Chef James Harris

by Michele Pesula Kuegler | January 13th, 2011 | Chef Interviews

Think Tasty has been traversing the country, finding the best restaurant in each region.  In December, we visited the Mid-Atlantic region and discovered Zynodoa, a fabulous restaurant located in Staunton, Virginia.  Recently, I was able to speak with Chef James Harris and learn more about this dining destination.

Zynodoa has been open for four years with Chef James working as executive chef for the last two months, and as the sous chef for the year preceding that.  Chef James is a graduate of the Pennsylvania Institute of Culinary Arts and has been in the culinary industry for twelve years.  Beyond Zynodoa, he has worked at Inn at Washington and spent a year working as a butcher in Dallas.

One of the features that makes Zynodoa unique is its support of farms in their region.  In fact, you can find a list of these producers on their website.  I asked Chef James how he handles the logistics of trying to source food locally.  He explained, “Parts of it are tough.  Some stuff you have to get from produce companies, such as onions.  We can buy all the onions available locally, but it is not enough.  We go through fifty pounds of onions in two days.”

However, there are benefits to local sourcing.  “Using local vendors, we can’t just call and say what we want.  If they are out of something, we have to be creative.  The whole point of having a farm to table restaurant is to make the best food possible.  We get to keep things extremely fresh.”  He continued, “If it says it is local on our menu, it is local.”

Working with smaller farms, I asked how they handled transportation of the food.  Chef James referred to it as a hodgepodge of means.  Some farms need to have someone from Zynodoa pick up their items.  Several of the farmers have other restaurants near Zynodoa that they supply, so the farms do the deliveries.  Finally, their non-local produce company will make pick-ups from the smaller farms for a nominal fee.  (Interestingly, the delivery of other farms’ produce is the biggest use of the non-local produce company for Zynodoa.)

Having worked in several states, I asked Chef James what he found to be the advantages and disadvantages of that location.  The first advantage he named was the produce.  “You won’t find produce like this outside of California.  You’re not going to find this kind of food.  It is an eden, a cornucopia of good stuff.  Plus, Staunton looks like you dropped a Charles Dickens village in Virginia.  When it snows, it looks like a snowglobe.”  He found no disadvantages to this Mid-Atlantic location.

With a multitude of locally sourced food and a beautiful locale, Zynodoa seems to be a great destination.  Add to that the culinary talents of Chef James, and you can’t go wrong.

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