kristen does a lot of fine dining and then you have Justin who’s really just raw awesome, you know, a whole hog, barbecue, and stuff like that. So for me, I’m definitely the one who’s a little bit more tweezered out. But you know, when I first heard about it, I’m like, how’s this going to look, as far as my style and branding and so on and so forth, but then I’m like, man, there’s just something really comforting to know that everybody can relate to this show. Right? Like, you know, everyone; doesn’t matter if you’re poor, rich, actor, a dishwasher, it doesn’t matter what you do or who you are.

I think everyone has had some sort of relationship with like fast food, you know? So, after I sat out for a couple of days, I thought about how fun it could be, especially with those two on the other end. I was like, no, I gotta do this. And, and I think it’s like, as chefs, once in a while we’ve gotta stop being so worried about what everyone else is going to think. It’s having a good time with it, man. You know, like if it’s something you’re passionate about and you obviously have seen the food we’re doing, it’s not super easy stuff. Some of the dishes are of incredible quality. So, it was a big challenge though. As easy as it may look, it was very, very difficult.”

If you haven’t had the pleasure of catching Fast Foodies yet, what may seem pretty basic in theory both informs and entertains in its execution. Each episode features a celebrity guest, often a comic or comic actor, who presents Jeremy, Kristen, and Justin with their favorite fast food item. Their first cook involves them attempting to replicate the chosen dish, with a second go-round in the kitchen freeing them up creatively to reimagine that same menu item.

Season 1–and I’m assigning the number because the show’s success and Chef Ford’s non-answer answer to the question leads me to glean that a second season is in the offing–has featured the likes of Conan O’Brien sidekick Andy Richter challenging the chefs to tackle McDonald’s Filet-O-Fish to Community star Joel McHale tasking them to recreate a favorite from his midwestern childhood, Portillo’s hot dog to Dawson’s Creek heartthrob James Van Der Beek’s beloved In-N-Out burger & fries. Each episode builds to a crescendo with the celebrity guest naming one of the chefs that week’s winner of the prestigious Chompionship Trophy for their re-engineered version of the assigned fast-food favorite.

Fast Foodies is a self-described “celebration of guilty pleasure eats and late-night cravings”, yet the show wouldn’t succeed if not for the genuine chemistry between the chefs that jumps off the screen, a dynamic that can’t be forced or faked and one that I asked Jeremy Ford about.

“When we first arrived there together, we had never really done much together. We didn’t have a history of fun at, you know, partying at events or cooking together. But, I’m a very outgoing person and probably the easiest person to get along with. I think what I bring to that trio is just like a big smile and a hug. That’s kind of literal and physical, but I’m just a guy like a big Teddy bear when it comes to cooking and being around new people that I don’t know.

I’m super easy to get along with, so once we sat there and had this awkward silence because this is all COVID going on. We all have our masks on. We’re all scared. And because of Justin’s big, beautiful beard, you can see it, like this mask couldn’t cover, his beard was like fraying out. He’d be like a mad man. And, literally, I said, man, can I hug you guys? Y’all got COVID tested. We’re all rolling negative. I’m like, can I hug, can I, can we, can we hug this out? And it’s like, it was a big like group hug. And then that was the moment I think we started on this journey together. We got the awkwardness hug out of the way. And we said we’re going to create something really fun here. And I think that from that moment on, it was nothing but laughing, you know, strategies, how do we make this fun and how do we have a blast? And then there was no script for that. No one gave us a script saying, ‘Oh, you know what, it’d be funny, Jeremy is, if you act like a complete goof and can’t say Portillo’s’ or, you know like you can’t fake that. Right?”

As I mentioned above, Jeremy Ford won season 13 of Top Chef, leading me to wonder what it’s like being judged by comics on Fast Foodies versus the culinary professionals that comprise judging panels on Top Chef.

“Well, some of our celebrity guests are foodies and you can tell. Joel McHale is a cook. Fortune Feimster is really into food. I mean, in some of the comments that were said, I was like, oh wow, this guy knows what he’s talking about. You know, he’s talking about the sear and the resting, and then you got some of them who have no real clue about exactly what they’re judging as far as the fine-dining side of it, but good food is good food, Brad. And I think, no matter how you dice it, who’s judging it. there’s always going to be a dish that all four of us could say, yeah, that one’s better. I take their criticism just as seriously as I would from Padma or Tom.”

Fortunately for Chef Ford, the dark clouds that have hovered over the restaurant industry since the pandemic began early last year have begun to clear, as diners are returning to Stubborn Seed in large numbers. But circumstances definitely took a toll on both Jeremy and his staff.

“The mental side was rough because I mentor a lot of younger individuals that are kind of coming up into this industry. And I had a couple of suicide calls, man, you know, it makes my goosebumps come up. I had a guy call me up. And it was very close. He was at that point, that turning point where it was just time and he’s like, man, I don’t really have anything to live for. I’m just calling you to tell you. I’m sorry for the way things ended. And I was like, whoa, whoa, wait a second. Like, you know, it’s not that bad. We’re going to get through it. I actually met him and we sat down, we counseled him through it.

And I just, I remember leaving that day saying like, I wonder, what if I didn’t answer that phone call? Ya know? Like, I mean, I’m that important, but like, what if I wouldn’t have been that shoulder to lean on or that phone call or that a little bit of guidance. We as chefs, play bigger roles than we think we do. You know, I think our influence on this next generation of chefs, we have to be there. We have to be empathetic. We have to be of a different mindset because I didn’t go through this when I was 20 years old. You know, what would I have done? So, as chefs, we do have a bigger responsibility. And I think now and forever, to make sure that our next generation is well taken care of in a mental capacity. And also, you know, a physical learning capacity. We have to continue to learn and grow with them. So, we play a big role.”

Chef Jeremy Ford is obviously not just used to playing a big role, but he embraces it, as is evidenced in the success he’s enjoyed and continues to enjoy. Whether as a front-facing chef with his own restaurant or a competitor on Top Chef California or now on Fast Foodies, Jeremy has clearly found his culinary lane.

And if you haven’t seen Fast Foodies yet, I implore you to catch it on-demand or on truTV’s website where full episodes are available, because I think you’ll join me in finding the show’s irreverence and the synergy between Jeremy Ford, Kristen Kish, and Justin Sutherland to be just the recipe for must-see food television.

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