Renowned chef Peter Ford was told he would not 'make it' with a catering business in Ballarat when he first floated the idea.
Now his business Peter Ford Catering is celebrating 20 years, a milestone that is testament to good, ethical food, a supportive business environment and the growth of the hospitality industry in Ballarat.
"To be in hospitality and to have a single business for 20 years is pretty good," Mr Ford said.
"There are a few restaurants that can claim it in Ballarat quite easily. But as a catering business, everyone said I wouldn't make it. Another hospitality business owner told me Ballarat wasn't big enough to support it.
"It has and it has supported a family of six and countless cooks, chefs and waiters that have come through. It is keeping a good legacy."
Mr Ford trained in Melbourne and Europe's top kitchens in the 80s and developed a passion for fine food.
He worked as sous chef under Gary Jones at Lynch's before heading to the Macedon ranges where he led the kitchens of Bundaleer, The Bentinck and later Campaspe House.
In the Macedon Ranges he began building relationships with farmers and producers, an approach to food that is considered 'trendy' now but was unrecognised then.
This is a huge food bowl here that competes with the likes of the Yarra Valley, so we should be proud of it.Peter Ford
His next step was to the kitchen at the Convent Gallery Daylesford and then to Ballarat where he led the kitchen of the critically acclaimed The Ansonia.
"As a hospitality worker, we had four kids under three and a half. That in itself is crazier than an al a carte restaurant full of people without a dishwasher. We loved it but it also wore us out," Mr Ford said.
"I swore by 37 I would not be cooking for someone in a kitchen due to the hours and commitment."
Mr Ford started his catering business in 2000 after leaving The Ansonia.
He was originally looking to begin corporate training in kitchens, but turned to catering after he was asked to put on dinner for a group who had been fans of his food at The Ansonia.
Since, the business has catered for thousands of weddings, private and corporate events while seeing the hospitality industry in Ballarat and regional Victoria continue to change.
Mr Ford has played a key role in driving the slow food movement in Ballarat and advocating for the use of clean, safe and fair food, ensuring food is environmentally clean, chemical free and people are paid a fair price for their product.
"I hate seeing 50 cent a kilo oranges. My idea of legacy is also about getting people to understand they should pay $8 for a coffee on Sunday because those staff should get paid Sunday rates," he said.
"To pay proper wages in a cafe you need to sell $30 omelettes. Community is driving down price and not caring the kitchen hand is getting paid $14 cash in hand.
"If we stop shopping at the supermarket and go to suppliers, like your butcher and vegetable shop who pay the right price for things, the duopolies won't drive down prices and tell farmers what price they are going to get paid."
Mr Ford said he supported initiatives like Plate Up Ballarat and Eat, Drink, West that were helping to change Ballarat's reputation and view of itself.
"I am a bit over people saying to me 'I am a chef from Melbourne'. There is this culture that we are not as good as Melbourne, yet this is a huge food bowl here that competes with the likes of the Yarra Valley, so we should be proud of it," he said.
"I think Plate Up and Eat, Drink, West does that by trying to connect the producer to the consumer, because we do want to know about our food."
Mr Ford said he had also seen the growth of 'destination dining', with venues like the Royal Mail Hotel and Brae, and had also seen Ballarat develop a great camaraderie within the hospitality industry.
He said he also loved the rise of the inner urban cafes in Ballarat. "Going down Lydiard Street or McArthur Street there is this community stuff again. I think that is a big change for Ballarat," Mr Ford said.
Peter Ford Catering employs 40 staff. Mr Ford said he would continue to work to create a legacy that includes training staff and passing on his knowledge and passion about produce from paddock to plate.
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