For the holidays, Jarred Harris will catch a net-full of mullet from island waters, smoke them, then whip them up with homemade mayo, cream cheese, shallots, garlic chives and other “secret ingredients.” He will serve his smoked fish pate with toast points.
Mr. Harris, resident chef at The Community House on Sanibel Island, believes in infusing Florida products into his holiday dishes. Another holiday dish with local flair? Kumquat and cranberry chutney. “It’s easy,” he said. “I like to share simple recipes,” which he does below.
Chef Harris also suggests slicing star fruit, aka carambola, which is in season now, to use in holiday dishes. “The holidays are about being decadent, so dip them in chocolate or caramel. Then the kids will eat them.”
He is all about getting kids to try new foods, eat healthier and even learn how to cook. His monthly themed Young Chefs Cooking Classes are “extremely progressive,” he said. “We make falafel, flatbreads, hummus. There’s a lot of information thrown at them, because that’s how kids learn these days. They get bored with just one recipe, so we do five or six.”
He takes the kids to his garden outside of The Community House, where he grows his own organic products. He gives them a seedling to take home so they can learn about growing their own food. It’s life-changing, not only for the kids, but often also for their parents.
“Some kids are surprised to find out that chickens have bones,” said Chef Harris with chuckle. “They think they only have fingers.”
Of all the programs and events he runs at the Community House, he enjoys most watching the transformation his teaching effects on children. A Johnson & Wales University graduate, Mr. Harris worked at many high-end restaurants on Sanibel Island, including The Sanctuary and Casa Ybel Resort in the 2000s.
As The Community House entered its capital campaign for a $3.2 million renovation of the circa-1927 structure, a not-for-profit members-based social hub, the board of directors spoke to Chef Harris about their vision for a new commercial kitchen and Culinary Education Center. They hired him in September 2017.
“They told me they didn’t have a lot of money to pay me, but it wasn’t about the money for me,” said Mr. Harris. “It was just like a perfect storm. Since I returned from Europe I was looking to teach about responsible farming and cooking.”
He and his wife, Clare, a native Brit, had been living in England from 2006 to 2015. There Chef Harris oversaw operations of a 15th-century coaching inn, restaurant and pub. He admits that the experience spoiled him with farm-to-table and sustainably raised, healthy food.
“I was shocked when I moved back at what was happening in restaurants and grocery stores here,” he said. He had visions of running a small farm, much like his grandparents. “I had gotten used to cooking with everything fresh and in season.
So now, Mr. Harris grows herbs, vegetables and fruit trees at The Community House, and raises a few chickens at his home on Sanibel. He’s at work by 6 a.m. to cultivate the plants he uses in classes for kids and adults, demonstrations, community potlucks and on-premise catered events. Cooking for and with kids remains the most fulfilling part of his job, Mr. Harris said. Perhaps it stems from his days growing up in the Orlando area. He would cook pancakes for the kids in the neighborhood before the school bus came, then quickly clean up so his parents wouldn’t find out. They wanted him to become a lawyer.
He has even added kids to the SWFL Chef Invitational he will host on Jan. 27. The fundraiser pairs top local chefs with his culinary students for a multi-course tasting. “It’s fascinating to them to do things that are different,” Chef Harris said of his young students. “They’re all hungry for knowledge.”
The Community House
2173 Periwinkle Way, Sanibel 472-2155 or sanibelcommunityhouse.net
Chef Jarred’s Kumquat and Cranberry Chutney
8 ounces kumquats (cut into ¼ and seeds removed)
1 (12-ounce bag) of fresh cranberries
1 large onion (fine diced)
1-inch piece of fresh ginger (minced)
1 lemon (juiced and zest removed)
1 cinnamon stick
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
2 cups cider vinegar
1 ½ cups organic unprocessed sugar
1 teaspoon sea salt
Place all ingredients in a heavy saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 35 minutes or until cranberries split. Remove from heat and chill. Best served at room temperature.