Thursday, August 11, 2011

Chef Joe Morris

Most days, Joe Morris quietly works behind the scenes. He chops, preps, and prepares Chef Ben Smith's creations inside the kitchen of Tsunami, one of Memphis's best restaurants.

However, to get a real sense of who Joe Morris is as a chef, you'll have to do some digging. He and his clean, elegant, understated cuisine have become a star of the Memphis underground restaurant movement. He has put on several dinners with Glenn Hays of Cafe 1912, and he put together a high-concept, nine-course, vegetarian dinner for the eaTABLE group. What's next for Joe? He's taken on the fun challenge of catering a private event in October. I can't wait to see what Joe creates next.

I asked Joe for his favorite vegetarian recipe, but instead I got something more valuable...a philosophy. 

So, I’m going to be honest; I don’t know if I have a favorite vegetarian recipe. There are certain dishes that I think work better without meat, like lasagna, but I don’t know if I’ve ever followed an exact recipe. Cooking for me is about taste, feel, and instinct. Of course, I have an idea of what I want to accomplish, what I want to emphasize or convey, but it’s the process of getting to that end result which is ultimately the thing I love about cooking. In that vein, it’s also important for me to constantly re-invent that process -- or subvert it. To learn, get better, to try new things.  I’m not going to lie, I fail. I fail a lot. But I learn. It’s part of the same process of failing better. Albeit a new flavor profile, technique, or conceptualization of a dish, it’s a process.

As I’ve matured as a cook, largely through becoming a more experienced ‘eater,’ I’ve come to appreciate clean, simple flavor profiles. It’s cliché, but I think it’s important to showcase the quality of an ingredient and really buttress that flavor. I think some of the best dishes are tiny microcosmic re-interpretations of themselves. For example, when I roast beets, I’m left with a beautiful jus that I can use to add another beet ‘element’ to the plate. I’ve made vinaigrette with balsamic for use in a salad with the cleaned beet greens. I’ve turned the jus into a braising liquid for the greens. A beet sorbet, jelly, chopped raita. Anything. I’m constantly trying to create a little environment whereby the flavor is taken and elevated using the most humble of ingredients: the actual thing itself.

I was going to post a recipe for peach gazpacho that I copped from Daniel Humm of Eleven Madison Park; it is simple with great flavors and utilizes many ingredients that are available to us locally, but the Chubby V was all over this one. What I love about Humm’s gazpacho is that beyond the (perhaps not so) obvious use of peaches, cucumbers, tomato paste, and vinegar, the rest is up to you. Cilantro, basil, mint -- they all work. Almonds? Sure. More Tabasco?  Why not. If you want more of a peach flavor, add more peaches! 

It sounds trite, but it’s true: find yourself in the recipes you love. To finish the dish, Humm garnishes his puree with all the ingredients he used to create the dish; cubed peaches, garlic croutons, olive oil, herbs, almonds. It’s great, and best of all, it’s perfect every time.

The thing to take away is that every dish becomes, in some small part, an extension of you.  So have fun with it!

Roast Beets

2 lb. baby beets
½ c   water
splash white wine

Preheat oven to 350.  Place beets in a baking pan add ½ cup water with splash of wine and cover with foil.  Cook until tender (about 90 minutes).


Bianca said...

I prefer my beets roasted pretty simply too, but I'll try adding a splash of wine next time because everything is better with alcohol, right?

P.S. I wish eaTABLE would do a vegan dinner. I'd so be there.

Unknown said...

What an elegant way to verbalize a lot of what I feel. He has a great philosophy for sure.