Auburn University taps restaurateur Ford Fry as this year's Chef in Residence for its teaching kitchen

Hospitality students work alongside Fry and chef de cuisine Tom Baco-Wang to create lunch and dinner menus for guests at the university’s 1856—Culinary Residence restaurant.
Auburn Kitchen
Auburn hospitality students will be mentored by Ford Fry, CEO and chef of Rocket Farm Restaurants, in the 1856—Culinary Residence teaching restaurant. | Photo by Heidi Harris.

Ford Fry, chef and CEO of Atlanta-based Rocket Farm Restaurants, is the new Chef in Residence at Auburn University’s Horst Schultze School of Hospitality Management in Auburn, Ala.

Fry is the second chef to take on the year-long role, where he will oversee students at the upscale 1856—Culinary Residence teaching restaurant located in the school’s Tony & Libba Rane Culinary Science Center. He has over 20 years of experience in the industry and currently operates 23 restaurants throughout the South and Texas.

Ford Fry with students

Ford Fry (left of Auburn's mascot) is the current Chef in Residence at Auburn University's 1856—Culinary Residence teaching restaurant. | Photo courtesy of Auburn University. 

1856 serves à la carte lunch every day and a multi-course tasting menu at dinner—the latter a first for a teaching restaurant. Students enrolled in Auburn’s hospitality program work at each station in the kitchen, under the guidance of Fry and chef de cuisine Tom Baco-Wang, along with teams from Auburn dining and faculty.

“My hope is to inspire students to make a culinary career a professional goal,” said Fry. “Many of them are interested in event planning and a few in wine sales, but I want to show them pathways other than group events."

1856—Culinary Residence is a pretty low-stress operation and won’t blow out students, he added. There’s a chef at each station to guide them and Baco-Wang runs the kitchen and executes the menu. Junior-level students provide lunch service, while more experienced senior- level students are on the dinner shift.

Seasonality plays a big role in what is served on the lunch and dinner menu. “Auburn has its own farm and rooftop garden,” said Fry. “Whatever is coming out of the ground determines the menu and we try to change it up every two weeks. We change the ingredients, but not the techniques.”

Currently, the lunch menu includes Shrimp Remoulade, Chicken Schnitzel with cucumber salad and watercress, and Gnudi with pesto, pine nuts, Parmesan and rooftop basil. Prices range from $18 to $29 for entrees, with appetizers such as Chicken Liver Mousse with “stone fruit of the moment” and a Perfect Greens Salad going for $13 to $18.

Tasting menu

Upscale service and table settings accompany the nine-course tasting menu. | Photo by Mason Erwin.

The nine-course tasting menu at dinner runs $110 per person, excluding alcoholic beverages. Master Sommelier Thomas Price is on staff to select bottles from the two-story wine room; he also teaches wine appreciation at the school.

Fry was surprised that there weren’t more aspiring chefs in the program, but admits that when he was a kid, becoming a chef wasn’t on his radar either. “I thought I would be in the front-of-the-house, but after stints as a very bad busboy and server,” he enrolled in and graduated from culinary school.

“We look forward to working alongside these talented kids who are eager to learn and experience and grow. The hope is to see many of these faces working on our own teams when they graduate,” said Fry. “We are always on the lookout for new opportunities—refreshed restaurants, new ideas, new markets—and this one, mentoring students, is one of the greatest yet.”



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