by Celia Sin-Tien Cheng
March 29, 2007
When explaining his journey as a chef, Harrison Mosher recounts the story of how he found a mentor who believed in him.
Growing up in a musical and artistic family, Harrison was a musician well before he was a chef. He didn’t have any particular affinity or exposure to cooking and similarly the culture of celebrity chefs had yet to be born. But about sixteen years ago, he read an article in The New Yorker on Kerry Simon, who was then the executive chef of The Edwardian Room at The Plaza Hotel. The profile triggered an instant curiosity. He noticed chefs were being portrayed as artists and decided to pursue a new career.
While working a day job at an advertising agency, Harrison started taking night classes at the New York Restaurant School. One day, a colleague from the ad agency mentioned that she’d attended a David Bouley demonstration at Macy’s De Gustibus. David had welcomed anyone there to apprentice in the Bouley kitchen for a day. Harrison’s colleague encouraged him to take up the offer. Though he hadn’t attended the demonstration, he wasn’t about to pass up this opportunity. So Harrison called and set up to go work at Bouley’s kitchen that Saturday.
He started out at the garmanger station, working through dinner service and asked if he could come back the following Saturday. Despite their usual policy of a one-time visit, the sous chef allowed Harrison to come back the next week and every subsequent Saturday for the next two months. One week, the garmanger chef didn’t show up to work. They asked Harrison to set up the station and do the service. Ecstatic, Harrison obliged. David Bouley liked what he saw and offered Harrison a job. That Monday, Harrison quit both his day job and night classes. And that’s how he started as his career as a chef. There’s nothing like on-the-job training!
Harrison flourished under David Bouley’s tutelage. Despite Harrison’s inexperience as a newcomer, David Bouley saw and took advantage of Harrison’s conviction and potential. Harrison did cook at other restaurants after Bouley but no other chef ever made him feel as valued. Years later, Harrison returned as part of the starting crew at Bouley’s Danube, an experience he still cherishes.
Since the opening of Alta about four years ago, Harrison has been turning out interesting and fun small plates. With these tasting portions, he feels he can push the envelope, create daring dishes and let customers experience a diverse menu. Having spent some time in Spain, studying the culinary scene, Harrison considers his cuisine a metamorphosis approach to tapas. He focuses on the level of sophistication in the flavor profile and technique. He finds inspiration in the work of Ferran Adrià and other avant-garde cooking coming out of Spain. He also find inspiration in a million different places within New York — in Chinatown, Kalyustan, or anywhere he looks. Despite the Spanish influence and many inspirations, Harrison considers himself a New York style chef. He draws from his rigorous training in classic kitchens like Bouley and Danube in his everyday work. His creations have become more progressive by playing with semi-dissolves, gelatins and foams, but he doesn’t want the technique to override the importance of the flavor and substance. Keeping the food interesting is one thing, but when technique becomes a gimmick it defeats the purpose.
Becoming a chef was a natural crossover from Harrison’s musician past — for him cooking is both cerebral and manual. He’s found an art form through which he can truly express himself. To what does Harrison attribute his success? He is grateful for the opportunities he’s had, he prizes his solid foundation in cooking, and he doesn’t take blank philosophies to an illogical extreme. Fortunately for us, all of this culminates to the exquisite cuisine we can enjoy at Alta right now.
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