It’s the constant change and the unpredictability of Spring that appeal to Jeff Harris. Where others might find comfort in monotony, Harris thrives in the element of change. A season known for volatility is just the one for him.
But it’s got nothing to do with the weather. For Harris, it’s all about the menu.
“When you have such great product available like you do in the Spring, you really want to showcase it on the plate, not try to cover it up,” he says. “But now that we’ve done the Spring menu, it’s kind of like, ‘All right, there’s so much beautiful stuff out there, and we have so many regulars that keep wanting to see new things that we’ve got to keep changing two or three things a week.’”
So, yes. The Spring menu is set at Bolsa. But it’s always in flux.
An Oak Cliff hot spot since its opening in 2008 under Christopher Jeffers, Jessica Jeffers and Chris Zielke (Smoke, Bolsa Mercado,Chicken Scratch), along with partners Royce Ring and Alex Urrunaga (Plan B Group), Bolsa has thrived as a casual, high-quality restaurant destination that focuses on serving simple, yet creative, dishes developed with an eye on local ingredients. Harris, who assumed the position of Executive Chef at Bolsa (and their sister store/cafe Bolsa Mercado) earlier this year, has continued that philosophy while also flexing his own creative muscles.
From the Windy Meadows Farm Chicken with spring peas and roasted potatoes – a variation of which even has Dallas’s most seasoned critics impressed – to the lamb breast with Tuscan Kale, Kalamata olives and baby artichokes, Bolsa’s dinner menu illustrates Harris’s approach well; it’s one that focuses not on where he wants to go, but where he wants the season’s offerings to take him.
“I think I fit so well with Bolsa because that’s how I cook – I see what’s in season, what produce is great, and then kind of go from there, instead of vice versa. I prefer to do that instead of coming up with a menu and forcing it,” he says. “I like to see what’s available on the market, what’s beautiful, what’s fresh, and then go from there. That’s always been my starting mark: place the product.”
And while a majority of the menu is set for the season, it’s the variation that Harris is allowed – encouraged, actually – to pursue that keeps Bolsa’s regulars ready for a new option every time they’re seated.
“We’ll have people come in a lot, and they’ll want to see different stuff on the menu each time they’re here, so we always have to be thinking forward,” Harris says. “It’s definitely a fun challenge to have. Plus, it gets everybody in the kitchen involved. It’s like, ‘Hey, this week we’re doing this, we’re changing this.’ I think sometimes, when you have a strict, set menu and it’s the same deal, it can get a little monotonous for the cook. But I think our whole kitchen has fun with our approach – seeing new product and handling new stuff and doing new dishes.”
And it always helps when those new dishes are on more adventurous ground than other kitchens might prefer to tread. Sweetbreads and pate both grace Bolsa’s menu, and they also prepare and cure their own charcuterie. Cuts from the whole beast can be found at Bolsa, which only adds to the appeal for Harris.
“I love it, because those kinds of cuts – the lesser-known ones – are easily the most flavorful parts of the animal, and they fit within our price line. Most of our entrees are $25 or under; we can’t possibly put out a rack of lamb that’s $18 a pound,” he says, “So yeah, we definitely look for all sorts of different cuts, but that’s the stuff I love using anyway.”
The menu at Bolsa is an illustration of Harris’s penchant for the creative, while working with the freshest ingredients that he has at his disposal. Whether its strawberries or ramps, he has taken what the season provides and put it on a plate with the new menu, and in ways that transform them all without overshadowing their unique characteristics. He says his philosophy and approach make him a perfect fit for Bolsa, but it is his active pursuit of that philosophy that leads to one of his favorite parts of the job.
“Just hearing customers say something like, ‘Hey, we came here for our anniversary and you made our night,’ or something like that is one of the most rewarding parts of the job. At the end of the day, when you hear that, you can look at yourself in the mirror and you know you did something great that day, and that you made some people happy,” he says. “It’s definitely one of the most rewarding parts of our job.”
One could even say it puts a spring in his step.