Jason French, the chef and owner of Portland, Oregon’s acclaimed Ned Ludd, began his culinary journey on the East Coast. After receiving a James Beard Foundation scholarship to study at Maryland’s L’Academie de Cuisine, he cooked in over a dozen restaurants across the country, taught culinary school, and sold wine and cheese. In 2001, he made his way to Portland, where he fell in love with the Pacific Northwest’s food and wine culture, natural landscape and high-quality ingredients, which inspired the menu at his restaurant, Ned Ludd. You may have seen him on television as a guest on Chopped, Best. Ever. and Unique Eats. His newest restaurant venture, Elder Hall, is a gathering space that focuses on classes, community and conviviality.
The chef shared his thoughts with us on everything from Portland’s changing food scene to how grilled cheese changed his life.
What’s the biggest change you’ve seen in the food world in the past 5 years?
The explosion of restaurants around the country and the world, food itself has not changed much at all, if anything it has returned to some of the flavors and methods of antiquity.
What do you expect will be a big change coming for the food world in the next 10 years?
I think access to quality product and water will be the single greatest priority. There will be a focus on sourcing and sustainability beyond buzzwords .
Who or what has been the most important influence in your culinary career?
My exposure to farmers and farms, and being able to spend time with chefs around the country has greatly affected my style of cooking and business acumen .
What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned in the kitchen?
Tell us about how you got into cooking.
Both my parents worked growing up, and I had a mild obsession with grilled cheese sandwiches. I started cooking eggs and a grilled cheeses and then kept going from there…I started in kitchens as a dishwasher in 1988.
If you could travel anywhere right now, where would you go?
Turkey. It has an amazing history, culture and food .
What’s the most exciting thing in food that’s happening in your town right now?
There are a bunch of great new discerning patrons moving here from other cities and from around the globe. We have a rabid food culture here, and I believe it is only getting better.
Where do you get inspiration and ideas for new dishes?
From the cross-pollination of the seasons, our ingredients, my chef de cuisine Lucian Prellwitz, and the Interwebs!
Describe your home kitchen. How is different from what people might expect?
Pretty simple really — nothing extravagant. We are in the market for some new pots and plates but have all the basics covered. We don’t have a wood-fired oven(!) but do have a Weber Classic and gas grill.
What kitchen tool or piece of equipment do you use most often?
Learn more about Jason French’s restaurant Ned Ludd, and get to know all of the members of the Williams-Sonoma Chefs’ Collective, and see their latest travels, eats, and other inspirations on Instagram under the hashtag #wschefs.