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Chef Ed Harris has Chopped, Shopped and Cooked His Way to Culinary Fame

Vegan-ish Chef Ed Harris of Chopped
From St. Lucia to the Food Network, with many New York culinary high posts in between, Chef Ed Harris share his journey to “Veganish” in Atlanta today.

Buddakan. Jean-Georges. James Beard Foundation. Food Network. You had me at Dim Sum Chef Ed Harris! Apparently, we met about ten years ago in the form of the edamame dumplings at one of my favorite New York restaurants Buddakan. Thanks to multi-yearly culinary sojourns to New York with my friend Karen, we made a pilgrimage for those dumplings no matter what.

Chopped Chef Ed Harris on Chef Life Consulting

So, you can imagine my excitement when Chef Ed Harris, one of the famed Chopped chefs agreed to join me on my ICONIC HOUR with Renee Dee podcast. We had a great chat about his story, his passion for immunity-boosting vegetables during the times of Corona virus and his new restaurant consulting business.

Chef Ed Harris won the Food Network’s CHOPPED Chefs “Turbot Powered” Season Four and Iron Chef International. He participated in 24-Hour Restaurant Battle, and his team won. He attended culinary school at Art Institute of New York City after spending years in the kitchen in St. Lucia cooking for his family as a boy.

LISTEN TO OUR ICONIC HOUR PODCAST: CHEF ED HARRIS SHARES HOW TO BOOST YOUR IMMUNITY AND CREATIVITY WITH VEGETABLES

Chef Ed Harris’ unending passion for cuisine has come from working in top New York kitchens, especially his ten years at Buddakan serving as Executive Sous Chef and Dim Sum Chef. Today he is a Consultant Chef, and his eclectic background allows him to play an active role in the planning, creating and supervising new restaurants. I share highlights from my interview here.

"I just felt very comfortable in the kitchen from a very early age, nine or 10, and it was not a big deal. "

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MEET CHEF ED HARRIS
Born in St. Lucia, this Chopped Chef’s passion started young. “Looking at my grandfather, my dad and my mom, everyone in my family cooks, and they are really good at it, too. I just felt very comfortable in the kitchen from a very early age, nine or 10, and it was not a big deal. One day, I over-salted the beans, and I magically fixed them. That got me really intrigued with how you can manipulate ingredients, and I just kept going,” he says, cooking Caribbean-style rice and peas, fishes and soups.

Chef Ed Harris Chopped Champion

Harris’s family moved to New York when he was a teen, and he smiled to share the story of how he got to culinary school. “I had culinary classes in high school, and at that time I didn’t realize how good I was, according to my teachers who encouraged me to look into being a chef,” says Chef Ed Harris.

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modern vegan food by Chef Ed Harris

The Art Institute (called New York Restaurants School then) visited my school, and it opened up my eyes to things you could do as a chef. And I thought, man, this is awesome,” he says and got started right away, spending two years in school. “It gave me the opportunity to just go to amazing places, that’s how I got to cook at James Beard Foundation, and it has opened up a lot of doors for me,” he says, noting stints at Michael’s, Jean-Georges and River Café.

“I loved working, and between jobs, I would get cabin fever, and I just had to go find a job. I used Time Out New York as my guide with every restaurant listed, and I would pick the neighborhoods and the restaurants that I liked, and then I would send my resume to them,”says Chef Ed Harris.

“I’d always wanted to work in an Asian restaurant at this the time,” says Harris who launched his career at Buddakan based on temp work in the kitchen and the drive to gain experiences where he learned something. And learn he did, working for five years along side of Chef Yang Huang Master Dim Sum Chef at Buddakan who he says, “taught him everything.”

Asian inspired food by Chopped winner Chef Ed Harris

“What I found at Buddakan; it was like home. [When I left] it was really emotional, because we’re all a family there, and I built these relationships at this amazing place to work,” he says. It was Chef Brian Ray, who also helped him get to a Chopped chefs interview.

“Food Network has an office in Chelsea Market, and we’d see each other in the hallways. One producer approached Chef Brian Ray, he knew it would be amazing for me if I got it, and he even trained with me,” says Chef Ed Harris. “My training was more along the lines of having random ingredients given to me and using my brain to come up with something quickly that is a cohesive dish,” he says, adding this approach provided life-long learning, too.

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"For me, it really helped me learn to deal with pressure of just being thrown into a situation and having to calm yourself down internally to be able to focus and just get something out that you can be proud of.”

“On Chopped Chefs, you have 20 minutes to come up with an idea and a dish, execute it and do four plates that look good. So, there’s a lot of things going on in your head at the same exact time. Meanwhile, you’re burning up hot, because the kitchen is like 90 degrees. You have a heavy chef coat on, water is boiling, and the ovens are all on at 500 degrees, so there’s a lot going on in the kitchen, too. For me, it really helped me learn to deal with pressure of just being thrown into a situation and having to calm yourself down internally to be able to focus and just get something out that you can be proud of,” says Chef Ed Harris.

Chef Ed Harris Vegan-ish cooking and consulting

And even the ingredient combinations proved challenging. “The dessert round was the most challenging. They gave us cheese, rutabaga, frozen cranberries and English muffins,” he says, adding a creative idea of adding brie to whipped cream saved him, by stabilizing the whip cream so it didn’t melt on the plate while waiting for judging in the hot kitchen. For the dish that won Chopped chefs Season Four, he did a traditional Asian technique on steamed fish with aromatics and hot oil paired with purple cauliflower with wasabi roasted on the outside.

Chef Ed Harris of Chopped plates asian inspired food

Chef Ed Harris went on to do more competitions, including Restaurant Battle, which he won with a play on noodles two ways—boiled and fried to create different texture. Then he did a chipotle-jalapeno rub for the chicken, which he smoked to give it an outside barbecue-inspired flavor for the spicy challenge. Yum.

Competitions have informed Chef Ed Harris’s menu design, and he says really knowing how to treat vegetables has been his inspiration. “Before I even turned vegan-ish—I like to say that because I’m not a hundred percent vegan—but a lot of people don’t realize that vegetables can be really delicious and appealing. If you’ve been eating over-cooked, gray vegetables prepared by someone that doesn’t know how to cook them, you kind of get tainted.

“My big thing after competing on Chopped Chefs is convincing people a new way of understanding how to treat vegetables and how to cook them without overcooking them. They can still be vibrant in color and properly cooked,” he says.

Plus, eating vegetables promotes our immunity from disease. “Your gut flora does its thing way better when you’re getting a lot of fruits, vegetables and fiber in your diet, because that’s what it feeds off. For me, I’m always cooking with ginger, chilies, garlic and onions, that provide so many nutrients, benefits for the immune system as well as tons of flavor,” he says.

Chef Ed Harris of Chopped plates vegan food

When Chef Ed Harris is off the clock, he keeps the cooking simple at home. “There are a few things we always have. My wife is Nigerian, so they do a tomato sauce, but it’s called stew. We always have that in house, and I make pasta with that. We eat steamed Jasmine rice, sautéed spinach with lots the garlic.

I do a quinoa salad with charred corn and tons of mushrooms. I love mushrooms, and they’re so good for you,” says Harris, who moved to Atlanta in 2012—a great place to source local ingredients. “I have a local farmer and all he does is grow mushrooms—the most impressive mushrooms I’ve ever used and eaten,” says Harris who goes to Buford Highway Farmer’s Market. “It’s an international market, and they get produce from Asia, Africa, the Caribbean, you name it.”

So, for a guy who is vegan-ish, Chef Ed Harris says the “ish” comes from not being able to give up being a classically trained chef, who has to check out meat dishes every once in a while, because he is always tasting, trying and analyzing food. “I do miss cooking meat. When I was in Dubai, as a chef, I had to try the lamb, but at home, I don’t ever cook with meat, eggs or dairy,” he says.

Harris is now sharing his expertise with others in his consulting business, Chef Life Consulting created to prioritize family time when his first daughter was born. “I didn’t want to leave the culinary business because I love cooking,” he says. He’s worked with clients across the country, and today he is working on a restaurant in Atlanta that he is excited about.

Chef Life Consulting by Chef Ed Harris

“There’s nothing like it at the moment. Its vegan food done very clean without the heavily processed items people lean toward when vegan,” he says, noting progress on the restaurant halted with Coronavirus.

His time is focused on creating recipes for clients and an occasional special pop-up experience. When Chef Ed Harris is not in the kitchen, he is working with his wife in their hair business taking pictures. They also take time to give back by doing makeovers and donating wigs for women with cancer. Then he cooks for the women with their husbands or families. In his spare time, he works with Autism Speaks, his church and currently homeschooling his three quarantined kid with his wife.

And remember, in life, what Chef Ed Harris learned at Food Network works for all of us: keep calm when the heat is on, focus on the ones you love most and following your passion is the spice of life.

plant based diet by Chef Ed Harris

And speaking of quarantine, Chef has a number where people can text him and get vegan recipes or quick tips to make life easier in the kitchen with audio coaching at 404.838.4405. His best advice? “Cook ahead, pre-chop veggies and make sauces you can freeze. Just eat vegetables and fruits. Juice if you can. Build your immune system up. It’s better if you can get it fresh produce, and if not get it dried, not canned.”

And remember, in life, what Chef Ed Harris learned at Food Network works for all of us: keep calm when the heat is on, focus on the ones you love most and following your passion is the spice of life.

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