We have a new writer joining the community here at The Pastry Department! Harry Flager has just returned stateside after staging in various restaurants through out Asia. If you know Harry, you know that staging is the foundation of his self structured education, a practice I HIGHLY encourage all young cooks to consider. Heck, old cooks too, and chefs and sous chefs. Everyone go stage!
Harry passed up the opportunity to study in culinary school, instead choosing to study at Columbia University in New York during the day while gaining indispensable experience by staging in New Yorks finest kitchens in the evenings. His summers brought him home to Miami into the kitchen he worked at while in high school, Michaels Genuine. After spending one day with Michaels matchless pastry chef Hedy Goldsmith and Harry’s decision to transition into the pastry department was complete. With an abundance of curiosity and respect for the craft, Harry has made his way to San Fransisco to work for Emily Luchetti, to Chicago to work for me at Blackbird, to Australia to stage under Ben Shewery, to Asia to stage for Will Goldfarb, and now back again to Chicago awaiting a very exciting restaurant opening. To look at the world of pastry through the eyes of Harry Flager is a true privilege, and one day I believe Harry will be able to say “I’ve seen it all” and mean it literally.
Without further Adieu, meet Harry.
What is your name, and what is your current position?
Harrison, technically, but I go by Harry. Harrison is too formal. Harry’s the kind of guy you take home to meet your parents. Harrison? Not so much. I’ve just returned from Asia where I was staging in various restaurants.
What was the first dessert you ever made?
9 years old. The chocolate chip cookie dough recipe off the back of the toll house bag. They were very flat, I remember that. I was 9, after all.
Did that inspire you to a life time of pastry?
No. I thought I was going to be all savory until I got in the kitchen. After 3 months, I thought, “you know what? I’m gonna try out this pastry thing.”
Did you go to school, and where?
I went to collumbia university in NYC. I studied chemistry and Anthropology. After highschool I was planning on going to culinary school at the CIA, and then ended up getting a full ride to Columbia, and decided that turning that down would have been silly. The benefit of Columbia was that I was in NYC, so I could study and stage the entire time.
Where did you stage while you were in the city?
You want every place?! Haha.
Sure, why not.
Le Bernadin, Jean George, Nougatine, Bouchon Bakery, The Harrison, The red cat, Monument Lane, Craft, colochio and sons, Liddabit, which is a candy company. Oh! And Blue Bottle. I wanted to learn how to make coffee.
I had 4 years, that’s a long time.
What did you do after college?
Three days after graduating I packed my bags and moved to Sydney Australia. I went to work with a guy named Nick Waring, a pastry chef. The day after I got there he got in an argument with the owner of the restaurant and quit. The owner of the restaurant handed me the binder and said “you’re the pastry chef now. Go.” I stayed for 10 months, and I wanted to use the end of my Visa to stage in Melbourn at Aticca.
So you staged again?
Well I was already half way around the world, I didn’t want to waste the opportunity. In the same way Manresa can only exist in Los Gatos, Attica can only exist in Melbourn. All the food came from 30 miles around the restaurant, and I really wanted to experience what could only exist in that place. I’ve also never used as much vinegar in desserts in my life.
What has been the most pivitol job so far?
Blackbird. Because I got to fail every day.
Why is failure so important?
Because it allows you to learn. If you go to a restaurant where everything is always perfected and handed to you, you’ll only learn that one thing. IF you go to a restaurant where you are part of the failures you know going forward how to fix anything.
Do you have someone you consider a mentor?
Hedy Goldsmith, for sure. She showed me there is a most efficient way to do everything, if you’re juicing a case of lemons there is a most efficient way to process that. I worked for Hedy the first and second summers I was in college. She’s in Florida, where I grew up so I went home for the summer and worked for her. The second summer they brought me to the Cayman Islands.
Why did you choose this career path to begin with?
I think I fell into it. I knew I wanted to be involved in food, and I knew that started in a restaurant, but I was never dead set on pastry.
At what point did you know pastry was it for you?
The first day I worked with Hedy. I don’t know what it was but something clicked and I knew “this is it.” I was 19. I’ve doubted the financial viability of this in later years in life, but never as a career choice. I mean, you never know, Danny Meyer’s got our backs!
Name one of your favorite cookbooks.
I like the cookbooks that are right between the crème anglaise/raspberry coulis/toothpick, and now. So Charlie Trotters desserts, or the last course by Claudia flemming, the books that are foundational to what is being done now. You realize when you’re doing something you think is new, someone was doing it in 1999.
What was the last dessert you ate?
Last week I went to Lula Café, and I want to shout out Kelly Hellegesen because she does not get enough attention for what she is doing. Her profiteroles with carrot sorbet and hazelnuts, it’s delicious, everyone should order it because she says she doesn’t sell a lot. When I see eater covering Baker Miller for making another donut I just wonder why no one writes about Kelly. She’s really amazing.
I completely agree. Everyone listen up! Kelly’s desserts at Lula are amazing and don’t get the attention they deserve! Chicago’s most underrated pastry chef.
Last and most important, do you have any pets and what are their names, tell us everything.
No, but I want a Lab. I had one when I was young. I might name him Errol, I like that name. Harry and Errol.