Food should be fun.
It should bring family and friends together.
It shouldn’t be complicated, shrouded in mystery or inaccessible.
That is celebrity chef Brian Morris’ take on cooking and it’s one that came from his mother. This uncomplicated approach will be on display at The News & Advance’s latest Taste of the Hill City cooking event, set for Thursday, May 18.
The event, at Phase 2, will tackle the summer tradition of grilling while also featuring a expo of vendors that include or range from The Corner to Grand Home Furnishings to DeVault Family Winery. Several food trucks will be on hand; the event also will offer free tastings from several vendors and sponsors.
The Nashville native grew up with a mother who gathered her family together in the kitchen, using food as a vehicle to bring the family together.
“Mom never made it feel like cooking for us was a chore,” Morris said. “She always took so much joy from it and there was always a smile on her face and music on the radio. It was just a place to go to feel good and to get fed and to enjoy yummy food.”
Morris learned from his mother there was nothing complicated about making dinner. He took that lesson to heart in his career as a professional chef.
“A lot of chefs try to make it look like a David Copperfield approach to what they do,” he said. “If you know what’s behind the curtain, then you won’t think it’s cool or special or they’re talented or unique. But I don’t buy into that idea.
“It doesn’t have to be complicated or fussy or difficult or elitist. I’ve never really understood that facet of food, to be honest with you. … I think of food as a unifier, as approachable, potentially uplifting, you know?”
Morris, a graduate of the French Culinary Institute in New York, has performed cooking shows around the country, including a Caribbean-themed event in Tulsa, Oklahoma this past summer.
Morris began holding cooking shows when he worked for the commercial appliance company, Viking Range Corp., in Mississippi.
He’s worked in several New York City restaurants and as a personal chef for former New York Yankee Derek Jeter. His Viking shows led him to hold private, in-home cooking lessons with celebrities such as Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban.
In 2007, he moved back to Nashville and took a job with Relish Magazine, where he worked as a producer, executive chef and show host until 2014.
Morris held two cooking shows in Lynchburg in 2015. Before his first visit to the Hill City, the chef was involved with a health-conscious café but now he is working to build a fried chicken empire by teaming up with Nashville-based Hattie B’s Hot Chicken.
He described Hattie B’s as a Nashville staple that feels a little something like the combination of a hug and a high-five. The restaurant is expanding, adding locations across the southeast.
“… I don’t think there’s anything you can do that gives you more of an opportunity to have a positive impact on the way someone feels than food,” he said.
The Lynchburg cooking show and expo, set for Thursday, May 18 at Phase 2, will be all about getting ready for the summer grilling season. It’s a topic that is “truly applicable to my life,” Morris said.
“I can tell you I spend 100 hours a week dealing with food as a living in some capacity or another and the last thing I ever want to do, in spite of how easy my mom made it look like growing up, when I get home is to go get in the kitchen, to be honest with you,” he said.
So when the weather swings toward summer, the Morris family can be found outside around the grill most nights. It’s become such a regular routine, they’ve stopped using plates, opting instead to bring out salt, pepper and a cutting board to eat straight from the grill.
For this month’s show, Morris will focus on some cooking basics, examining tips for grilling and looking at the differences between cooking with gas, charcoal and even those Green Eggs. Recipes at the event also will include cocktail pairings that complement grilled creations.
A big focus of Morris’ presentation will be flavors. Often chefs find themselves in a flavor rut, using the same one or two rubs every time they fire up the grill.
“… There’s really nothing wrong with this, especially if it’s something you like, but as food becomes more and more democratized, social media brings flavors that have been so localized in the past to these little geographical regions around the planet,” he said. “All these flavors are now in our living rooms.”
The challenge for many chefs — grill masters and novices alike — is cooking for a large number of people.
“What about when I have a lot of people over? What if I’ve got a party going on and I want to be a guest at my own party?” he said. “I think we all have that experience where the weather’s nice. We’ve got people outside around the grill having a great time or watching the game or whatever you’re doing, but you feel like you’re stuck on the grill the whole time.
“We’re going to look at some techniques and some recipes that not only will allow you to create for your friends and family the most amazing meal they’ve ever had but also where you can have fun too and be a guest at your own grilling party.”
If your impression of this event is more akin to a cooking class, Morris said that’s pretty far from the truth. Yes, participants will learn along the way, but the expo is more like attending a backyard party. There will be music, games and audience participation.
“It’s not school,” he said. “It’s not like you take notes and put on your reading glasses and your pocket protector and take a quiz at the end. I think a lot of folks are used to going to cooking shows where it’s just sort of rapid fire recipes and … you feel like ‘Man, this is work. That was a two-hour class I just took.’”
Morris said participants will, of course, learn tips and tricks, but the event really is more of a party.
“We’re going to have a lot of fun. You’re going to leave there feeling happy and fired up and able to go home and do it yourself …,” he said. “This is really going to be like coming over to my place for an outdoor get-together, except for the fact that I don’t have a stage outside my house.”
Want to come?
Preferred tickets are $10 for newspaper subscribers and $15 for non-subscribers. VIP tickets are available for $50 for subscribers and $75 for non-subscribers.
Preferred tickets include event admission, free tastings from participating vendors, and a gift bag with discounts from sponsors.
VIP tickets include early admission to the expo, the choice of balcony or lower level seating, free tastings, a gift bag crammed with discounts and items, exclusive access to the VIP lounge, heavy hors d’oeuvres by Charley’s Restaurant, and ticket holders have a chance to meet Chef Morris in the VIP lounge before the demonstration.
The food trucks of the Jacked Rabbit, Nomad Coffee, The Wandering Donut and Uprooted will be on hand.
The cooking expo opens at 4 p.m. for VIP ticket holders and 5 p.m. for preferred ticket holders. Morris’ show begins at 7 p.m.
Visit www.newsadvance.com/taste for more information or to order tickets.
The event’s sponsors include Aztec Rental, Charley’s Restaurant, Dawson Ford Garbee & Co., Fairfield Inn Suites, Rodney Matthews, Terry VW, Grand Home Furnishings, Lynchburg Live Media, The Corner, Retail Merchants Association, Pretty Please on Broad, Celeste & Co., Beacon Credit Union, Cheryl’s Secret Garden, Central Virginia Federal Credit Union, Via One Hope, Hickey Electric, Sluggo’s, Interiors by Moyanne, Wooldridge Heating & Air, Acupuncture Works, DeVault Family Winery, Lowe’s, The Tuscan Grill, CVCC, Little Dickens/Givens Books, and Monat.