The Caribbean chef makes vegan cuisine more appealing with his Asian spin.
For many celebrity chefs, a restaurant they can call their own is the ultimate dream. For chef Ed Harris, winner on Food Network’s hit cooking show “Chopped” (season 4), that sweet spot is actually in the consulting world. He brings almost two decades of experience as well as his expertise in vegan and vegetarian cooking to the hospitality industry. Originally from the Caribbean island of St. Lucia, he worked in the famed Buddakan in New York for five years, where he developed a passion for Asian cuisine and trained to perfect the art of cooking dumplings and Asian sauces.
Winning with Vegan
Harris showed an interest in cooking even as a child and before his family moving to Brooklyn, New York. Smitten by the city he has called home since age 16, he never left. Although he never thought of it as a career, a presentation by the New York Restaurant School left a lasting impression. It was the first school by the Art Institute at the time and he was 19, graduating from high school. Harris didn’t plan on summer vacation that year and instead enrolled right away, charting a course in the culinary world that has worked well for him. He has worked in restaurants since and has always been in the culinary field.
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The Caribbean transplant’s passion for Asian cuisine has been an obsession since childhood. “Since I was a kid, I was obsessed with Asian culture, food, martial arts,” shares Harris. “I loved cooking and eating and it just came naturally to me to cook that type of food, so I immersed myself in it. My pantry cabinet now has at least 60% Asian ingredients.” His pursuit of Asian flavors has taken him to China, Japan, Thailand, Korea, and India, where he loves the curries. A meal at home includes lots of stir-fries with broccoli, cauliflower, mushrooms, bean sprouts, noodles or noodle salads, or fried rice and dumplings.
The focus on vegan and vegetarian cuisine isn’t a new road for Harris; he has been on a mostly vegetarian diet for almost ten years. “A lot of people I knew growing up, including myself, thought vegetables didn’t look appetizing. I felt it was my personal mission to make them delicious,” he says. His family also transitioned fully to vegan after watching the documentary “What the Health” on Netflix, which examines the link between diet and disease. “It showed us what I already knew but had no proof about the dairy and meat industry, and for overall health, I thought it was beneficial to go that route and we just kept with it.”
The Consulting Life
Unlike other chefs who typically open their own space or partner with others in the industry, Harris has chosen a different approach, offering consulting services back to the industry itself via his firm Chef Life Consulting in Atlanta, Georgia. He addresses everything from staff training to updating menus and a host of other offerings for restaurants to function efficiently. For Harris, this was hitting two birds with one stone as it helped create more time to spend with family while also still being involved in the industry he loves. “Consulting is fun, it’s the best of everything. You are always fresh with ideas and you get to be more creative,” he says.
For one client in Atlanta, Harris helped address ticket times. The problem was orders taking 30-40 minutes from the time placed until the food got on the table. He was able to regroup kitchen staff in terms of having mise en place prepped and ready ahead of time, so it made pulling orders easier. Even while working at Buddakan, Harris worked with the chef there to bring down labor and food costs. Tackling problem areas such as staff management during busy and slow times, structural layout for good workflow, employee satisfaction and other aspects that affect the overall profitability of a restaurant business are all part of his repertoire.
Creating Spice Seasonings
Recently, Harris released a line of spice seasonings, Faye’s Flavor Enhancers, named after his mother, Faye. The line includes garlic powder, onion powder and bay leaves among others. In early spring, he hopes to launch a new line of all-purpose seasonings based on the places he has visited. Options include Indian, Chinese, African and Spanish spice mixes – all flavors he likes to cook with custom combinations created under his brand. He is quick to admit the process of launching one's product line can be equally enjoyable and tedious. Paying attention to details such as private labeling services and pricing for bulk buying are vital, he shares.
Meanwhile, Harris is focused on bringing to fruition a couple of new projects he is consulting on, including an all-vegan spot in Atlanta and possibly penning a book from his experiences. Along with these developments, Harris is intent on producing more content but differently. He already shares vegan and vegetarian recipes and insights on his blog and is also trying to create an “audio recipes bible or collective” via a podcast called Veganish. He releases new vegan recipes weekly, walking listeners from start to finish of a whole recipe. “I focus on putting out content [so] that people can learn how to make vegan food better and tastier.”