People of Promise: Chef Shawn Harris

Chef Shawn Harris wants to tell you about the “Love “ cookie—a secret family recipe that has shaped his culinary signature and reputation, and features ample quantities of white chocolate, dark chocolate, oatmeal and….love. 

“Love,” laughed Chef, “better known as butter!”

Love cookies are almost always on hand in the kitchen at UrbanPromise where Chef Shawn oversees UrbanChefs Catering, a new social enterprise for UrbanPromise. “We want to operate programs that generate employment for our youth and have a self-sustaining business model," said Matthew Speh, who has been Director of Social Enterprise at UP for about one year, and oversees UrbanChefs and the soon- to-launch UrbanPromise Thrift Store. "Both," said Speh “will build professional skills, help our students with college and help them build a resume.”

Chef Shawn agrees—he teaches more than just cooking.  Through UrbanChefs, Chef will train five young people every six months.  Along with cooking instruction, he teaches the value of professionalism, timeliness, courtesy and a welcoming smile. “I set an example,” he said, grinning.  “My mom constantly told me to smile.”

His mom—and grandmother—also taught Chef the foundations of cooking.  He laughs that he was the only man in his family that couldn’t fix a car, but could fix you dinner. After a year of college football-and injuries, Chef came home, unsure of what to do.  His mother urged him to pursue his passion for cooking.  At culinary school at Atlantic County College, he found his passion.  “I loved it! It was everything I wanted to do!”   As a young chef, he found work in Chicago (“that windy thing, that’s for real”) before moving to warmer Atlanta where he worked at a luxury hotel, for Planet Hollywood and in catering before returning to South Jersey. Chef Shawn lives in Cherry Hill now and is raising two daughters.  He came to UrbanPromise from working at the Culinary Institute at Respond, Inc. in Camden—so he knows the territory of working with young people, catering and Camden very well. 

The school cafeteria at UrbanPromise transitions to his classroom after lunches are served. UrbanChefs has a focused clientele, targeting school and church events in and around Camden.  To date, UrbanChefs has catered all UrbanPromise events, including board meetings and volunteer days.  Additionally, UrbanChefs has catered ten external events since July, everything from a barbeque lunch for 150 at the Kipp Charter School to a featured spot at a “Taste of Nazarene” Church fundraiser.  The calendar is filling up with jobs, as the reputation grows.  “We want to build the catering business to be self-sustaining.”  Chef Shawn, his students and the Love cookie are off to a good start.

For information about UrbanChefs catering services please contact Chef Shawn Harris at (856) 465-4359 or sharris@urbanpromiseusa.org.