Top Chef Winner Jeremy Ford Brings Awareness to Miami's Food Deserts

Most of us already post photos of foods we like on social media, so why not take it one step further for a good cause and post a selfie with a fruit or vegetable? Just be sure to use the hashtag #DrinkGoodDoGood, because every time you do, Naked Juice will donate ten pounds of produce to local communities in need. That's a lot of produce for just one photo.

Besides, Top Chef Season 13 winner and Matador Room executive chef Jeremy Ford is doing it. The Florida native was tapped to be the brand's Miami ambassador for the campaign. He's joined by Michelle Bernstein here, as well as star chefs Bobby Flay, Tom Colicchio, Richard Blais, and Tyler Florence in other states. 

The juice and smoothie company's goal with this campaign is to raise awareness about the prevalence of food deserts across the nation. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, a food desert is defined as an urban area where residents have to walk farther than one mile to reach a grocery store or supermarket (or five miles for rural areas). Thirty million Americans, roughly one of every ten people, live in food deserts, and Miami has hundreds of them, including ones in Liberty City, Opa-locka, and Hialeah.

For his part, Ford has been posting numerous creative selfies with fruits and vegetables while encouraging fellow chefs and Miamians to join him in the effort. He not only wants locals to learn about the existence of food deserts in their own city, but also to remind everyone the importance of eating fruits and vegetables daily to promote optimal health. He says he was impressed by Naked Juice's donation of 250,000 pounds of produce upfront to kick off the #DrinkGoodDoGood campaign. 

As a Top Chef champion, Ford realizes his actions carry a lot of clout and says that although he misses being in the kitchen as often as he used to, he enjoys the other side of his profession. "I’ve been behind the scenes grinding for 17 years, and now I get to see the fruits of our labor," he explains. 

One of his goals going into the show was to improve Miami's status as a global culinary destination. He says his win — as well as the work of local talents such as Jose Mendin, Bradley Kilgore, and Niven Patel — is helping the city get noticed.

"I think I did my job, and now we’ve got to keep going. We have to keep opening great restaurants. The variety is also getting better. One of my best friends, Niven Patel from Micheael's Genuine, is opening an Indian restaurant, and it’s not going to be an Indian buffet; it's going to be really innovative cuisine." 

Ford says Top Chef didn't change the way he cooks because he stayed true to what he does best throughout the competition. It's why 85 percent of his dishes revolved around fish. In fact, before the appearing on the show, his mentor and Matador Room's chef/owner, Jean-Georges Vongerichten, advised him to cook from his heart and not to worry about impressing the judges. 

"He’s not your typical famous chef," Ford says of JG. "He’s so humble. I remember it was the first year we were open, and he grabbed a salad that was sitting in the window for a bit longer than it should’ve and   brought it to the customers. I saw that, and it changed a lot of thinking for me. No one is too good for any job, and I’m really glad I got to see that moment."

Even though the Alsatian toque owns upward of 25 restaurants worldwide (and will open ABC Kitchen in the Design District soon), Vongerichten picked Ford and six other chefs to join him in Singapore next month for the Formula 1 race. Each year, JG sets up seven pop-up restaurants near the track and serves more than 30,000 people. Ford was so surprised he asked JG if he had emailed him the invitation by accident.  

Other events the chef looks forward to is his James Beard dinner in September, as well as the Chefs Up Front charity event at the Biltmore Hotel. What's more, Market at Edition, which Ford oversees, is set to hire an excellent new executive chef soon, and Ford is pumped about potential changes at the casual eatery. Then, come December, he'll take his 9-year-old daughter on a Top Chef cruise where he'll compete in challenges and be judged just like in Season 13. He says he's most excited for his daughter to see what Top Chef is like firsthand.  

All in all, Ford is a happy guy who looks forward to all the amazing opportunities that have resulted from his high-profile win. Just be careful not to call him a celebrity chef — he doesn't like that term. "'Celebrity chef' to me means someone who got lucky or someone who doesn’t really know what they're doing but has a good personality. I've been grinding for 17 years — that’s work."  

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