Mi-Ri Yvonne Harris is a Los Angeles native, chef and small business owner of Korean and African-American descent. In 2016 she launched her Kitchen Social events via her company, MYH Events & Production. I met with her in March 2017 to get the scoop on this mix between community networking and food prep.
IrinaXara: Tell me a bit about your background in the food industry. What got you here today?
Mi-Ri Yvonne Harris: My background in the food industry began at LA Trade Tech. I went through their culinary arts program and started working in the culinary field almost right away. Once I started doing that, I got in with a few celebrity chefs, and started working at a restaurant in Hollywood that really shaped my style.
Cooking wasn’t something that I had ever done at home previously. My mom cooked all of the food, so until I was 19 years old I never cooked. So, I was very excited when I went to culinary school and realized that I could cook! I’d been terrified of poisoning people but it turned out [cooking] was something that came to me naturally. It ended up being a magical experience, something really special to me, where I could create this tiny world on a plate for one person, and produce an experience that they wouldn’t have ever again. For me that was very powerful.
IX: What are your personal culinary influences? Do you have any specialties as far as creating cuisine? Types of food? Regions? Dietary restrictions?
MH: A lot of my cooking style has been dependent on the situation I’m in; I absorb styles very quickly. Foods are prepared in similar ways no matter what country they’re from, so I’ve been able to pick up a lot of different styles and fuse them into my cooking, using prep technique or flavor profiles that are intriguing to me.
My style and the types of dishes I create are mostly intuitive, taking from my past experiences. I couldn’t say that I have a particular style. The last place where I was a chef emphasized American-based comfort foods made in a gourmet way. Because of that I think the foods I’m attracted to do have a comfort food element or a family-style presentation. Recently I’ve also cooked for gluten-free, diabetic and anti-candida diets. In general, I would say my style is very adaptable.
IX: The main reason I wanted to approach you for this interview is because I’m familiar with your Kitchen Socials, which you’ve been marketing since last year. Please talk to me a bit more about what your Kitchen Social entails.
MH: Kitchen Social includes activities that bring people out of their homes to cook in someone else’s home, or their own, to experience the fun of social cooking and take part in creating a big meal together.
A lot of my Kitchen Socials are centered around us cooking towards one common goal. Some of the kitchen socials are very specific where we’re all making a certain item together, say polenta tamales or empanadas, but we learn to do it as a group. Then there are some of my Mystery Basket potlucks that are not specific, where everybody brings an assigned ingredient, such as a starch or a dairy, but nothing specific beyond that, so they can intuitively choose whatever they feel like having. Then they bring it to the space that we’ve designated for the event. We gather all of the ingredients and we take a look at it sort of Chopped-style, and that gives people a little more excitement and freedom to experiment with food in their own kitchens. The Kitchen Socials aren’t run like classes, but they are educational.
IX: So just to clarify, your Mystery Basket events are a s0pecial type of Kitchen Social?
MH: Kitchen Socials are the name of the events that I hold to get people together. The theme of the Kitchen Social changes. So “Mystery Basket” is an example of one of the themes.
IX: Did your experiences in the past as a personal chef influence the creation of the Kitchen Socials?
MH: It was actually my mom who influenced the Kitchen Social idea! I had started [my business] as event planning initially and had been chatting with a few people still trying to find my groove with branding, and then I started looking at cooking again.
I’d been a chef for over 15 years but hadn’t worked as a chef for several years because of an injury, so I was hesitant to get back to that. When I did start getting back into cooking, my mom popped into my mind with a story she told me about growing up in Korea. Everybody in her village got together to make kimchi in the winter for the neighbors. They would all go over to a neighbor’s house. This was a time that they could socialize and kind of gossip about what was happening in the community and they could get together and do something for their neighbors. They would make all the kimchi for the entire winter for that entire family. Then they’d pick up the next day and all the neighbors would go to the next person’s house, and the next, until the entire village had kimchi for the winter.
I was so inspired by that idea; I couldn’t believe that we didn’t have something like that here. I know that in some Southern states they do have some sort of thing like this, but [as a Los Angeles native] I was trying to create something like that here. Where we could be social, we could hang out, cook fresh foods, have fun and explore.
IX: Are you still working as a personal chef?
MH: Personal chef-ing is very new to me as I’ve always been a chef in a restaurant. So, this has been very eye-opening, giving me a little bit of freedom to make the foods I want to make with my client in mind.
IX: Do you have any hopes or ideas about the future of the Kitchen Socials that you’d like to share?
MH: I see these growing spectacularly in the next few years. I’m hoping to expand this so that Kitchen Socials are autonomously popping up everywhere. I’d like to inspire other people to put together their own Kitchen Socials.
Learn more about Mi-Ri and Kitchen Social events at https://www.facebook.com/MYHevents/.
IrinaXara is a writer, proofreader, social media manager, professional intuitive reader/healer and Middle Eastern dance performer from the Los Angeles area.
See more of her writing at https://irinaxara.blogspot.com.