Comfort Food: Chef Anthony “Tony” Harris
by Paul Wolf
From the age of four, Anthony Harris remembers his mother’s kitchen.
A piece of cut-off broom stick would serve as his rolling pin, kneading dough into flour tortillas. His first “masterpiece,” conical shaped pancakes, would be for a red-headed school girl he was infatuated with at the age of 12. She wasn’t impressed.
Fast forward a decade and Harris’ culinary prowess would come to trial again, this time in view of a chef who was testing him during a job interview. “Do you know how to make puff pastry?” Harris recounts in a thick French accent. “‘Why, yes, Chef,’ I explained, step by step, a puff pastry preparation in a traditional manner.” When Harris later offered that it could be store bought these days, the old chef, teasing the new one, knew he had found his man.
“Chef Tony,” as he is known these days, is the Chef and Operations Manager of Food Service at St. Dominic’s, a position he has held almost 22 years.
Just out of high school, Harris, working a landscaping job by day, subbed for a friend at a high volume seafood restaurant in Florida at night. His first job in the kitchen was washing pots and pans in a 500 degree kitchen, a window with a gulf view serving as his only ventilation.
When his son was a year old, Harris’ wife, Wynette, asked him what he wanted to be “when he grew up.” “I wanted to go to culinary school and her response was, ‘Let’s go!’” he remembers. Harris would learn his trade in Hyde Park, New York at The Culinary Institute of America.
After school, with his wife’s roots in Jackson (he, an Air Force brat living all over the world), the pace and the hospitality of the South were a “no-brainer.”
The couple moved to Jackson where Harris’ first job was at 400 East Capitol working with Grant Nooe and Nick Apostle. It was during the International Ballet Competition and Harris remembers learning so much from this “dynamic duo.” Looking for more full time work, he found an opening for sous chef at Colonial Country Club and was there for four years.
It was on those trips up and down Interstate 55 he watched the west tower of St. Dominic’s being constructed, musing he may one day end up on that bluff. He calls the last two plus decades “a blessing and Godsend.”
Harris’ main focus and concern, he says, is meeting the nutritional needs of the patients, guests and staff of St. Dominic’s. He calls this mission “a key ingredient in the healing process.”
“Hospital food has a certain stigma,” he laughs. But his hope — working with doctors and dieticians — is to help lead patients on a path to better dietary well being.
Most rewarding to Harris is the chance to give back. St. Dominic’s works with Fondren Renaissance’s Symphony at Sunset, Habitat for Humanity, The March of Dimes, Mississippi Children’s Home and Gleaners, among others, to offer food service and philanthropic assistance. And every four years, Harris gets the chance to cater the Governor’s reception for the International Ballet Competition. “See how things come back around?” he notes.
It’s the same adage that relates to the love he and his staff pour into what they do. “It’s a blessing to get that little note from someone who appreciated what we did. It helps put things in perspective and remind us of the impact we can have through a smile or an extra effort of comfort.”
Tony has the GREATEST FOOD KNOWLEDGE of any one I have ever known. GREAT CHEF and SUPER NICE GUY to boot!