I am always fascinated to hear how people got started in their careers. For me, hearing the story and how they had to hustle is nothing short of inspiring. With my first chef interview, there was something about Celebrity Chef, Arris Harris that literally kept me laughing the entire time. From the funny childhood stories, to the work and catering events he’s covered there wasn’t a moment I didn’t laugh. In knowing this, I can see how passionate he is about cooking and how it is an extension of who he is and always has been. With a charismatic personality and a love for cooking embedded so deeply, he makes you want to eat his food. Now, I didn’t have any of it; however, it was energy and his optimistic outlook on how so many things could be going wrong, but as soon as you take that first bite of his cooking, everything is right in the world.
What is it like being a chef and how did you get into the culinary field?
I was eight years old and I came home from school hungry one day. I went to ask my grandmother to fix me something to eat and she basically told me to go fix myself something to eat. And from that moment on, that’s all I wanted to do. The first thing I ever cooked was a fried bologna sandwich and I was hooked. I love doing other things, but cooking is what I get the most joy out of doing.
Most chefs started out doing something in the kitchen. Were you always in the kitchen helping or cooking with someone?
Yes, my grandmother was a housewife so we always had huge Sunday dinners. Then of course, holidays and birthdays we always had food. My grandmother wasn’t a fast cook, but she knew how to cook a lot of things. It’s sad to say, but 90% of my recipes are in my head (laughs)
Well do you have kids you can pass the recipes down to?
You know, I do have kids. I have five children exactly. My oldest, well that’s not happening because she’s not even trying to do any kind of cooking. My twin boys their good on it as well. I mean they know how to cook enough to make it, which is okay with me, but probably nothing past that. My youngest daughter, now if anyone would take over, it’d probably be her. My youngest son, well he’s still finding his way so you know how that goes. Honesty, I probably should write them down, but my grandmother never did so that’s how I cook.
Tell me about the first time you presented your first culinary dish that you felt accomplished about presenting.
I would say probably Hells Kitchen that we had about five or six years ago. It was down at what was The Coliseum and it was more of a friend of mine (Joe Westbrook) who told me I should let people know I can cook. I was down to do it, and told him if he put it together I would do it. Well I never imagined it would be that big. We sold 900 tickets and had a seven-course meal. It was a full production and probably the biggest thing I had done from beginning to end. For me that was huge accomplishment and I was like okay, people know me now.
How did you transition into the culinary field from a work perspective?
Well I’ve always been in atmospheres where it’s a lot of hard work required. Once I graduated from culinary school, I came home and worked for Aramark, Great America Corporate Dining, but I didn’t like the corporate arena.
Yes, I can understand that. I mean, culinary is another form of art and most artists don’t do well in the corporate world. It’s just too structured.
Yes, I agree. I mean I tried, but it was just too much for me. The main reason was because I was in my early twenties, managing 35 – 40 people who were the same age as my father and it was hard for me to reprimand and correct them because they were older than me. And aside from that, I wasn’t in the kitchen cooking and I didn’t like not being able to cook. I loved being at the stations cooking, prepping, and building relationships, but then when I had to go back and do payroll and administrative stuff, I was like I’m not an office guy.
Read the rest of our interview in our latest Eat+Drink issue here.