Solely guided by her genuine curiosity, Kysha Harris has channeled her passion for food into a successful consulting business for 11 years. Whether writing a food column or preparing meals for clients, it’s all about the fusion of creativity and business sense for this “Working Girl”!
Name: Kysha Harris
Location: Harlem, NYC
Profession: Food Curator & Columnist
How do you define a Food Curator? What does being one entail?
The same way I would define an Art Curator: an individual that is responsible for making sure art is current and presented properly for people to enjoy, which is what I do for my clients, only with food. I go into their homes, organize their kitchen, do their grocery shopping, prep and cook for them, take spoiled food out of their refrigerator and replace it with fresh food for them to enjoy. Being a Food Curator also translates into my writing – taking recipes, ideas, food happenings and translating them to my readers so they understand what’s new in the culinary landscape. My consulting work is another aspect; whether creating and developing new menus or managing restaurants, it all falls under the title of Food Curator.
How did you get started?
I attended undergraduate school at the University of Pennsylvania, The Wharton School and always had a passion for business. Having been in entertainment (when I was in the 12th grade, I interned at a record label), I loved creativity and the business of creativity, so when I got out of school with a marketing degree and an economics degree and there were no opportunities in brand management for me, I went back to what I knew and that was music which led me to film and then advertising for almost ten years. During that time frame, I really learned about working with creatives, developing, talent, branding, buying and selling content and from that, my entrepreneurial spirit was born and I knew I wanted to have my own brand. When the ad agency folded, I knew it was my time to start my entrepreneurial venture. I was old enough and young enough to do it; so in a 3 o’ clock- in-the-morning-epiphany, it came to me as I sat up in bed; I decided to launch my business, SCHOP! and I’ve been in business ever since.
When I look back, my love of food was strongly influenced by my godfather, my mother, my grandmother, my travels around the world, my genuine curiosity and just the satisfaction I got from cooking for people. I’m self taught so I didn’t attend culinary school or receive any formal training, but this is my cookbook collection (points to shelf) and I do a lot of reading, food television-watching, asking questions and eating! If you have any kind of curiosity about something, you can develop your own skill set and your own raison d’etre (calling), which is what I’ve done.
SCHOP! has changed and evolved over the years. Having skin in the game helps to garner more new and interesting food business and opportunities. Our clientele has always been busy urban professionals; clients whose time is better spent doing other things as opposed to cooking or grocery shopping. Our slogan is, “time is the new currency, spend it wisely” and our clients find value in knowing that when they come home from work, there’s food in their refrigerator that was freshly made in their home. They get great satisfaction out of that.
I got into food writing, three years into my business. A good friend of mine with whom I attended school, was the editor of the New York Amsterdam News, the oldest black newspaper in the country. For about a year she had been courting me to write for the paper, but I didn’t think I’d be any good or that I wanted to write. She said that their food writer was leaving and for me to “just write something”. So I wrote! That was eight years ago, and I’m still doing it…52 articles a year (laughs). I get a full page for my column which I write every week. It takes an anecdotal approach, so I write from my experiences, including dining out, food events I attend or sometimes my editor will send me ideas. I’m really interested in becoming the food editor so I can start bringing younger writers in to write for the column.
What’s an average day like?
I’m still working on the average day and I think the farther I get into my career the less average it becomes. I usually get up around 7:00am and I try to work out. I have my kettle bell here at the apartment but I try to make it to the gym if I can, ride my bike or go for a run. On any given day, I’m either working on my Social Media, developing new clientele, doing a little research and development in the kitchen and trying to network and expose myself and services. Typically – I’m also probably cooking for somebody, or perhaps at the home office writing (if I’m on deadline for the paper), or I’m doing events. It’s just a matter of when you don’t have a 9-5 and you have to make things happen, you just have to figure out whether you’re going to be a good boss today or you’re going to be a bad boss today, and whether you’re going to beat yourself up to get things done.
I feel very confident in my core competency, which for me is not just food, it’s the business of food – the very thing that everything else emanates from. That said, there are so many great avenues that can be explored i.e.: producing, writing, cooking for people, consulting; thus every day, there has to be that type of activity that helps move you and your brand along.
Why do you do it?
That’s a good question! I do what I do because; I find that I like to help people. I’m a service person, but above all, I think it’s because I’m passionate about what I do, I think about the things that I’ve done, again – around this core competency of the business of food and the feeling I get lets me know I’m in my wheel house. I know I’m doing what I’m supposed to do and that pushes me forward. At this point, there’s also the question of ‘what are you going to be known for?’ and food has now (whether I tried or not) become my thing. In the end, do what I do because it’s valued.
Ups and downs you sometimes face on the job:
I think the biggest thing is just being an entrepreneur. Every day you get up, you have to determine your worth. You have to say, what am I worth today? when you’re having conversations with people about how much you should get paid. Every day you have to know how much you’re worth and how much what you do is worth so that’s a big struggle and was especially in the beginning of my career. As you become more skilled in whatever you do, you can be a little more confident in what you ask for or you can turn things down if they’re not beneficial to you. But then you also have to determine the opportunity cost, which is sometimes worth more than money. Living and working alone, you have to be your own sound board, be able to process information and make decisions good or bad and live and die by them. And knowing that I’m in a service industry, I have to treat people how I’d like to be treated and sometimes that comes at a price but I have to do it.
Some of the benefits: you ask a chef why they do what they do, they’ll tell you because it’s immediate gratification. You give somebody your food, they taste your food, they like your food. SCHOP! provides a service that people have come to appreciate and I find, lets me be creative. I set the tone of what I’m doing along the parameters of what my clients want, but ultimately I have a perspective and I have a voice so it’s about letting it be heard, and that’s the biggest plus.
What is your greatest achievement so far?
SCHOP! Being in business for11 years…having health insurance (laughs). I think overall, just having the gumption to take a chance on a lot of things in life. I didn’t necessarily succeed at them all, for example, I had a real passion to go into film and packed up all my stuff and moved to Los Angeles, where I stayed for two years. I got the film job and it wasn’t what I thought, but I’m so glad that I did that. I’m so glad that I know another city I’m so glad I was not afraid of failure. I think that’s the biggest thing I think people lose sight of when they’re trying to start an entrepreneurial venture.
You have to fail! You have to not be afraid of failure; you have to not be afraid of asking the question for fear of the answer. You have to go out and do it. I’m very proud of my work and creating my future.
Any advice you’d like to share on breaking into the food industry?
It’s really just about having skin in the game. Anything you’re going to do, you have to do 100% and you have to commit to it. In the nascent years of my career I was wrapped with a whole bunch of ideas, but you really can’t make anything happen until you make one thing happen, and decide that’s what you’re going to do. Some say that culinary school is a must, but I think it’s all relative and depends on where you are. No matter what it is you try to do, you need to be passionate about it and you need to have some type of self-focus and self-direction that will move you through the tough times when you’re chasing checks.
What might be next for you?
Whatever is next is very heavily rooted in a retirement plan. I’m looking for an opportunity to really sink my teeth into, no pun intended (laughs). I have plans in the back of my mind to open up something that’s very singularly focused – what they call a QSR (quick service restaurant). Something that is manageable, something that says me, something that says Harlem, but I know that that is a lifestyle choice that I need to actively prepare for – and I am. Ultimately, I would like to open up something that could potentially be franchised. Everything in one’s career is a stepping stone that adds to one’s skill set and for me, it’s all still coming together. Once you have knowledge you have knowledge, it’s all about how you use it.
What are your top 5 hair tips?
- I have relaxed hair, so my first tip would be: when you work out, part your hair down the middle so that the core of your head can breathe when you sweat. You can do pig tails, but try not to use elastic bands. I use pins, but you have to do that based on length.
- I use Khiel’s Stylist Series serum lotion which has lanolin it. When my hair is relaxed, I worry about breakage so I use it to help prevent against breakage and as a hair sheen. I love it because it gives my hair weight without weighing it down and mimics my natural hair oils.
- When I’m really tired before I go to bed, I put my hair up in a bun in the direction of my bang curl, which goes to the left. But on a regular night when I’m not tired, I pin curl my hair. The trick to doing the pin curl is pinning it up so that the curl lays flat against your head, which allows the curl to stay in shape.
- I wash and set my hair myself at least every two weeks, (once a week when I’m working out). I have a dome hair dryer right here in my apartment and I use my huge magnetic curlers and sit under the dryer while I’m at my computer.
- I also relax my hair myself every eight weeks, but instead of relaxing my whole head at once, I do it in sections (relax then wash out), so that the relaxer doesn’t stay on my hair too long.
Fun Facts: Instead of going to church, Kysha puts on her entire Bob Marley playlist and listens to it all day. She does this every Sunday, because she hears something new that speaks to her each time! Kysha is also obsessed with Great White Sharks and would like to visit South Africa and cage dive with them for her 50th birthday.