While experiencing homelessness between late 2016 and early 2017, Von Harris lived out of an office at Classick Studios in Ukrainian Village. That’s when he reignited his passion for cooking in the same way it had first come to him back when he was a shorty; for survival.

“To me, cooking came from the simple fact that a muhf—- gotta eat,” Harris said about why he started cooking at Classick Studios. “Might as well eat something that’s actually good.”

For the food that 31-year-old Harris slid over to me across the island in his Humboldt Park kitchen on March 30, “good” is the understatement of the decade. Watching Harris work in the kitchen for three hours, and listening to the stories of what brought him to where he is now, it was unmistakable: His food is the work of someone who isn’t just cooking because he wants to, but because he has to. The fact that photos of his plates are fire enough for people to pour into his Instagram DMs, pleading for a taste of his bi-weekly Fat Plate Friday menu, has a lot to do with who he has had to cook for. 

“My stepdad, when I say he’s, like, the pickiest person when it comes to this eating shit,” Harris said, giving a glance as if to say, “you feel me,” before continuing his thought. “That’s why I be in the kitchen trying to perfect these recipes. I’m bringing him plates and he’s, like, ‘Nah. This ain’t it’ or “This don’t hit like it’s supposed to.’ And I’ll be mad as hell, but be, ‘Aight, bet,’ and get back to working on it.”

At a family reunion when he was 22, Harris and his stepdad had their culinary breakthrough while using a smoker that belonged to his grandfather’s friend. 

“We the type of people where if we borrow something from you, we bringing it back in the same — if not better — condition than how we got it,” Harris explained. With that otherwise admirable philosophy in mind, Harris and his people did the unthinkable: they deep cleaned the smoker.

“We bring it back and my grandfather homie, like, ‘What happened to my shit!’’ Harris said, laughing. “We sitting there confused, like, ‘What you mean? It’s clean.’ That’s how we learned all that leftover residue from cooking is what seasons the smoker and that’s where you get your flavor. We done power-washed ‘bout 30 years worth of that shit off.”

Suffice it to say, they tweaked. As a preteen, his stepfather drove trucks for work and his mom ran a hair salon. She worked to feed Harris and their blended family of six children. He first took up cooking at home around that time, but Harris said that smoker blunder is what led them to place real effort toward truly understanding what’s going on in the kitchen.

Today, about a decade removed from ruining another man’s smoker, Harris now has his own smoker that he got as a gift from his biological father. “He grabbed that big smoker, like, ‘This is what you finna need if you really trying to handle some quantity.’

My stepdad, when I say he’s, like, the pickiest person when it comes to this eating shit … That’s why I be in the kitchen trying to perfect these recipes.”

— Fat Jesus

Von "Fat Jesus" Harris grilling in the backyard of his Humboldt Park apartment on March 30, 2021. Photo by Darius Griffin // The TRiiBE

Now every Friday, on a personal tip, his dad is, like, ‘We need them wings,’” he said. Harris’ dad was released from jail in 2013 after spending most of his son’s life locked down. Using the early years of his dad’s release to rebuild their relationship, Harris cooked for him.

“When he was locked up, he took a cooking class, and as a shorty, that was something that was an inspiration. It still took a couple years for us to build that relationship to where I felt ready to cook for him because cooking is so personal, Harris said. “It feels good having the support from both sides, though: I have my stepfather helping me perfect recipes, then I got my biological dad looking out from a financial standpoint.”

Randomly selling plates on a Friday here and there for two years turned into Harris’ weekly Fat Plate Fridays in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic, when income slowed from managing music artists. This freed Harris up to put more energy toward cooking. 

Then in February 2021, Harris moved on from his job as a manager at Classick Studios. Although he still manages six artists under his label Rooted Sound, cooking is neck-and-neck, in terms of career priority.

A flyer for this week's Fat Plate Fridays menu. The menu changes each week. Instagram: @fatplatefridays

“If I could go back to when I decided I was done with the day job shit, and was gonna pursue music, even with sleeping at the studio and everything, I’d do it all over again the same way,” Harris said. “I honestly believe it’s what brought me back to this passion.”

A high school cooking class originally sparked Harris’ desire to become a restaurateur. But after taking a psychology course in high school, cooking took a back seat to exploring his curiosity about how the mind works through psychology. 

By the time he got to Illinois State University in 2008, cooking was no longer a big deal. Instead, he figured he’d just open some restaurants later in life once he had the means to do so. His love for psychology also started to fall by the wayside. 

“I’ve always been smart and done well in school, but I’m taking psychology courses, understanding the material, but the tests fucking me up,” he said. “Then I had another psych course where the teacher was so bad she got fired, and we had to turn that 16-week course into eight weeks. At that point, they had me fucked up on that school shit.”

Harris dropped out of school in 2010 and returned home to his family’s place in Maywood. After moving back, and not seeing eye-to-eye with his parents, he moved to neighboring Broadview with his grandmother and older sister. Then, he got into whatever hustle was readily available to him. During the early 2010s, while artists such as Chief Keef and King Louie were pioneering drill music and garnering international acclaim, music became one of the city’s premier exports — and a go-to for any twenty-something creative looking for a gig. Harris jumped into club and party promotion to keep money in his pocket.

“This cat I went to high school with, [named Matt Minzo], was promoting and he [and his partner Kunal] was on the management team for Chip tha Ripper, so he was plugged in,” Harris said.

Kunal put Harris into the music management game, he said.  “He knew I knew a lot of people from school, so that was it. Club owners started seeing what type of pull I had so then they started having me go ahead and put nights together.”

The first concert he was able to bring to life was a rap show at Reggies Rock Club in 2011 with a set list that included Thello Jay, Nick Carter Green, Marcale, Fatboi Fresh, Domo and Young Heavy. It wasn’t necessarily a who’s who of Chicago rap, but it was enough to jump-start his artist management career. 

If I could go back to when I decided I was done with the day job shit, and was gonna pursue music, even with sleeping at the studio and everything, I’d do it all over again the same way. I honestly believe it’s what brought me back to this passion.”

— Fat Jesus

“Music became, like, a whole different avenue that I wasn’t thinking about for life. It wasn’t just a pipe dream,” Harris said. 

He then jumped into management with his own label, Rooted Sound, without much beyond the knowledge he was able to glean from his high school connection who managed popular underground Cleveland rapper Chip tha Ripper. The first place Harris took his artists to record was Classick Studios.

In 2011, Chris “Classick” Inumerable was in the process of building his legacy as an engineer and producer working with Chicago artists like Vic Mensa, King Louie and more. When Harris started working with him, he was still producing out of a home studio in the basement of a his three-bedroom house on Berenice in Portage Park.

During this time, Harris said, he stumbled onto the nickname Fat Jesus, which was bestowed upon him by Roman Flwrs, an artist he was managing at the time.

“I was waiting on him, smoking in the parking garage down the street from this show we were putting on,” Harris said. “He couldn’t find us in the garage so I hopped out and all this smoke came out surrounding me. He saw it and said ‘Oh shit! It’s Fat Jesus!’ Of course they was saying that shit the rest of the night. The name just stuck.”

For the last 10 years, Harris has brought the artists he managed who didn’t already have a regular studio to Classick Studios, which now has space in Ukranian Village. All of his artists currently still record at Classick. 

“In 2016, I had just got [done managing] an artist,” Harris said. He stepped away from managing Logan & Flight, at the time, due to a mutual agreement. “At this time, Smino was just popping off, and so you had a lot of poppin artists in the studio but Chris can’t be there all the time.” 

Harris met Inumerable in 2009 through a mutual friend, Matt Minzo, who produced at Classick. When Inumerable was on his way to Japan for 30 days in summer 2016 for his honeymoon, Harris convinced him to hand over the keys to the kingdom. 

“I had always wanted to be more a part of Classick Studios and I just wasn’t sure how I could,” Harris said. “I told Chris, look, give me this 30 days, and see what we do.” When Inumerable returned from his honeymoon at the end of summer, he handed the studio manager role over to Harris. 

Then in 2017, four months into the role, Harris began living at Classick Studios. 

“I was at a point where I was done with the day job shit and wanted to dive into working in the music industry full time. Then it was shit going on at home so I had to go,” Harris said, unwilling to dive into what, exactly, drove him out of his family’s home. “I ended up becoming one of like 20 other muhf*ckas who had a stint where they was sleeping at Classick Studios.”

Photo by Darius Griffin // The TRiiBE
Photo by Darius Griffin // The TRiiBE

Fat Jesus be cooking up everything from wings to salmon and mashed potatoes.

Harris was in a rut, to say the least; but one thing he wasn’t about to do was starve. He brought a hot plate and a crock pot to his studio dwellings and made himself at home. 

“I’m in there cooking just on some survival shit but people coming through for sessions and shit, like, ‘What the fuck is that smell, and can I get some?’” he remembered. “That’s how people started tasting my shit. So we go to LA for this Zero Fatigue lock-in, and I’m cooking for everybody there, bussin’ these wings down.”

Fat Jesus’ Wings: oh, his glorious signature wings. FJ’s Wings are the reason why Harris’ reputation precedes him. We talked about his wings for the first hour of my visit to his Humboldt Park kitchen on March 30. Fat Jesus’ Wings have a storied history. 

“Before I went to Atlanta in 2018, I had the Louisiana rub from Wingstop for the first time and I thought it was a game changer. Then when I got to Atlanta and had the lemon pepper wet for the first time, that was a different beast,” he said. “So I got back to the crib and was, like, let me try some dry rub shit and see what happens. I ended up with these.”

Yes, Lawd! Photo by Darius Griffin // The TRiiBE

He gestured to the aluminum pan piled with chicken wings of a deep caramelized brown at their darkest, and at its lightest points, a color that is akin to the most well-seasoned chip in a bag of barbecue Lays. 

Fresh off the grill, and begging to be devoured, Harris’ wings are the type of food you eat with your senses before a morsel ever reaches your tongue. They smell flavorful and they look flavorful, their crisp charcoal-touched skin even felt appetizing to the touch.

Then you actually taste them, and the initial bite elicits the same mean mug that a hard-hitting beat drop does. It’s like the man went into his cabinet and grabbed every seasoning that tastes good. 

After a few seconds of chewing, the second wave hits. It’s a dull heat— not spicy enough to scare anyone off, but enough to let you know that cayenne or paprika is in attendance — that enhances the natural smokiness that FJ’s Wings soaked up from the grill. 

The last wave of flavor is the most confusing, though. It’s a faint saltiness that you might associate with the taste of a less-flavorful wing, but because it is the tertiary flavor, rather than the primary here, it winds up coming across as the most craving-inducing aftertaste. By the end of the eating experience, the mean mug had turned into a smile, and then laughter, and then me reaching for another one.

“One of the homies hit me up, like, he got the recipe for the lemon pepper wet joints, and I got these, so it turned into a whole wing-off,” he said. “So we invited some of the guys over. He come with his shits. I come with these — I guess we can call them Amazingly Seasoned — errbody taste these and they like ‘them lemon pepper joints good but bruh….’”

Thus, FJ’s Wings were born. It started with just grilling some up for the homies and family, then people started making requests. 

“People were hitting me up asking for trays of wings. Then other shit I would just post on my Instagram Story. It’s people DM-ing me asking for plates and I was just telling people yeah, you buy the ingredients, I’ll make it for you,” Harris said. 

“Chris was, like, if we incorporate Fat Plates into studio sessions every other Friday, it’ll go crazy, so we started doing something called Studio Munchies,” said Harris. “I would just make ‘X’ amount of plates on a Friday and because the studio was bussin at the time, we’ll get everything sold. It wouldn’t even be every Friday cause back then it was just a side hustle.”

Out West rapper Jean Deaux really made it click for Harris that this side hustle could be more than just serving plates out the studio every now and then.  “She hit me up and asked how much I’d charge to make a bunch of food for her video shoot,” he said, “I’m like oh, this is catering bro. I’m stupid as hell.”  Since the video shoot for Jean Deaux’s song “Back 2 You”, Harris has catered private dinner parties, and even the wedding of Project Runway finalist Chelsey Carter, whose husband — Eddie Sanders — is Harris’ attorney.

Photo by Darius Griffin // The TRiiBE
Photo by Darius Griffin // The TRiiBE

When Harris was a teenager cooking to feed his family, he hadn’t dreamt of catering weddings for reality stars, music videos for his homies, or private dinners for platinum-selling musicians. He was simply making sure his people eat. 

And now, whether it’s managing the careers of upcoming artists, or whipping up Fat Plates for the hungry people in his Instagram DMs, Fat Jesus has made it his business to make sure folks eat. 

“I always say about food: You can’t go wrong because everyone is always going to eat. I love prepping food and watching people’s reactions, and hearing feedback,” he said. “Even though, sometimes, it can come with constructive criticism, I feel it just makes me better.”

Fat Plate Friday pre-orders are available via Instagram DM. Check out the page to see what’s on the menu this week.

is a staff writer with The TRiiBE. Email him with news tips.