Chef Morris was born in Salt Lake City, Utah, and showed an interest in cooking from a very young age. Growing up, his earliest culinary memories were cooking dinner for his siblings so they could avoid store bought, pre-packaged meals while his parents we busy working. Chef Morris began his culinary career in 2000 as an assistant to the chef at the fine dining restaurant Mariposa in Park City, Utah. In 2004, Morris was appointed executive chef of Red Rock Grille, and later as chef of The Club at Spanish Peak in Big Sky, Montana, where he created seasonal menus and utilized local, organic ingredients.
Morris eventually moved to Chicago, where he was named sous chef at Mercat a la Planxa when it opened in early 2008 under the direction of Executive Chef Jose Garces and Chef de Cuisine Michael Fiorello. Now, as chef de cuisine, Morris enjoys adding a modern spin to Catalan classics. Chef Morris’s approach to food is derived from his travels through Spain, France, and the United States, as well as the industry luminaries he has worked alongside, including chefs Jose Garces and Joyce Goldstein. He believes that food is meant not only for consumption but to excite the palate and create memories. In his spare time, Chef Morris enjoys cycling and exploring different cultures through Chicago’s diverse neighborhoods and their food. He is also an avid support of local charities The Cara Program and The IRA’s Education Foundation – ProStart.
Describe your culinary philosophy and approach to cooking in three words.
Authentic. Updated. Flavorful.
How did you get started cooking, and when did you decide to make a career out of it?
I started cooking for my family when I was young because my parents were both busy working. I started cooking professionally at 16 years old.
Who are your main culinary influences?
Is there a process you follow while creating new recipes?
Start with a good base recipe and add a unique flavor, technique, and always use the best possible product.
Name three dishes at Mercat a new diner shouldn’t miss.
Conill AMB Castanyes (braised rabbit agnolotti) Cordero a la Planxa (Grilled Lamb Chops) Coliflor amd Mostassa (cauliflower with pickled mustard seed vin.)
What are your most and least favorite ingredients to work with?
Least: Processed cheese
Most: Any cut of pork especially the Iberico Secreto
What are your favorite cookbooks?
Catalan Cuisine by Colman Andrews and Culinary Artistry by Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page
What cities/countries would you like to go to for your culinary travel?
San Sebastian is my favorite city in the world.
The critics have their favorites, but I like to eat where the Chefs eat. Besides Mercat, what restaurants do you like to eat at in Chicago?
Purple Pig on Michigan Ave. for date night, Lao sze chuan in China town for hot pot, Tank Noodle up north for Pho, and EL ideas for big celebrations.
What do you like to cook for friends and family?
Anything that I can throw on the grill
Do you have a guilty pleasure; something you eat when nobody is looking?
Culinary school or no culinary school?
Did not attend. I learned everything I know about Spanish food from Jose Garces and taking multiple trips to Spain.
What tips would you offer young chefs just getting started?
Start from the bottom and work your way up. Take the time to master the basics (knife skills, sauce work, etc.) before you try to be the next top chef. No one cares if you can make a coconut sphere with some weird powder if you can’t dice an onion properly.
There are many aspiring cooks out there like myself who are not beginners but haven’t yet reached the professional level; what advice you would give us to take our cooking to the next level?
First piece of advice is to always cook in season because that’s when the ingredient has the best flavor. Secondly seasoning is one of the most important aspects of cooking and different things require different levels of seasoning. For instance I always heavily season steak with Kosher salt and lots of fresh ground pepper. But for a more delicate protein like halibut I season it with kosher salt and a little white pepper. Lastly when you are ready to experiment and work with flavors and ingredient that you might not be used to pairing together you should reference Culinary Artistry by Andrew Dornenberg and Karen Page it’s a cookbook that I often refer to whenever I am having trouble coming up with a new idea.