Editor’s note: Every Friday, HLN brings you the "My First Time" series. It explores the first time your favorite celebrities did something significant or memorable (so get your mind out of the gutter!).
HLN: What was the first meal you remember preparing that made you fall in love with the art of cooking?
Ford Fry: We’d go down to Louisiana and hunt and go crabbing. I remember one time, we came back with 100 crabs. We started picking them and I’m thinking, “This is a nightmare — I hate picking these things.” But we made a seafood gumbo that was just awesome. And at that point, I said, you know what, I love this!
HLN: How old were you when that happened?
FF: I was probably 18.
HLN: What advice would you give to someone who’s 18 and wants to become a chef?
FF: Go work for the best places and don’t worry about the money right now. If you work for the best places, the money will eventually come. It’s like making an investment -- it’ll come later. So keep money out of your mind and work your tail off.
HLN: You’ve worked for some of the best places around the nation (as executive chef at the Ritz-Carlton in Aspen, Houston, and Naples). What advice would you give your younger self?
FF: I was pretty loyal -- I probably would have made a few more moves to different restaurants. I did work all over the country, but I probably would have wanted to at least save up something and do a year not necessarily in Europe, but maybe in an Asian country, somewhere where there’s a lot of different flavors that we don’t see much here. I wish I would have done that.
HLN: Is traveling what inspires you the most?
FF: Traveling through the West Coast, East Coast, Europe, the South, I got inspired by so many different types of food, but now it’s the entire experience. Starting a restaurant is probably the most inspiring thing. Everything from the décor, the graphics, the food. I mean, the food is always No. 1, but there’s also music. I make playlists for every restaurant. Whenever I have any free time, I’m downloading new songs that I think fit the restaurant.
HLN: Which songs are topping your favorite playlist right now?
FF: Well, at The Optimist, I didn’t want to be too kitschy. It’s obviously a seafood-centric restaurant, so instead of playing a bunch of Beach Boys, which I think would be kind of hokey, we’re playing a lot of stuff that just gives you that feel of “I’m on vacation, I’m relaxed.” It could be anything from Dick Dale to Incubus to even some reggae. Music that just makes you feel good.
HLN: After having cooked for decades, what’s your favorite meal that you simply enjoy making?
FF: You know, I’ve been on this nacho kick. Friday nights are my nacho nights. I go really simple: I grew up in Texas so I’m just doing a really good cheddar cheese, home-pickled jalapenos, and sometimes what I really like is good smoked bacon. That works well on a late Friday night where I don’t have a ton of time.