Go big and go home: That’s the underlying mantra in Ben Ford’s first cookbook, the recently published Taming the Feast (Atria Books, $25).
“I wanted to do something that was bigger than a just restaurant cookbook,” says the chef of Ford’s Filling Station in Culver City (he’s also the son of actor Harrison Ford).
The result was much, much bigger: the book's concept centers around nine large-format outdoor feasts—from Southland-style clam bakes to paella parties to whole lamb roasts—meant to feed anywhere from 20 to 80 guests. Each feast includes a timeline for preparations that stretch out weeks in advance and in-depth instructions for constructing metal-lined roasting boxes and clam steamers made from wine-barrels. There are also recipes for side dishes, condiments, beverages and ideas to what to make from the each meal’s leftovers.
Depending on your outlook, the sheer ambition of these feasts can seem either daunting or inspiring. But for Ford, documenting the full cookout experience was of the utmost importance: “I don’t like underestimating my diners and I didn’t want to underestimate my readers.”
Ford explains that he tested each feast by hosting parties across the city, all located within 10 miles of Los Angeles. The accompanying photography is both beautiful and intriguing. The “Southland” clambake, which makes use of crabs and chorizo, takes place on a long burlap-draped banquet table in a Culver City back alley. “It was one of the best food memories I’ve ever had,” says Ford.
Of course if you’re unable or unwilling to spend weekends at Home Depot constructing a cinder block or sourcing whole pigs, you’ll still find lots of practical recipes under the “Tamed the Feast” section, including Roast Leg of Lamb, Bacon-Wrapped Quail with Jalapeño Stuffing and Cedar-Planked Wild Sturgeon.
Ford also provided us with this recipe for String Bean & Potato Salad below, which is an ideal accompaniment for a summer party—whether you are hosting the shindig or simply bringing a dish along.
If you want to experience one of the chef’s feasts yourself (without all the work) check out Ford’s Filling Station whole animal roast series this summer, which will take place on the last Sunday of every month, starting this Memorial Day and lasting until Labor Day.
String Bean and Potato Salad
FEEDS 8 TO 10
"Bean salads make good picnic food because beans don’t wilt after they’re dressed, the way lettuce does. This recipe calls for a Wisconsin sheep’s milk cheese, Carr Valley. I like to use a domestic product whenever I can; you can use any semi-dry sheep’s milk cheese you want for this."
½ cup MAYONNAISE (page 40) or store-bought mayonnaise
¼ cup OLIVE OIL
2 tablespoons WHITE WINE VINEGAR or apple cider vinegar
2 GARLIC CLOVES, minced
1 teaspoon KOSHER SALT, plus more for the boiling water and to taste
¼ teaspoon freshly ground BLACK PEPPER, plus more to taste
¼ cup finely chopped fresh FLAT-LEAF PARSLEY LEAVES
6 SCALLIONS (white and light green parts), thinly sliced on the bias
¼ cup large shards semi-dry domestic SHEEP’S MILK CHEESE (such as Carr Valley Aged Marisa) or a medium-aged pecorino
1½ pounds FINGERLING POTATOES or other small, thin-skinned potatoes, scrubbed
1 pound fresh GREEN BEANS, yellow wax beans, or a mix
EDIBLE FLOWERS, for garnish (optional)
Whisk the mayonnaise, oil, vinegar, garlic, 1 teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper together in a medium bowl. Stir in the parsley, scallions, and cheese.
Put the potatoes in a pot with water to cover. Add 1 tablespoon salt per quart water and bring to a boil over high heat. Cook the potatoes until they’re tender when pierced with a fork, about 20 minutes. Drain the potatoes and allow them to cool slightly.
While the potatoes are still warm, slice them ¼ inch thick. Put the slices in a large bowl.
While the potatoes are cooking, snip the ends off the beans. Prepare an ice bath in a large bowl. Bring another pot of water to a boil and salt it the same way you did for the potatoes. Add the beans and blanch them for 1 to 2 minutes, until they are just tender but still have some snap to them. Remove the beans and plunge them into the ice water to cool. (If you are using different types of beans, blanch them separately as cooking times will vary. Use a strainer to remove the beans from the water so you can reuse the water.)
Drain the beans and add to the potatoes. Pour on the dressing and toss to coat the beans and potatoes. Taste for seasoning and add more salt or pepper if you want. If you like, garnish with edible flowers.
Copyright © by Ben Ford from TAMING THE FEAST published by Atria Books, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.