Celebrity chef Ben Ford serves up a dish of diplomacy

PUBLISHED : Monday, 25 November, 2013, 7:56pm
UPDATED : Monday, 02 December, 2013, 12:22pm

Celebrity chef Ben Ford this week has been re-educating Hongkongers about American cuisine as the first US culinary ambassador to the city.

Ford has met local food bloggers and writers, students and the media on his first assignment and has helped feed 1,100 poor children and elderly people around the city.

He is the son of actor Harrison Ford and a member of the American Chef Corps, a US State Department initiative started last year by then-secretary of state Hilary Clinton to use food as a diplomatic tool.

“True American cuisine is very misunderstood around the world.” Ford said. “It’s very diverse.”

The executive chef and proprietor of one of only two regional gastro-pubs in the US, Ford’s Filling Station, said American cuisine was not only hamburgers and hotdogs but differed from region to region, much like Chinese cuisine.

US consul to Hong Kong and Macau Clifford Hart said cultural bridge-building was important and the culinary diplomatic programme was a “conversation” through food. He said more than 100 celebrity chefs had volunteered to serve their country.

“This is China and this is an ancient food civilisation,” he said. “I’ve been a diplomat for 30 years and most of that I’ve been in and around China. And I have consistently found food is a tremendous bridge-builder.”

The programme is also a trade mission. Erich Kuss, director of the consulate’s agricultural trade office said the US was the second largest provider of food to Hong Kong in value after the mainland.

He said US food exports to the city would be worth US$4 billion this year, about half of which would be re-exported. He said meat, fresh fruit and vegetables and dried nuts were the main exports and there had been a growing trend towards natural and organic food in the last three years, spurred by rising income and concern over food safety.

“Hong Kong, a city of 7 million, is the sixth largest market for US agriculture in the world,” Kuss said. “A very important market for us.”