It is with deep gratitude that we in the MCI community say goodbye to our longtime chef and Assistant Food Services Director, Jason Harris. Jay has graced our kitchen with his culinary talent and welcoming disposition for nearly 28 years. He will be deeply missed by everyone in the MCI family, most notably those who take their meals in our dining hall.
Mr. Harris joined the kitchen staff shortly after graduating from Nokomis Regional High in 1991. He was promoted to the position of Chef after four years and, eventually, to his current role as the Executive Chef.
Among his countless specialities, Jay’s take on various international cuisines have resonated with MCI’s boarding population for years. It’s a skill he says he’s learned through trial and error, a lot of research, and asking for feedback from students. “When I have a student say, ‘this reminds me of something my mom makes,’ that's as good as it gets for a compliment,” he said. “If someone compares your food to their mom's, you know you nailed it.”
Maggie Ren, MCI Director of Admissions, says that for international students, the first thing that comes to mind regarding their experience at MCI is how good the food is and how wonderful chef Jay is to them. Many students know his meals by heart, she says, and they show up at the dining hall just to see the surprise Jay has for them.
“It's getting to know your audience and being positive about your food,” said Harris, “and usually, if you're excited about it, you build that excitement for other people, and they're more apt to try it.”
Jay’s genuine excitement about his food is palpable when he announces the menu before dinners and events. At boarding program family dinners, alumni weekend luncheons, and the like, folks gathered to share a meal can be seen waiting for Jay’s announcement of the menu.
Harris credits his own mother for teaching him to cook when he was seven years old. In addition to taking cooking courses in high school, Jay said he learned a great deal from colleagues Bill Carr, Ed Perkins, and Cindy Wright.
Mr. Carr, MCI’s Food Service Manager, notes Jay’s attention to detail and artistic talent, both skills that he’s applied to his culinary career. These traits, along with years of practice, helped him hone his skills in cooking for large gatherings and events.
While Harris said he’ll certainly miss the kitchen, it’s the people he’ll miss the most. “Watching so many kids grow up is just fantastic. And working with part time students in the kitchen. That's been the biggest reward of working here--seeing the kids and watching people grow up,” he said. “Watching them start off being naive or scared kids and then watching them graduate as young adults is just very rewarding.”
So what’s next for Chef Jay? After almost 28 years of service to MCI, he and his wife are ready to start a new chapter exploring and finding their way. “I want to be creative. I want to work on art, and sculpt, and craft, and still cook for myself at home and maybe even create new recipes,” he said. “I'll fall into a spot and see where it takes me, and then follow it through. That's just the way I've kind of lived my life, and that's the way I'm going to continue to live it.”