Kevin Morrison, exec chef-owner of Pinche Taqueria, on learning enough to move on
He went to culinary school, too, at Joliet Junior College in Chicago, but he skipped out early. "I figured I'd learned enough to move on -- again," he says, noting that he'd also fallen hard for a girl who was attending college in Indiana. "I dropped everything, got in my car and moved to Bloomington," he recalls. He later married (and subsequently divorced) the girl, but tossing culinary school didn't exactly damage his career path.
Morrison cooked in several illustrious kitchens in Chicago, including Coco Pazzo and Vinci, before moving to Aspen for a played-up stint that resulted in disappointment. "My job in Chicago was super-high-stress, and I was offered the head-chef job at a restaurant in Aspen that sounded amazing," he says. "The owners flew me out to Aspen before I started, wining and dining me and taking me skiing, and then after three months of interviews, I finally got to Aspen to start the job, and the manager handed me the menu that I'd done and it looked like the red pen had blown up." In essence, he explains, "they wanted a Number 10-can chef, a guy who would open cans all day and do Americanized cheap Italian food." He stayed for less than six months, departing to cook alongside alums from the French Laundry, Charlie Trotter's and the Little Nell in the cafeteria on Aspen Mountain.
"It was awesome," he says. "I was working with all of this amazing talent, and we had carte blanche to do whatever we wanted." But when ski season ended, so did the job, so Morrison packed up and headed to Denver, where he was hired as a sous chef at Barolo Grill. He left to start his own produce company, sold it and then hooked up with a former colleague to open the state's first Spicy Pickle. "I'd always wanted to own a sandwich shop, and in the three years I was there, we opened three and franchised another 37," he remembers. And then he got the boot. "I was fired, so I assumed I should leave," deadpans Morrison. "And by then, I'd learned enough to move on...."
By that point, he'd also wrapped his head around tacos, unleashing his taco wagon in the summer of 2010. And next year, he'll add a second brick-and-mortar in Highland. "We're working around the clock to get it open," says Morrison, who in the following interview reveals what happened to the Band-Aid on the night he cooked for Rick Bayless, explains why we deserve better restaurants on the 16th Street Mall and assaults the twenty-minute cocktail.
How do you describe your food? Simple, value-driven and craveable.
Ten words to describe you: Passionate, motivated, flexible (no, really), too understanding, energetic, entrepreneur, fun, adventurous, demanding and laid-back.
What are your ingredient obsessions? Right now it's chiles, especially the Serrano. It's a simple and familiar chile with a well-rounded, crisp, clean flavor.