Elie Harir of The Mediterranean Grill, Part 2

Aug 10, 2011 at 10:00 am

This is part two of Emily Wasserman's Chef's Choice profile of chef Elie Harir of The Mediterranean Grill. Part one can be found here. Part three, a recipe from Harir, can be found here.

Elie Harir of The Mediterranean Grill, Part 2
Kelly Hogan

Did your family cook together when you were a child? Yes, I would help my mother in the kitchen.

How old were you when you started cooking? I started when I was a child.

First cooking job? I worked in a New York Bagel Store in Connecticut, 30 minutes away from Manhattan.

Did you attend culinary school or college? If so, where and for how long?No, all my learning is from experience.

What do you eat? It depends on my mood. Sometimes I like a piece of bread with butter; sometimes I go for nice seafood. You can't find good seafood here in St. Louis, though. I miss the really good, fresh seafood from the East.

What do you cook at home? I don't have time because I'm here at the restaurant by 8:30 a.m. and come home at 10 o'clock at night. I do enough here! My wife never cooked before, and now she does.

What is your favorite restaurant in St. Louis (besides your own!)? Nippon Tei because I love sushi, and the restaurant is close to my house. I usually don't go too far and stay in West County when I go out to eat.

Your favorite restaurant elsewhere? Crabshell, a seafood restaurant in Connecticut

Your favorite food city? New York

Favorite recent food find? Quinoa. I'm going to bring it into the restaurant soon.

Most essential ingredient in your kitchen? Chickpeas. I use them to make hummus and falafel. But also salt, pepper, garlic and onions. Every cook uses these, and they are the main spices I like to use in my cooking.

Five words to describe your food. Fresh, crispy, well-seasoned, flavorful, balanced

One food you dislike. Bacon. It's all fat.

A food you can't live without. Bread. I'm a bread person. I love good, hearty bread -- crispy on the outside, soft on the inside. When you're holding it, you feel bread, not air.

An ingredient never allowed in your kitchen. There's no such thing. I'll put any ingredient into my food that I need to.

Culinarily speaking, St. Louis needs more... Freshness. There are lots of chains, and no freshness. Very few restaurants are doing the cooking from scratch.

Best tip for home cooks. Balance. Go with the feeling and balance your cooking. Follow the recipe, but if you want to change it, go ahead and dare yourself.

Favorite after-work hangout. Home

Favorite kitchen tool. A good, sharp knife

Elie Harir of The Mediterranean Grill, Part 2
Kelly Hogan

What's next for you? Hopefully I'll get more tables at the restaurant. Friday and Saturday night it's packed, and there are people standing in line waiting. It's good to have lots of customers, but also not because we need more space. As we expand we'll look at our options.

What inspires you? Anything. Any idea. I could look and see a recipe or ingredient on TV, and it could bring me to other ideas. I don't mind learning from a student or big chefs if it's going to make the food better.

Chefs who inspire you. Mario Batali

Favorite cookbooks? A Moroccan cookbook that I keep in the back of my restaurant. It's good to use in the kitchen, and to make unique cuisine.

Proudest professional moment? When people come to the restaurant and are eating, and I see that I am bringing them happiness with my food. When people say they enjoy the food, it makes me proud.

Favorite music to have in the kitchen. We don't play music in the kitchen, only in the restaurant. During lunch, we play soft rock, and during dinner, we have instrumental music.

What's on your pizza? I have many different pizzas I like, but one has pesto on top of the dough, fresh mozzarella and sprinkle with diced tomatoes. Another has feta, peppers and red onions. I don't like heavy cheese.

What's in your omelet? Broccoli and cheese

What are you drinking? I don't drink a lot of alcohol. Coke Zero.

What's the most surprising food you've eaten? I've tasted everything from alligator, rabbit, brain of cows, tongue.

What's the most difficult lesson you've learned in this business? Nothing comes easy. There are long hours, and you have to work hard to succeed.

When did you know the chef's life was for you? About ten years ago, I started thinking about it. When I moved back to America from Israel, it made me decide.


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