I t may be his passion for cooking great food that started Peter Morris on his path to a career as a restaurant chef, but it was his skill, talent and creativity that led him to win the Tri-State Food Expo Culinary Competition.
Morris, 35, of Freehold Borough, competed at the Meadowlands in Secaucus on Oct. 27 and won the honor against Connecticut contestant chef Jeffrey Lizotte of ON20 restaurant and New York chef Bill Dorrler, an executive chef in the Altamera Group, leading the kitchen organization at Osteria Morini.
Morris, who graduated from the Culinary Institute of America in 2002, has been the Chef de Cuisine at Langosta Lounge, Asbury Park, since the restaurant reopened in the spring of 2013 after sustaining damage from superstorm Sandy in October 2012.
Morris and his wife, Lauren, have two children, a son, 10, and a daughter, 5.
Morris said he was “elated and excited” to win the competition at the Meadowlands. The chef has participated in previous competitions, including the New Jersey Restaurant Association’s first Top New Chef of New Jersey competition on April 7, which he won. Morris also became the champion in a “Food Fight” competition at Porta, Asbury Park, at which local chefs competed.
Morris said he enjoys taking part in these events.
“Competitions force me to get out of my comfort zone and look at foods and flavor combinations differently,” he said. Those things, in addition to the “adrenaline rush and sense of excitement” that he said “make him feel alive,” are what keeps him competing.
When asked how he prepared for the recent culinary competition, Morris said his preparation included relying on his years of experience of cooking and combining different foods.
“I had ideas and a vision in my head of what I wanted to create, but didn’t know for certain what it would end up to be until I got there and started preparing it,” he said. “I didn’t really know what the dish would end up to be until I actually began touching and physically connecting with the food. You can pen and paper your dishes and conceptualize your ideas ad nauseam, but it isn’t until I actually touch the food and work with it that I will get that feeling of what it will end up to be.”
Referring to his work at Langosta Lounge, Morris said the position is more than a job.
“I plan and create the menu with the executive chef and owner, Marilyn Schlossbach,” Morris said. “On any given day, I have to be able to lead the team to our goal, whether it is preparing for a wedding or that night’s dinner. It’s what I do.” Schlossbach said she enjoys working with Morris. She called their association “a great collaborative effort.”
“It is inspiring to me working with Peter, who works not under me, but with me, to create a memorable experience for not only our guests, but for our staff as well. Since Peter has come on board, he has grown tremendously as a leader, leading a team here,” Schlossbach said.
Morris said the Tri-State competition required each chef to create an appetizer and main entrée using salmon. They were allotted 45 minutes to prepare the dishes. Participants were judged on organization, technique and taste.
Morris’ winning dishes were a zucchiniwrapped salmon in a rosemary wood-smoked tomato emulsion appetizer and a main entrée of pan-seared salmon with black garlic braised salsify with verjus quinoa arugula salad drizzled with roast concord grape beurre blanc.
Don’t ask Morris what his favorite dish is. He won’t be able to tell you since it appears his favorite dish is the one he is creating at the moment. “I may be excited about a dish one day and then create something else the next day and feel that same excitement. I don’t want to box myself into one style,” he said.
Asked what advice he would give to individuals who are pursuing a career in cooking, he said they should be certain it is something they are passionate about.
“Just because you cook for friends and family doesn’t mean you can be a restaurant chef. It takes a certain mental toughness, passion, drive and creativity. You also need to be able to physically and mentally multitask. I can have five things going on in my head and a number of other things going on around me in the kitchen,” Morris said.
He refers to the process as “organized chaos.”
Morris, who worked in restaurants as a teenager, said he realized he wanted to cook as a career while working at Potager, a restaurant in Denver where he worked with people who loved food. He said working with people who knew so much about food turned a job into a career.
When asked what the future holds for his career, Morris said, “I enjoy working where I am and making good food.”
Cooking is more than a job to Morris. It has become a part of who he is, not just what he does.
“It’s gratifying to be able to turn a collection of raw products into a refined dish at the end, and share the passion and happiness of food with others,” he said. “It’s a good feeling.”