Bolsa Chef Jeff Harris on the Food Network Effect, Go-To Spots and the Mercado's Future
Recently we sat down Bolsa chef Jeff Harris at the new sister store Bolsa Mercado, which is a neighborhood market with unique items, Texas fare, good booze and a bevy of fresh from-scratch breakfast, lunch and dinner options. Harris grew up in East Texas surrounded by farmland, eating his grandparents' farm-to-table meals. After culinary school in New York City and a seven-year stint at Craft (NYC and Dallas), he's leveraging the locavore movement in Oak Cliff.
Chef Jeff Harris
Where did you grow up?
In East Texas, a small town outside of Longview.
How did you get into cooking?
Both my grandparents were great cooks, they lived on a farm and my mom's parents had a dairy farm with huge gardens and my grandmother was always canning stuff. I actually went to college at North Texas, graduated and worked in real estate and for a bank for a few years, but when I was at the bank I was literally reading menus all day. I started watching the Food Network and the Travel Channel and then looked into culinary school and just had a feeling that was what I really wanted to do. So, I went to culinary school in New York City (The Institute of Culinary Education).
Did you enjoy going to school in New York City?
Yes, it was great because it was near a farmers market and surrounded by all these great restaurants. It was a great experience. I was there for three years and after I graduated I did an externship in Austin at Hudson's on the Bend, but they just didn't have any room for me there, so I went back to New York and got a job at Craft.
Working there was really eye-opening. When you get out of school you realize how much work it is -- you just have to stick your head down and work. It was pretty intense and we were super busy, so it was definitely very difficult but also an amazing experience. Then after three years I moved down here to open Craft in Dallas.
How did you end up at Bolsa?
I left Craft last January, then me and Matt went to open RedFork, then left shortly afterward and came to Bolsa in September.
How has the Dallas food scene changed in four years?
It's definitely evolved in the four years I've been here. There's the older guard -- Stephan [Pyles], Dean [Fearing] and Kent [Rathbun] -- those guys are still doing amazing stuff and they keep pushing. Stephan is doing different stuff all the time. Then there's also a group of younger chefs, like David and Lucia, Tim at Smoke, Tiffany, Jay and a lot of people that are offering different things. I think it's a very exciting time for the city.
Do you think the Dallas diner helps grow and sustain the local food movement?
I think so. I think part of it is that more people are aware, they're also more health conscious and know more about different types of food. I know it's challenging getting farm-to-table food here. When you talk to farmers during the summer, they just don't have anything because everything is dried up. But, as far as farmers markets and stuff, you see places popping up like Local Yocal in McKinney. Here at Bolsa Mercado we've been reaching out to people who do local things. That's why I was so excited about this store, it's really a platform for a lot of local food.