His career path led him to the now-defunct Woodfire Grill, where he met executive chef Kevin Gillespie. Together, they opened Gunshow in 2013, where Ward served as executive chef for six years. In 2019, Ward opened the upscale-yet-approachable Southern Belle and Georgia Boy, the high-concept chef’s counter hidden in the back. Both restaurants earned Michelin Guide recommended distinctions at the Oct. 24 ceremony held at the Rialto Center for the Arts.
When he’s not at his restaurants, Ward can be found in his Old Fourth Ward townhome, where he cooks with his wife, Emily Ward, a lawyer, 37, and hangs out with their two pups.
Q: What’s your favorite cuisine to cook at home?
A: I’d have to say Sichuan Chinese. I keep a jar of chili crisp in the house and throw it on vegetables, like charred broccoli, and serve them with chicken. Also, my wife’s favorite food is French food, so I make it quite often, like flounder en papillote.
Q: Does Emily ever cook for you?
A: She does and I love it when she does. She’s a really good cook and we’ll often do what she calls an adaptation of Blue Apron (a meal kit company), where I get the ingredients and then she cooks and I coach her.
Q: What’s your go-to for a quick dinner?
A: One that we do pretty often is something we call “hibachi rice.” I’ll make rice, then take all the stuff you’d get if you went to a hibachi restaurant and throw it in a saute pan. I’ll dice up steak, or chicken, shrimp, and veggies, and a quick blend of soy sauce and ginger marinade before tossing it all together. And you have to have yum yum sauce (a tangy mayonnaise-based sauce). We use store-bought.
Q: What’s your favorite midnight snack?
A: I have an insatiable sweet tooth, and it’s currently banana and Nutella together. I take a spoonful of Nutella and then a bite of banana and just go back and forth.
Q: What are your essential kitchen tools?
A: One thing is called a tomato shark. It’s like a little melon baller with teeth, and it literally has one purpose: getting the eyes out of tomatoes, but it brings me such joy. Something that’s not quite a tool, but I keep a 12-inch roll of industrial restaurant-grade plastic wrap. It’s high quality, for leftovers and such, and it’s thicker and clings better. I also love my cutting board. I got a John Boos butcher block cutting board as a gift and it’s a big, thick, dark walnut cutting board.
Q: Which ingredients do you always have on hand?
A: We always have butter and garlic. We keep our butter at room temperature in a butter dish like we’re from the 1940s, and leave it out on the counter. That way, we always have soft butter. And I like really fresh produce, but I always buy whatever I need for that night’s meal and don’t really stock up on it.
Q: Why do you buy your produce as you go?
A: For me, it’s like, What am I in the mood for? I cook from inspiration a lot instead of planning. So I’ll go in and if some piece of seafood at Publix looks exceptional, then I’ll grab that ... I always go in and see what gets me excited and then build a dish around that.
Q: What do you serve when you entertain?
A: My favorite thing is pizza night. I’ll make a big spread of all the toppings and fixings, a bunch of different sauce options, and then I’ll make dough and roll out balls. I set it up like a station and get my pizza stone really hot. Everyone gathers around the kitchen island and makes their own pizza. I only cook one at a time so we’ll cook a pizza, slice it, eat it, talk about it, and the next person goes and everybody tries everybody’s pizza. It’s always a fun little dinner party.
Southern Belle and Georgia Boy, 1043 Ponce de Leon Ave. NE, Atlanta. 404-698-3961, southernbelleatl.com, georgiaboyatl.com.
Baked Sweet Potato with Blue Cheese, Maple and Bacon
Ward came up with this sweet and salty combination when preparing dinner for himself and Emily one night a couple of years ago. He had baked some sweet potatoes and noticed a nugget of Sweet Grass Dairy’s Asher Blue cheese in the fridge as well as some bacon. It was such a hit that he now serves a version of it at Georgia Boy with a bacon cotton candy (this version is far simpler).
1 large sweet potato, peel on and scrubbed
3 slices bacon
2 tablespoons butter
3 ounces crumbled Sweet Grass Dairy’s Asher Blue or other blue cheese
1 tablespoon Sherry-Maple Gastrique (see recipe)
Sea salt to taste
1 scallion, thinly sliced, for garnish
Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Prick the sweet potato with a fork all over, then bake the sweet potato on a roasting tray for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until the skin yields to a sharp knife. Remove the sweet potato from the oven and allow it to rest at room temperature. Leave the oven at 350 degrees.
In a frying pan over medium-high heat, render the bacon until crispy, about 8-10 minutes. Transfer the bacon to a paper-towel lined plate to drain. Chop the bacon into thin strips and set aside.
Cut the sweet potato in half, lengthwise and return the halves to the roasting tray. Score the flesh with a knife and place 1 tablespoon of butter and 1 1/2 ounces crumbled blue cheese on top of each potato half.
Bake in the oven for about 10 minutes, until cheese is bubbly.
To serve, drizzle each potato half with 1/2 tablespoon Sherry-Maple Gastrique and top with bacon crumbles, sea salt and scallion slices.
Per serving, with Sherry-Maple Gastrique and bacon crumbles: 360 calories (percent of calories from fat, 59), 16 grams protein, 21 grams carbohydrates, 9 grams total sugars, 2 grams fiber, 24 grams total fat (11 grams saturated), 48 milligrams cholesterol, 900 milligrams sodium.
This quick and easy sweet-and-sour sauce makes more than you’ll need for a serving of Baked Sweet Potato with Blue Cheese, Maple and Bacon. Enjoy the remainder over a leafy green salad or on a charcuterie board. You can also freeze it in pre-portioned amounts for future baked sweet potato meals.
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup sherry vinegar
1/4 cup maple syrup
Combine sugar and sherry vinegar in a sauce pot over medium heat. Stirring occasionally, cook until reduced by half, about 10 minutes. Whisk in maple syrup and set aside to cool. Gastrique can be made in advance and refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 2 months, or frozen for up to 6 months.
Makes about 1/2 cup.
Per tablespoon: 52 calories (percent of calories from fat, 0), trace protein, 13 grams carbohydrates, 13 grams total sugars, no fiber, trace total fat (no saturated fat), no cholesterol, 3 milligrams sodium.
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