Chef Peter Morris is emerging on the culinary scene, earning the Top New Chef Award at the New Jersey Restaurant Association’s 2014 Restaurant Operator’s Conference in April, and being crowned as the “Food Fight” champion at Porta in Asbury Park this past spring. As Chef de Cuisine at Asbury Park’s popular vacation-inspired restaurant, Langosta Lounge, Morris collaborates with owner and head chef, Marilyn Schlossbach, to create new and exciting dishes for their vacation-inspired menu items. Before joining Langosta Lounge a little over a year ago, Morris graduated from the Culinary Institute of America and worked in esteemed kitchens around the country including that of President George W. Bush. We caught up with Morris to find out what inspires him when he’s behind the stove. We also learned just how much he enjoys a homemade meal.
JERSEY BITES: What’s your earliest food memory?
CHEF PETER: My earliest food memory is going to the Waldorf Astoria for Mother’s Day when I was a child. My parents would take us there and to other “grown-up” restaurants when we were younger. I remember always wanting to try new things.
When did you realize you wanted to make cooking a career? Was there an “a-ha” moment?
When I was younger all I wanted to do was get a job, but no one would hire a young teenager for anything serious. The day after my fifteenth birthday I got a job as a busboy at the Union House in Red Bank (now gone). I liked it, but it was nothing special. My family moved to Spring Lake and I got a job as a busboy at the local Perkins. Soon after starting, the manager had me working in the kitchen. I enjoyed it, but again, it was just a job. After graduating high school, and going to real college, unsuccessfully, for a year, I moved out to Denver in the late 1990s. My brother got me a job at a restaurant named Potager where I worked with people who loved food. That would have been my a-ha moment. It was working there with people who knew so much about food when my job turned into a career.
Any interesting stories about where and with whom you started cooking professionally?
The chef/owner of Potager, Teri Rippeto, would take her old Subaru to farms in Boulder and surrounding areas to bring back produce and humanely raised proteins. We were being sustainable and farm-to-table before I ever heard of those things. One of my favorite times was at the end of the summer all of us from the restaurant would go up to the farm, cook and serve everyone there as a gesture of gratitude. The image of long tables, back to back, filled with over 40 people, in the middle of a farm, sharing and truly enjoying each other’s company will always be with me.
What is your cooking style?
To be as simple and smart as possible, while building big flavor with great presentation. I want people to think about why they liked the food.
What is the most memorable meal you’ve had, what did you eat and where was it?
My favorite is coming home after work to fantastic leftovers that my wife cooked for our family.
It’s your last day on earth: what will your final meal be?
That’s a toss-up between a multi-course tasting menu at Eleven Madison Park or backyard grilled sausages and pork chops. I’m happy with both.
What is the best advice you have to share with young people interested in becoming chefs?
First piece of advice is to not only make sure that you love it, but also that you can actually do it. Once the rose-colored glasses come off and the romantic ideals of cooking are gone, what we are left with is the hard-core nuts and bolts of hard work. It takes a certain mental toughness to maintain focus, passion, and drive. One should have the mindset of a warrior, not a TV personality or a celebrity chef. Secondly, they should realize that it is a young person’s game. Doing this for twenty-plus years puts a toll on anyone.
If you could choose to be any food item, what would it be?
I would be a kumquat. Not only is it fun to say, they are fun to eat. The contrast of sweet/tart and the texture of the skin make it a perfect snack.
What is the one staple food you always have in your cupboard at home?
Staple food item? With my one day off a week, I don’t cook that much. If anything, it would be eggs. I love eggs. Other than that, I would have to refer to my wife.
What is your beverage of choice?
My go-to drink is ice water. All day, every day. Between gallons of ice water, I drink coffee in amounts that should be illegal. On the rare occasion my wife and I go out, I enjoy an IPA or a simple glass of wine, depending on where we are.
What is your favorite comfort food?
Not to sound like a cop-out, but comfort food for me is anything that someone else made. I love a good kielbasa and my grandmother’s pierogies, or turkey tacos at home with my family.
What New Jersey restaurant do you enjoy dining at?
As far as NJ restaurants, my expected level of service is what’s important to me. I have always said that no matter how good or bad the food is, service will bring you back to an establishment. If I want five star food, I go to Nicholas in Middletown, for a great breakfast I go to Sweet Lew’s in Freehold. The commonality between the two is that I always leave happy because my expectation of service is met.
If you could have dinner with any three people living, deceased or fictional, who would they be and why?
Three people. My brother who passed away 11 years ago—he’s the smartest person I know. Jeff Smith from Frugal Gourmet—need I say more? And my son in 20 years—I want to know who he’ll be and enjoy his company.
Are you working on any upcoming projects our readers would be interested in learning about?
I will be participating in a tri-state cooking competition presented by NJRA in the fall.
1000 Ocean Avenue
Melissa Beveridge is a freelance journalist and editor, focusing on great food, healthy living, and wellness. Her passion for eating and living well embodies her writing. A lover of all things Jersey, she is also an avid traveler, always looking to discover those hidden culinary gems everywhere she goes. Her musings can be found on her blog mbeewell.wordpress.com.