New Model Ford
Fortunately, Dad savors every dish his son serves up. "Ben's always been very self-critical," notes Harrison, who admires his offspring's intensity in the kitchen. "That's what led him to perfect his skills." Indeed, Ford, 31, has risen through the ranks of some of Los Angeles's best restaurants, including hot spots Campanile and Eclipse. Celebs like Steve Martin and Dennis Miller are big fans, while regular folks line up at lunchtime to watch Ford in action in the Farm's open kitchen and to sample his signature American-fare dishes such as a lobster club sandwich with apple-wood smoked bacon. Ben also has big plans for a recipe book, a TV show and his own restaurant in the future. "I got my push from my dad," says Ford, who admits his drive stems partly from a desire to escape his father's shadow. "I feel a lot of pressure to be successful on my own terms."
For the younger Ford, that has also meant not trading on his famous name. "Ben never remarked on who his dad was," says Eberhard Müller, famed chef of New York City's fabled Lutece as well as Santa Monica's now-defunct Opus, where Ford was a souschef in 1993. "But even then I knew he was a winner. He was adventurous and had a real flair for cooking." Now that Ford is known in his own right, "he's happier and more comfortable being in his dad's light," says his wife, Elizabeth, 31, a TV news producer. "Now they can both be proud of each other."
It took a while for that rapport to develop."I was an inadequate husband and father," the elder Ford told Parade magazine in 1988. Ben remembers a gruff but loving man—"pretty strict, but not unfair"—who helped him and his brother Willard (now 28 and a kung fu teacher) build tree houses around their L.A. home. Ben's love of cooking derives from his days plucking vegetables for his mother, Mary, then a teacher. "She had me helping in the kitchen when other kids were playing football," says Ford, who cooked his first meal around age 4. "A pork chop," he recalls. "I put it in the oven and asked my mom when it was done."
While in grade school, Ben helped his family make ends meet by appearing in commercials; at the time, his father was a struggling actor and part-time carpenter. Then came Star Wars, which sent his dad's career skywalking in 1977. Two years later, his parents divorced. Ben lived with his mother but often visited his father's movie sets.
At the University of Southern California, Ford's hopes of baseball stardom were dashed when he blew out both his knees as a junior. "I had to look for something else to do," says Ford, who realized he "always loved the creativity of cooking" and soon came up with a plan. "Instead of whining, Ben just said, 'I'm going to go to culinary school,' " recalls the former Elizabeth Winkler, then a USC journalism student (she married Ford in 1993). Ford went on to study at the California Culinary Academy before a yearlong apprenticeship at Berkeley's Chez Panisse en route to the Farm.
These days, Ben is even getting more comfortable cooking for his father, either at his own Mediterranean-style Hollywood Hills home or at Harrison's place in Jackson Hole, Wyo. "It's a struggle for me to be satisfied with anything," he admits, "but I am becoming more proud of myself." After all, recovering the Lost Ark is one thing, but producing a perfectly fluffy duck-egg omelette? That's skill.
John Griffiths in Los Angeles