Canadian Chefs: Steven Harris, two six {ate}, Ottawa ON

by Krlmagi

Chef Steven Harris combines Old World techniques, modern ideas and local products at two six {ate} in Ottawa.

Spending time with his grandmother in her Nova Scotia kitchen was an early influence on Chef Steven Harris. He worked in her garden and watched her making everything from scratch there. It was also his responsibility to cook the family meal once a week. These experiences led to him getting a job as a dishwasher in high school and he hasn’t looked back since.

His views on food and cooking were also shaped by watching classic T.V. chefs like Julia Child, Jacques Pépin and Martin Yan. Harris grew up watching these chefs and being intrigued by what they were doing.

Chef Steven Harris with house made ricotta salata
Chef Steven Harris with house made ricotta salata

Another influence on Harris was travelling with his family as a child. He’s been in every province and most American states but it was a family trip to Europe that opened his eyes to the potential of food when he was treated to dinner at a Michelin-starred restaurant and realized that food could be an intense experience.

 

As a young cook, Harris was influenced by reading cookbooks by chefs like Charlie Trotter, Thomas Keller and Jose Andres.  He also worked with a variety of Ottawa area chefs who helped shape his culinary views. Harris cites Arup Jana at Allium restaurant for helping him to become an independent and confident chef. He also mentions Steve Mitton who brought the “nose-to-tail” approach to cooking to Ottawa and influenced the way Harris approaches cooking meats.

 

Harris describes his food as being new Canadian cuisine. He says, “Everyone’s an immigrant here, so I take ideas from other cultures and try to use them. We’re an amalgamation of what this country is.”

 

There’s also a strong focus on making everything from scratch for Harris. They do charcuterie of all sorts, butcher whole animals and even make their own cheese. Harris points out that 8o percent of what’s on the menu at two six (ate) has passed through one of the cook’s hands at some point. This approach is  “elevated home cooking” that takes traditional techniques to a new level.

Salmon tartare, crispy chicken skin, pickled egg, garden herbs, pita crisps, pickled wild grapes, chickpea miso aioli
Salmon tartare, crispy chicken skin, pickled egg, garden herbs, pita crisps, pickled wild grapes, chickpea miso aioli

The respect that Harris has for the farmers that he works with is shown by the way he tries to use all of the products that they supply for him. He explains, “Charcuterie gives me the opportunity to keep waste to a minimum. We try and take an animal right down to the bone and make something out of every part of it. It’s part of  respecting the ingredients and the farmers that grow or raise them.”

 

Menu planning is often driven by what’s available from Harris’ group of farmers. He’s inspired by all of the vegetables and the proteins that they bring to him. Harris also works with elements he’s seen in other chef’s dishes. He reinterprets the ideas behind them to suit his personal culinary vision. He adds that riffing with his sous chef on concepts that they find “fun and challenging” is often at the root of new menu items. He concludes, “Our approach isn’t scientific but it responds to the time of year and what we think would be interesting and delicious."

Farmers are central to Harris’ food at the restaurant. He works with farmers with whom he’s established long-standing relationships. Many of the farmers will grow specific vegetables for him based on their conversations with Harris. Some of his farmer-suppliers work with even smaller operations and can source special ingredients from “mom-and-pop” farms that don’t have their own distributors.

Surf n' Turf- Calamari, Italian sausage, chickpeas, radish, pea shoots, bean salad, fermented chili, homemade yogurt
Surf n' Turf- Calamari, Italian sausage, chickpeas, radish, pea shoots, bean salad, fermented chili, homemade yogurt

Harris also grows some of his own produce. The restaurant has a rooftop garden where he grows most of his herbs in the summer.  He also grows some tomatoes and all of the summer lettuce in a garden plot at his girlfriend’s parent’s house. From an ethical standpoint, Harris explains, “It buffers the consumption-based model of a city when we’re putting something back in as well.”

 

Harris is confident enough as a chef to know when he’s doing something right but humble enough to know his limits. He works hard and tries to keep organization as a top priority. The fact that he’s not just a cook now but also a manager means that organization has to be key. He sees many young chefs burning themselves out doing “14 hour free stages” and points out that “you need to respect the fact that your craft is worth money.”

 

An assertive personality is something that Harris looks for in the people with whom he works. He says, “If you have a ho-hum personality, you won’t last with me. You should have a positive outlook. You can’t be timid. You need to have a big personality to work in the kitchen, you need to get in there and take your place.”


Trying new curing, preserving and cooking techniques is a major source of inspiration for Harris. He also finds inspiration in the ins and outs of running his own restaurant. In the end, it all comes down to challenging himself. Harris explains, “I’m not formally trained at all. I’ve learned everything through hard work, reading, research and experimentation in the kitchen.”

House made soppressata sausage
House made soppressata sausage
Updated: 07/19/2015, Krlmagi
 
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Dr. Nigel Dalziel phd 19 days ago

Stick is good at cooking stuff. Five stars or spoons or whatever it is you use.

Digby_Adams on 07/20/2015

My grandmas taught me how to cook as well. I loved helping them make Sunday dinner. I think family meals are important in so many ways.

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