These are the facts according to Co-chair and founder of the new Paella Cook-off, Johnny Hernandez of True Flavors, San Antonio’s effervescent, talented and popular young Chef, and 1989 graduate of the Culinary Institute of America (better known as the CIA).
I. The Culinary Institute of America (CIA) chose San Antonio as the desired location to build its prestigious third campus.
II. Food brings people together.
III. Spain is hot – very chic
IV. Paella is a universal dish, easy and delicious, versatile and plentiful.
V. And finally, Chef Jonny decided to create a landmark, brand new sparkling event around food to support culinary arts students at the new CIA campus.
Today most people seem to love anything that’s casual having to do with food, exercise, art and/or music – and not necessarily in that order. All of these, many times found all in the same place at the same time, with friends and spirited fun-lovers, can bring on endorphins that ultimately make you feel wonderful.
Co-chair Dya Campos, Director of Public Affairs of lead sponsor H-E-B said, “H-E-B is proud to be part of this inaugural event celebrating the rich culinary history of the Americas. The Culinary Institute of America is an icon in the world of culinary arts, H-E-B is proud to be supporting scholarships for San Antonio's own iconic pillar in the food industry.”
Cocina de las Americas at the Pearl Brewery
This one-day community event, to be held on the grounds of Pearl, 11:00AM until 4:00PM, will celebrate the quintessential dish of Spain with a Paella Cook-Off. Cocina de las Americas in an Iron Chef style Paella competition. The afternoon will be filled with live entertainment and highlight the food and wine of Spain including sangria, Spain’s famous hams and cheeses and an array of Spanish tapas prepared by the CIA San Antonio students.
Chefs from across the Americas are coming to cook – meet Chef Ben Ford
Integral ingredients in any cook-off are the chefs. This first year has drawn many talented chefs from across the Americas.
When LA chef Ben Ford arrives in San Antonio’s to participate at the 2010 Paella Cook-Off on March 14th, he’ll be bringing quite an extraordinary resumé from his years in the kitchen.
Renowned chef and restaurateur Ford, known for his sense of craft and great understanding of food, will be a celebrity chef at this year’s Cocina de las Americas. “The people of San Antonio are very much like the people of Spain… both consider eating a most pleasing pastime that should be celebrated and savored,” observed Ford.
While you might catch a glimpse of him on the Food Network, or Iron Chef competing against Bobby Flay, or even most recently the Valentine Special of the Martha Stewart Show, Ben spends most of his time creating new and enticing dishes in his own Ford’s Filling Station in Culver City, Ca.
After an upbringing steeped in Hollywood glamour, Chef Ben Ford prefers to let his food, rather than his lineage, take the spotlight. In meeting him, you are acutely aware of a persona that strongly resembles that of his father, actor Harrison Ford, yet there is something else here. Humble? Shy? There is a calm confidence in this man.
Being the eldest son of Indiana Jones must have been interesting. Early in this first career, he was a baseball player on the same University of Southern California team with Mark McGwire, pitcher Randy Johnson, and NFL coach Jack Del Rio. Ford played first/third baseman and backed up McGwire. A shoulder injury sidelined a promising baseball career while playing for USC.
“At 20 I was looking at my second career,” he said with a hearty laugh.
That’s when Ford pursued his real passion — food. He never had that kind of feeling for baseball.
Ford grew up watching the French chef, Jacques Pepin, on TV, with his mother Mary, and learned to cook. But his formal gastronome journey began after he left USC to study at the University of Dijon in the heart of Burgundy, France. In France and Spain he studied, and gained enormous inspiration about the just emerging Slow Food Movement in Europe that celebrates local and artisanal food and a holistic approach to food preparation. Founded in Rome when McDonalds had the audacity to open a franchise at the foot of the Spanish Steps, the movement is spreading across the world connecting people with local fresh and wholesome foods and correct methods of presentation. (The Pearl’s bustling Saturday Farmer’s Market is a perfect example.)
When Ford returned to the States, he studied culinary arts at the California Culinary Academy San Francisco. To further sharpen his talents round after his formal training
in San Francisco, he went to work with iconic organic chef Alice Waters of Chez Panisse and her impressive staff. He also studied with vegetarian goddess Deborah Madison and even the French chefs at Boston’s Maison Robert to hone his technique.
Ford moved back to Los Angeles and honed his traditional French cooking techniques as Sous Chef at Eberhard Mueller’s Opus in Santa Monica. After completing tenures at the venerable Los Angeles restaurants Campanile and Eclipse, Ford was named Executive Chef at The Farm of Beverly Hills. Here, he perfected his flavorful, earthy cuisine and became skilled in the operations of running a restaurant.
Ford’s entrepreneurial spirit led him to open the acclaimed Chadwick combining his rich professional experience with a lifetime of personal commitment to organics and artisanal sensibilities in the kitchen. His philosophy, “From the head to tail of an animal to the root to flower of a vegetable, the ingredients in his dishes celebrate the cycle of life and freshness of the earth.”
An in 2004, he opened Ford’s Filling Station, a regional American gastropub, based on the fundamentals of cooking, teaching, and foraging (Chef Ford, an urban forager, frequently finds his own ingredients in public areas surrounding the restaurant and his home). There, he utilizes the finest local ingredients to prove that truly good food doesn’t have to be overly complicated. Both Michelin and Zagat recommended, Ford’s Filling Station received two and one-half stars from the Los Angeles Times within one month of opening and, four years later, continues to receive praise from both print and online media.
As with all things hand-made, good cooking requires dedication to a craft. For Ford, forging esoteric ingredients and spending time with farmers is one of the most inspiring and educational parts of being a chef. Digging in the dirt and getting close to nature has also shaped the way he cooks. The garden was his first introduction to understanding the relationship between food and nature. “As a young boy, he was fortunate to be taught biodynamic organic gardening through my school and community. That experience has become an essential part of my soul ever since and has helped me build the foundations necessary for creative cooking.” Ford’s love of gardening and putting his hands in the soil has led to many epiphanies . . . both culinary and otherwise.
While he accentuates the garden and its bounty, he has a profound regard for sustainably-raised livestock and is a major advocate of using virtually the entirety of any plant or animal being served up. Understanding where the food is coming from remains one of his goals as he does charcuterie and whole hog butchering in his gastropub, Ford’s Filling Station, in Culver City, Calif. He’s making his own country smoked hams and creating “One ham lover at a time.”
“The classic techniques, including fine butchery, are being lost and are seldom taught in the industry today. I believe that this knowledge is crucial to a chef in order to cultivate the connection to their profession. There is an intimacy that is lost when a cook no longer works with the whole animal and along with it goes the crucial skills necessary to succeed,” said Ford.
Temperate, patient, and professorial, Ben infuses knowledge and inspiration in his kitchen, focusing on the craft of cooking, nurturing his staff in the flavors of fine dining. Despite the pressures of running a business and keeping the quality high in his kitchen, he seems to have mastered both.
Composing a dish is much like creating a piece of music. As a musical composition is constructed note by note, so is a perfect meal; layering flavors tier upon tier, and finding the right combinations to please the palate. Every mouthful brings a sequence of flavors, each of which is vivid, clear, and precisely defined, one after the other. All the elements unite in a balanced whole, linking them through solid cooking techniques and a few good ingredients. Usually when I arrive at something truly delicious, it’s at the end of my creative playtime or exploration. I’m a fan of big, bold flavors but because I constantly study and learn, I also understand and appreciate the subtleties of flavor and how to prepare each ingredient so their identity is distinct and uncompromised by other influences.
He’s also bringing “an old school approach” to mentoring young chefs who come through his kitchen on techniques like charcuterie. It’s his way of giving back, since his journey included a lot of rather special chef/teachers.
When we asked why come to Texas for this event, Ford answered, “It’s good to get out of your own kitchen and cook on your own, as it helps a chef adapt to different circumstances. It’s also great to watch other chefs he admires as they work.”
As for the Paella Cook-off, Ford said, “The people of San Antonio are very much like the people of Spain… both consider eating a most pleasing pastime that should be celebrated and savored.” Who can argue with that?
Last fall Ford traveled across Spain and noted, “Spanish chefs are willing to take significant risks with their creativity, and therefore stand at the forefront of international gastronomy. With traditional styles as the basis, a contemporary, imaginative cuisine has developed across Spain. Originally Spanish paella was made of locally grown rice with chicken and rabbit and saffron. But today seafood is also used in many varieties of paella.”
When we asked what his paella would be like, he hinted “I’ll create a traditional paella with the local tastes of San Antonio in mind, with an added trick or two.” Well, I can’t wait.
A father and devoted husband to San Antonio native Emily Beretta, the family continually donates their time to charitable food events, such as launching a garden at Farragut Elementary School in Culver City, which is dedicated to teaching students about planting and harvesting an organic garden. Chef Ford also held the respected honor of being a Chef Chair for Share Our Strength’s Taste of the Nation: Los Angeles, an annual culinary festival benefiting Share Our Strength-sponsored food banks in Los Angeles and their goal of ending childhood hunger in America.
OK, so we couldn’t resist. We asked Ford if he cooks for his dad. Ford says his dad enjoys his cooking. "He's a meat-and-potatoes guy, so he likes all the roasted stuff, like leg of lamb. We have dinner together on a weekly basis, and I probably cook for him once a month."
Chef Johnny Hernandez helps to establish San Antonio as the epicenter of Latin flavor, and thinking, “Now, let’s eat some Paella!!!”
Starting a new event in a short time is a daunting task. In looking for the perfect sponsors for the Cocina de las Americas Paella Cook-off, Hernandez looked for companies that demonstrated a genuine interest in food and in the community at large, who have participated in supporting community events in the past. He explained that supporting this event which will provide scholarships for the CIA culinary arts students will give them an opportunity to make a difference in San Antonio. He didn’t have any trouble. Sponsors jumped on board for this one. His effervescent energy and enthusiasm, plus years of expertise drew sponsors who understand the importance of having an institution of such high international regard in our city.
“Whisper the words "road trip" in Johnny Hernandez's ear and he's already halfway out the door with car keys in his hand. You could say that his entire culinary career has been one spontaneous and lucky destination after another,” says the CIA on their website.
“Johnny grew up in San Antonio, TX, where his father, a Mexican migrant worker with a second grade education, had a restaurant. An entrepreneur even as a child, Johnny would take breakfast tacos from his dad's restaurant and sell or barter them at school. Recognizing Johnny's spirit and drive, his father urged him to get the best culinary education he could and become a chef. That encouragement was a precious thing because, in Johnny's Hispanic culture, staying close to family is highly prized. But he listened to his dad and his first stop was the CIA—where he thrived. Naturally, for his externship he chose Santa Barbara, CA. Its allure? A new destination, reached by a long cross-country road trip, and the possibility of surfing when he got there!”
“After graduation the road called again. Johnny headed to Las Vegas, NV where, at the Mirage, he worked as a banquet sous chef under the tutelage of Certified Master Chef Gustav Mauler. Always looking for his next destination, Johnny soon headed back to Santa Barbara and the Four Seasons, a boutique property where he worked with Wendy Little of Mustards Grill fame.”
“Europe beckoned, and in preparation for the biggest road trip of his life, he sold all his belongings. But his dream was dashed when a fire took the building where the family restaurant was located. Johnny cancelled his trip, helped rebuild the space, and took a job as corporate chef at the Old San Francisco Steak House. He traveled around Texas to their four sites developing menu concepts and starting their catering company.
The entrepreneur in Johnny had never really been satisfied, so in 1994 he opened True Flavors—a very successful company with a constant flow of jobs ranging from large-scale events for the San Antonio Convention Center to small private parties. As it turns out, putting down roots in San Antonio was a great decision, making it possible for him to build relationships in his community. He often speaks at the local high schools' culinary classes about the CIA and education. He coaches students who are entered in culinary competitions. And, when he sees a young Hispanic person with culinary potential, he has gone so far as to visit that student's family to explain the importance of formal education.”
“That belief is why he is so excited that the CIA's Center for Foods of the Americas (CFA) is located in San Antonio. Johnny explains that for Hispanic families, it's often financially and culturally unthinkable for young people to leave home to go to school. Johnny feels that "having the CFA in San Antonio is an incredible opportunity for young Hispanics. The CFA will raise the level of education, the capacity of the foodservice help, and the culinary sophistication of the entire community."
“These days, Johnny's wanderlust is limited to the trips he takes as the national spokesperson for the pork industry's Hispanic market. Although, as he says, "catering has all the physical and mental demands of running a restaurant and then you have to take the food on the road." And being "on the road" is just fine with Johnny Hernandez.”
The CIA San Antonio
As of 3/1/2010 this is the list of who’s who of the Paella Cook-off
Visiting chefs include Ben Ford, Fords Filling Station, CA; Waldy Malouf, Beacon Restaurant, NY; Rick Moonen, Mandalay Bay, NV; Hojans Priego, Villarica, Veracruz MX; Peter Holt, Lupe Tortilla, Houston, TX; Christopher Lompo, Christopher’s World Grille, TX; Brooke Brantley, McCain Foods; Michael Giletto, Cherry Valley Country Club, PA; Robert Kabakoff, White Chocolate Grill, AZ; and Ron Duprat, Hollywood Beach Marriott, FL
Local Chefs include Bruce Auden, Biga on the Banks; Jeffery Axell, Grand Hyatt;
James Sanchez, Acenar; Smoky Waters, Taco Cabana; Jason Dady, Bin 555; Brian West, Las Ramblas; Jeff Balfour, Hotel Valencia; Andrew Weissman, il Sogno; Josh Cross, Olorosa; Renee Fernandez, Azuca; Gabriel Ibarra, Cappy’s; and JJ Fiek, DPT Laboratories, Pearl Neighbor
The Presenting Sponsor is H-E-B / Central Market.
Executive Chef Sponsors include True Flavors / La Gloria; Pearl; and the Honorary Consul of Spain
Chef de Cuisine Sponsors include Silver Eagle Distributors; the CE Group
Additional Sponsors include San Antonio Office of Cultural Affairs and Melissa Guerra Tienda Mexicana
In-kind Sponsors include Alamo Travel, Sysco Food, Natures Sweet Tomatoes, Aurelia’s Chorizo, Unifresh, Groomers Seafood, Republic Beverage, Natures Herbs, MTC Inc., Natural Shrimp Corp., Tribesman Pictures, Jon Alonzo Photography, and Mission Restaurant Supplies.
2010 Paella Cook-Off presented by H-E-B on March 14, 2010
Visit their website at Concina de las Americas for details and to learn how to purchase tickets.
Chefs will compete in an Iron Chef style Paella competition. Guests will experience a back-of-the-house view of chefs in the heat of competition. A full pantry of ingredients will be provided and each visiting chef will have a fully equipped cooking station.
Admission to the festival will be $40 sold on a pre-sale basis. At the event, tickets will be $50 at the gate. Proceeds from ticket sales will go toward scholarship opportunities to the CIA San Antonio to benefit aspiring local chefs. A portion of proceeds will also go to the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and the Office of the Honorary Council to Spain for educational initiatives benefiting San Antonio students.
Co-chairs of the event are Chef Johnny Hernandez of True Flavors and Dya Campos, Director of Public Affairs for H-E-B. The San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and New World Wine and Food Festival organizations will also be involved to support and promote the event.
11am Doors open; All food and beverage areas open to guests
11:15am Music / Entertainment begins
11:30am Introduction of competing chefs on the main stage
11:45am Paella Cook-Off officially begins
12:30pm – 1:30pm Live entertainment - Flamenco dancers and Spanish Guitars
1:45pm Introduction of judges; Judging begins
2pm Announcement of 2010 Paella Cook-Off Winner; guests enjoy samples of chef’s Paella; Chef’s mingle with guests; Paella celebration continues
2:45pm – 3:15pm Live Entertainment
4pm Conclusion of event
About the CIA
CIA San Antonio – Created to promote Latino diversity in the U.S. foodservice industry, the CIA's campus in San Antonio, TX provides a variety of educational opportunities. In addition to a 30-week Culinary Arts Certificate Program designed for students seeking a career in the culinary arts, the CIA's southwest campus also hosts Latin American cuisine courses for foodservice professionals and programs for food enthusiasts.