Chef Ed Harris Jr’s first visit to Canada was memorable. The St. Lucian-born American resident won the International Iron Chef title last Monday at the 18th annual Hot & Spicy Food Festival competition at Harbourfront Centre.
He was among four chefs in this year’s competition who were challenged to use local and sustainable ingredients from their homelands.
Harris has been cooking for most of his life.
When most of his peers were playing sports, Ed Harris Jr. was quite satisfied to be indoors helping his mother in the kitchen.
“My mom, uncles and grandfather loved to cook and I relished watching them seasoning and preparing food,” said Harris, who represented St. Lucia in last weekend’s event. “Growing up, I always wanted to help my mom in the kitchen and I stuck with cooking.”
The son of a St. Lucian father and Guyanese mother whose entrepreneurial exploits took them to several Caribbean islands while their son was growing up meant that he was exposed to a wide variety of Caribbean dishes.
Edward Harris Sr., who is based in St. Lucia and was counting on his son becoming a fashion designer because he was the only male student enrolled in sewing class in high school and Faye Harris, who resides in New York, spent time in Guyana, Trinidad & Tobago, Grenada, Jamaica and Barbados before returning to St. Lucia.
“I must have gone to about a dozen schools in the Caribbean and my favourite food back then was cook-up rice, pepper pot and all that good stuff,” he said.
Migrating to New York in the late 1990s, Harris completed his high school education and graduated from the Art Institute of New York culinary arts program. He worked as a sous chef at Vong and Michael’s in Manhattan, a chef tournant at The River Café in Brooklyn and an executive sous chef at St. Lucia’s SunSwept Resorts before landing a job as a chef at Buddakan, an awe-inspiring restaurant in Manhattan’s meatpacking district that combines the serenity of Asia with the flamboyance of 16th century Paris.
Opened in March 2006, the upscale restaurant’s menu includes crab sui mei, Cantonese spring rolls, tuna tartare, spareribs, black cod, snapper, tea-smoked chicken, mao poe tofu and fried rice with scallop congee.
“I have always loved Asian food,” said Harris. “After school, my uncles took me to Chinese restaurants in the Caribbean. I also watched a lot of Kung Fu movies. When I moved to New York at age 16, I gravitated even more to Chinese food and culture and I told myself I had to learn how to make fried rice and steamed dumplings. So I was extremely excited to spend five years at Buddakan with a Master Dim Sum Chef who taught me everything I needed to know. I perfected the art of making dumpling, Asian sauces and friend rice.”
While at Buddakan where he also learned about menu planning and development and food costing, Harris won the US$10,000 top prize five years ago in the American reality based television cooking series, “Chopped”, aired on the Food Network.
In each episode, four chefs are required to take a mystery basket of ingredients and turn them into a dish that is judged on their creativity, presentation, and taste with minimal time to plan and execute.
Married to a Nigerian who is expecting their third child, Harris used the monetary reward from “Chopped” and his culinary experience to launch a consulting business.
“I always wanted to be my own boss,” he said. “In this role, I do private dinners at residences, consult for restaurants, train staff, prepare recipes and menus and do team-building exercises using food for large corporations.”
Earlier this year, Harris launched a “pop-up dinner” initiative in Atlanta, where he resides with his family.
“We do from four to six course dinners that could be Asian, Italian or just vegetables at awesome locations once a month,” he said. “It’s a ticketed event with an open bar and people enjoy it. It’s different and something that they will not experience at a restaurant.”
On his first visit to Canada, Harris was the second St. Lucian chef to participate in the hot and spicy food festival that explores global cuisine as innovations in food production and preparation advances towards a highly specialized art form.
Certified chef Shorne Benjamin, who has a degree in finance and resides in New York, represented the Caribbean country last year.
With tourism being St. Lucia’s leading economic sector, emphasis is placed on exposing chefs to international training.
Chefs Stephenson Charles and Niguel Gerald of the Sandals Regency La Toc and Sandals Beach Halcyon Beach Resort, respectively, participated in last month Liaison College of Culinary Arts five-day international culinary tour program in Toronto.
They were exposed to courses in advanced kitchen management, molecular cuisine, product identification, classical dessert & cuisine and food & wine pairing.
Last year, Nina Compton – the daughter of late Prime Minister John Compton – was appointed the island’s first culinary ambassador. She was the runner-up in the 2013-14 edition of the award winning series, “Top Chef”.