#JustCurious with Chef Lala Harrison
CHEF LA LA HARRISON grew up in both Richmond and Berkeley and moved to Oakland in her early 20s. She was first inspired to cook spending time around her BFF's mother Patricia Curtan who was a sous chef at Chez Panisse and illustrator of Chez Panisse menus and cookbooks. Later, she attended Laney's culinary program and also worked during school at restaurants like Angela’s Bistro and Brown Sugar Kitchen. In 2012, she worked at the former Flora Restaurant and Bar and worked her way up to sous chef. After six years at Flora, CHEF LA LA ran the social enterprise culinary program at Youth Uprising before being inspired to start her own business that will provide jobs for youth in Oakland. CHEF LA LA is currently working as the Executive Chef at Palmetto Restaurant and runs her own business as Executive Chef and Owner of Jusla Eats.
BFiO: Just curious. What is it like being a Black woman in the food business?
CHEF LA LA: Being a black woman chef in the industry right now is a very humbling experience.
[That being said,] I believe that I’m able to be a mentor, mother, big sister and Chef all at the same time. While creating and teaching is a skill, something that male chefs tend not to have is the maternal instinct and I think it’s very important that we have women chefs that are able to provide that sensitive aspect of the business yet remain tough when necessary.
BFiO: What advice would you give to Black female culinary students or self taught cooks about being in the food business?
CHEF LA LA: Keep your head up and keep moving forward. As a female chef there are a lot of people that will try to knock you down but if you stay strong and stand your ground and work hard you’ll be able to achieve and succeed at anything.
BFiO: Name 3 Black women chefs you admire.
CHEF LA LA: Edna Lewis, Carla Hall, Sarah Kirnon.
BFiO: How has COVID impacted your business?
CHEF LA LA: COVID has flipped my business upside down. Originally we were catering and then we moved on to doing meals to go. Currently we are surviving working with World Central Kitchen and a few pop-ups a week; hopefully with the end of COVID we will be able to expand and go back to doing large catering events but also continue to doing pop-ups and feeding the community.
BFiO: What would you be doing if you weren’t a chef?
CHEF LA LA: If I wasn’t a chef right now I would probably be involved in some kind of video production or creating documentaries. I also have a love for photography.
BFiO: What is your signature dish & what is it that you want people to know about this dish?
CHEF LA LA: My Soul Food Burrito.
It’s a burrito with red beans and rice; collard greens; choice of fried chicken, fried catfish, blackened catfish or fried shrimp; green onions; and my house made hot sauce. It’s me taking a little bit of California and mixing it with traditional Southern cuisine. To me, it's one of the future items of Soul Food.