Chef Kristen Harlach Is No “Starving Artist”

We are so excited to be bringing Bowl of ‘Zole to Boston! We get to introduce the Food Karma audience to so many new chefs in the area and learn about their stories and talents. To start off, we talked to Chef Kristen Harlach of Pearl and Lime, a Latin kitchen and cocktail bar in Quincy, MA. To taste her take on pozole, be sure to buy tickets to Bowl of ‘Zole Boston on April 6th – on sale now!

Food Karma: How did you get into cooking?

Kristen Harlach: Dad taught me to make the perfect scrambled egg when I was six. He and my grandfather were instrumental in getting me on the food path. Grandfather prided himself on his baking skills, but he was an amazing home cook. Making homemade pasta at nine and “playing restaurant” for my grandparents by eleven. Parents used to always throw dinner parties, and Saturday nights used to be their date night “in” where they would make three to five course meals served by candlelight. It was pretty fun to look upon, and sometimes participate. When I was trying to figure out paths, I was too afraid that I was going to be a “starving artist” if I became a chef so I went into business. The 2007 economic bust pushed me to come to Boston in 2009 and pursue lifelong dreams of becoming a chef. I thrust myself into JWU, got my degree and busted my ass to get to where I am today! And I still have so much more to grow, learn and do!

FKP: How did you get involved with Pearl & Lime?

KH: Pearl and Lime is another passion project powered by dear friends of mine who have helped be instrumental in making Quincy flourish as a culinary hot spot. Between the Townshend and Pearl and Lime, there are so many fun, delicious options just shy of the city here on the South Shore. After years of being a guest, while talking shop the one day, Master Snake Wrangler Devin Adams asked me if I was ready to step away from Corporate and come have fun with them. And here we are!

FK: What’s your background with Mexican food?

KH: I do not know how I was not born and raised in Mexico, my love runs that deep! I have a family history of favoring Italian food, but my heart and soul speak Spanish apparently. I have had a longstanding relationship with tacos, agave and avocados for a better part of my life! It was not until I came to Boston where I truly started to learn from my peers, friends, fellow chefs and teams. I am nothing without my teams, and each restaurant I have worked at has most certainly had an impact on me. Together we create and teach each other skills. I may bring the refined touch or presentation, but the heart and soul of the food we present are the abuelos and abuelitas before who have passed down skill sets one cannot master in Culinary School, no matter how hard one wants to try. Listen and learn and be ever evolving. I am forever grateful for all of the skills I have learned, especially in the last five years from collaborating with my teams.

FK: What do you bring from your past positions to the menu at P&L?

KH: Over the years, I have traveled and eaten and shared and learned so much about Latin cuisine. I’m trying to bring bright, exciting flavors to Quincy, keeping the menu fresh and highlighting food that is simple, delicious, fun and a little spicy just like me! 

FK: What’s your relationship to pozole?

KH: I loooooooooove soup. Love making soups, love eating soups. It is cathartic, it soothes the soul. The first time I tried pozole was only maybe three years ago at my favorite spot in East Boston, Taqueria Jalisco. I was hooked. I fell in love immediately and knew I had to figure out how to make it. I immediately left, went to a few local markets to get hominy and all the peppers. I must say, I am proud of the flavors I have developed. I have a palate that speaks to Mexican Culture and I love it. The most heartwarming thing happened to me years ago. For my last batch of soup I got to make for my team up in Arlington, I made pozole. As a thank you, “with love, Jefa” to my team. I came to find out they saved the five gallons of soup for themselves and ran a chicken noodle for service. Talk about a stamp of approval!  

FK: What’s the Mexican dining scene like in Boston?

KH: The Mexican dining scene in Boston and outliers is ever evolving! We have fancy Mexican, we have chain Mexican, we have Mexican American and we have traditional Mexican gems scattered throughout the city and beyond! There’s something for everyone! I must say, working as much as I do I don’t get out as much as I want and I have barely scratched the surface of all the options I know we have. Of the places that I have been, some of the best service and best food comes from the small, sweet families who know you when you walk in where you can probably still get a plate of food that is enough for two meals for under $10! Being in a restaurant such as Pearl & Lime, we give a Pan-Latin vibe, highlighting small plates and drinks of all variations of Latin culture. It is fun to develop and adapt and try new or, in some cases, hundred year old recipes and make them fun for today’s ever changing palates!

FK: What are you excited about for Bowl of ‘Zole?

KH: This is an amazing platform to highlight the best parts of Mexico that may not be too familiar to the mainstream. Get out there and expand your tastebuds, try new things, learn about the mezcals and tequilas that you shake into your cocktails. I want to see the variations of the pozole that will be featured. I love to see how everyone’s palates tell stories through  food and cocktails. It’s inspiring. It is a real honor. My heart is happy and I cannot wait to be a part!

FK: How do you like to top your pozole?

KH: I’m kind of a pozole purist: shaved cabbage, cilantro and onion, a few lime squeezes and some radish. I do like to eat it with avocado tostada or just some chips and guac, but how can you not have avocado, am I right?!

FK: Anything else people should know about you?!

KH: My chef career has now gotten me on Chopped, during Covid nonetheless, and working for friggen Martha Stewart. I am a private chef/caterer in my sort of spare time who lives and loves all things Mexican!  Especially food and drink! 

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