Pearls of Wisdom: Henry Harris

By Joe Lutrario

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Harvey nichols, Chef

Henry Harris, owner of Racine
Henry Harris, owner of Racine
Henry Harris was chef at the Fifth Floor at Harvey Nichols for 10 years before opening Racine – also in Knightsbridge – to widespread critical acclaim

Henry Harris was chef at the Fifth Floor at Harvey Nichols for 10 years before opening Racine – also in Knightsbridge – to widespread critical acclaim.

I was going to be a barrister.​ I thought the idea of arguing for a living was sensational.

My ambitions changed when I saw how lucrative running a catering business could be. ​At the time, Brighton enjoyed a huge conference trade and my parents, who were running a small French restaurant, did well. The lifestyle also appealed – I wanted to work in hotels.

Culinology.​ Where did that come from? A lot of modern high-tech culinary methods – particularly at low temperatures – can create beautiful plates of consistent food. But you’re creating something a production unit could do, and it enables chefs to use a lower skills set. I want everyone in my kitchen to understand processes and tradition.

I was going to go to Swiss hotel school. ​To prepare, I worked as a commis waiter at one of Brighton’s big hotels. I didn’t last long – I’d grown up around good food and was disappointed at the hotel’s offering. But I did learn how to be a bloody good waiter.

There’s a strong element of comfort in my food.​ I don’t cook to brandish my culinary prowess around.

At 19, I got a job with Karl Loderer at Manley’s in Storrington.​ I started out serving the food, but, after watching him work in the kitchen, I soon ended up cooking.

I worked with Simon Hopkinson for eight years.​ Hilaire – Simon’s celebrated restaurant in Kensington – was the best time. There were only ever the two of us in the kitchen. I absorbed so much information over three years, it felt more like 10 years’ worth of work. His enthusiasm is infectious. I like to think I was Simon’s first protégé.

In the guide books, Simon credited me as being his head chef.​ He didn’t tell me at the time and I nearly cried when the book
came out in print.

At Harvey Nichols we could do 300 on a Saturday lunch in the run-up to Christmas.​ It was like being beaten and jailed altogether.

I made mistakes that make me cringe now:​ offering a risotto, a French dish and Asian ingredients on the same menu was the trend. We did it rather well though, which helped.

I now think that there needs to be a culinary identity.​ Restaurants should choose something and stick with it.

Racine wasn’t meant to attract the attention it did.​ Racine is the French for roots, and I had wanted to go back to mine.

Food is fiercely regional in France​ and maintains its cultural and culinary integrity.​I’ve never done a risotto at Racine, but I have
served pasta to children.

When I think of fine dining​ I think of grand, over-designed dining rooms conceived by a consultant who is never going to eat there.

I was lucky enough to go to El Bulli this year.​ It was wonderful, but I wouldn’t enjoy it nearly as much the second time. It was a singular experience.

When you’re working in a kitchen, you’re surrounded by people all the time​ and interaction is constant. Motorcycling, which I love, is solo – if you want to reach your destination alive you can’t think of anything else. It clears the mind.

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