Dinner is Served: Meet Linda Sarris, The Cheeky Chef

Linda Harris _Cheeky Chef_ NYC

I met Linda, aka The Cheeky Chef, back in July just hours before she jetted off to Italy for 72 hours. As we settled into a West Village cafe for a late lunch,right off the bat, I was drawn to her and her energy and knew we needed to work together. Any person that enjoys, eating, traveling and meeting new people, I'm a huge fan of! I told her immediately about an idea I had for an "oyster shucking" event in NYC that I had been toying with hosting later in the summer. As an “Oysters 101”, everyone would learn how to shuck their own oysters and make the classic oyster sauces... and I wanted to call it, "Go Shuck Yourself." Linda, as a fan of mediocre puns herself, jumped on board to teach the class.

Like all great entrepreneurs, Linda didn't start her career as a chef. She had a typical corporate job and developed an itch for something greater. Pretty soon she launched her side hustle, which has evolved into and now her full time job. Read more about Linda's journey to becoming The Cheeky Chef and we hope to see you on August 29th for our “Go Shuck Yourself” event at Coworkrs Gowanus.

1. How did you become The Cheeky Chef?

The name itself came from working with a lot of British friends on a cruise ship during university. I started a food blog, The Cheeky Chef, to write about all the exciting things I was discovering while traveling around South America and Europe. When I moved to NYC for a job in book publishing, food blogging as a hobby became more of an obsession and eventually led me to changing careers.

Once we share a few glasses of wine together, you'll know why I'm called Cheeky.

2. What sort of cooking do you specialize in? What are the pros of being an independent chef?

I specialize in Italian farm-to-table cooking. After working in Sicily and Tuscany, I developed a love for artisanal Italian products, fresh seafood, and seasonal produce. The best aspect of being an independent chef is being able to see people enjoying your food. There's nothing better than sharing a few bottles of wine, tearing crusty bread with your hands, and passing plates of food to the people you love. These are the kind of parties I like to cater and the kind of dinners I enjoy most.

3. What's your favorite thing to cook? What's one thing you think everyone should know how to cook?

My favorite thing to cook is seafood. I think it tells a story of the place it comes from, the way wine does. When you buy your own seafood, they say it should smell like the sea (and not fishy). I love the way raw oysters, shrimp and scallops have that fresh delicious taste of the water. I find so much joy in visiting fish markets, snapping loads of photos, asking questions, watching the fishmonger’s every move, and being a pain in the ass to pick out just the things I want. The way I approach my job as a Chef, is by learning as much as I can about the products I use and sharing those stories with the people who enjoy my food.

Besides the most basic cooking technique of knowing how much salt to put into pasta water, I think everyone should be able to build a campfire.

4. What's been one of the coolest projects you've worked on?

I guess the career I created is pretty cool in general. When I finished cooking school, I worked with a group called A Razor, A Shiny Knife, and we threw a dinner party on the subway in New York City. We built tables that hung from the handrails and served a multi-course meal to just 12 guests with the help of about 60 volunteers. As the only female head of one of the Chef teams, I created a hot soup course. We plated garnishes like crisps of prosciutto, perfect morel mushrooms, and a black garlic puree in the bowls. Then, I came through the busy train car with a silver kettle, pouring an electric green spring ramp soup into the bowls. Collaborating on projects like this through my career has given me boosts of creativity and the benefit of working with a team.

5. What advice would you tell 21 year old Linda?

Be brave! It's the same thing I tell 32-year-old Linda every day. Be brave in your career, with your heart, and in defending whatever you believe in. I woke up one day with a steady 9-5 office job and thought I don't want to do this anymore. I started secretly going to cooking school at night and finally turned my life into something I really love. I never wanted to work in restaurants but knew I needed that experience to develop the skills to go out on my own. Whenever I've been given opportunities for adventures or new experiences, I always say YES! When you feel brave (sometimes it means faking it), you can try something new and even if you fall down, you just keep learning.

And for those of you who were wondering 1 tablespoon salt per quart of water is the perfect amount of salt to add to pasta water. Thanks for reading, and follow Linda’s adventures here.