City Bites

CITY BITES INSIDER: Q&A with Chef Kirk Morrison of Restaurant 18 

This week, CITY BITES INSIDER welcomes guest blogger Marc Bazinet, an Ottawa-based food blogger who writes about restaurants, cookbooks, and food products.

After a company shake-up last fall, Restaurant 18 installed Kirk Morrison as its chef de cuisine. At the helm of one of the top restaurants in the city, Morrison showcases menus that display an impressive set of skills. Marc Bazinet aka Cool Food Dude, caught up with Morrison to discuss his culinary roots, his experience feeding hungry Olympians, and his stint as a butcher.

Chef Kirk Morrison of Restaurant 18
Chef Kirk Morrison of Restaurant 18

Marc Bazinet: Do you come from a family of foodies?
Kirk Morrison: My dad was actually a doctor, but he was an amazing home cook. He always had me on the counter when I was a kid— making breakfast or helping with dinner parties. I acquired a respect and passion for food at a very young age.

MB: What did you do after cooking school?
KM: I worked at the Four Seasons in Yorkville. I trained under Lynn Crawford who was the executive chef there at the time. I think I was 19 in this massive kitchen with all these talented people and this famous executive chef.

After my stage, I left Toronto to go to Vancouver. I bounced around and eventually landed at the official caterer for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. We worked with the IOC on everything, from building the cafeterias around the Olympic venues, to planning how we were going to feed the athletes and spectators and staff. During the Olympics, our kitchen was open 24-hours. Just straight open. It was crazy bananas.

MB: Where did you go after your Olympic experience?
KM: I stumbled upon a restaurant in Vancouver that had let their chef go. All the cooks left with him. It was just myself and a woman (who would later become my wife). We rebuilt the menu and relaunched the restaurant. I later became the executive chef and managed that for about three years. And then I got really tired of cooking.

MB: Was it a burnout?
KM: It was a hard burnout. I’d been working since I was about 17- or 18-years-old, and I was 28 at this point, and I had two kids and everything that comes with that. So I went to be butcher for a year. Looking back at that opportunity…priceless.

MB: After a year, did you miss cooking?
KM: I did, yeah. But we had to relocate outside of Vancouver to be able to afford our growing family, and we decided it was time to move. I did some research and the food scene here in Ottawa seemed to be going in an upward direction.

MB: How did the opportunity at Restaurant 18 come about?
KM: I walked into Sidedoor and Chef Johnny (executive chef Jonathan Korecki) came out. I had watched Top Chef, and I was like “Ah, you were on TV.” And he was like, “Yeah, that was me.” “Cool. So I need a job. He looked at my resume and said, “I need to hire somebody, when can you start?” I worked with Chef Johnny for about a month, and then the chef at [Restaurant]18 decided to move on. There was some restructuring in the company where the ownership had invited Johnny to be executive chef of the whole company, and he wanted to slot me in the chef de cuisine spot up here [Restaurant 18]. And it’s been good ever since.

MB: So how do you cook for a city of politicians and public servants?
KM: The magic is when somebody comes into your restaurant, sees something on the menu that they wouldn’t necessarily order all the time, orders it, eats it, and loves it. I am going to offer them something different from what they think they want.

MB: What are some of your favourite recipes from the Restaurant 18 menu?
KM: We make these little salt cod brandade fritters. So you have this little potato bomb on this dish, which is basically a salt cod donut wrapped in crispy potato strings. It has been the best received out of any dish on our menu.

MB: Do you follow food trends?
KM: Trends are one thing, but jumping on a bandwagon, I don’t think, is going to help push your creativity in any direction. As a city, we need to have a super diverse food scene to be able to thrive and push creative food forward. We all end up with a much richer food community than if everything was just the same.

MB: Do you cook at home?
KM: Yes, I love cooking at home. And my wife is also a chef. We always, on weekends, cook together. A large part of our home-life is spent in the kitchen.

MB: Are your kids too young to be interested in food?
KM: Oh no. With our oldest, he’s got his own little chair that he pulls up next to the counter. He seasons things, stirs pasta, does all that stuff. Once we were rushing to feed the kids. We made them pasta and we didn’t season it, and he pushed it away and said, “You didn’t put any salt on this.” We looked at each other like, “Did he just do that?”

MB: What do you do with your time outside of work?
KM: Usually something food-centric. When we first moved here, my wife and I would pack up the kids on my days off and go to the ByWard Market and walk around the stalls and teach the kids about the different vegetables.

MB: Food is obviously a passion. You chose the right line of work.
KM: It’s funny. It’s the one thing that I liked, and the one thing I was ever good at, and people have decided to pay me money to do it. I always have a little giggle to myself. It’s funny.

Read the full Q&A on Cool Food Dude