Proud of Colorado: Chef Jason Morse Has a Bounty on His Hands

Categories: Chef and Tell

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5280 Culinary
Chef Jason Morse teaches Douglas County school kids about nutrition.
Colorado Proud, the Colorado Department of Agriculture's food-promotion wing, is highlighting the harvest season this month with a 27-day, eleven-city "Choose Colorado" tour of the state, showcasing its best products. The tour will culminate with a private lunch for state dignitaries on August 27 featuring ingredients gathered by the Colorado Proud team and Colorado Commissioner of Agriculture John Salazar. Chef Jason Morse, along with fellow chef Kurt Boucher, will be cooking for invited guests. Morse is still working on the menu, but a cheesecake featuring Haystack Mountain goat cheese is high on his list, and he's excited about some of the other products he'll be working with: potatoes from Alamosa, tomatoes and rhubarb from Boulder, roasted green chiles from El Paso County, beets from Durango, and onions and scallions from Fort Collins, to name just a few.

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Colorado Proud
Morse at the Flavors of Colorado Festival in Avon.
Although the lunch is not open to the public, the Choose Colorado tour has been setting up one-day farmers' markets for the public throughout the state that will continue through the week (remaining stops include Fort Collins, Colorado Springs and Fountain, Burlington and Denver). There are also Colorado-based recipes available on the Colorado Proud website, many of which Morse has created over the past four years. His passion for Colorado and its agriculture are clear from the focus of his consulting business, 5280 Culinary, where he advocates for products such as lamb that's born, raised and finished in the Centennial State and small-farm cantaloupe from Rocky Ford while offering his services to Colorado public schools to help shape the eating habits of Colorado kids.

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Colorado Proud
Durango beets collected during the Colorado Proud tour.
Morse isn't from Colorado, and he took a roundabout career path to get here -- and to his interest in local products. He grew up in suburban Minneapolis, and first learned about cooking from a neighbor -- "a gourmand," he says, "not a foodie" -- who would let him help her with food preparation as a reward for mowing the lawn. By the age of fourteen, he was rolling enchiladas in a local Mexican restaurant, but he soon moved on to a steakhouse. After high school, he attended Johnson & Wales University in Charleston, South Carolina. He credits his mentor, Mike Moros, with setting him on a path toward a culinary education, even though he thought he knew everything.

Over the course of his career, Morse has worked as a corporate trainer for Chili's, as the corporate chef for the entire Cafe Odyssey chain, at various hotel restaurants, and eventually at the Valley Country Club in Centennial. While there, he became involved in Michelle Obama's Chefs Move to Schools program because of his interest in children's nutrition. A trip to Washington, D.C., landed him in front of the First Lady with a group of other chefs involved in the program. It was a life-altering moment, and he remembers asking himself, "How did I go from frying tortillas in Minnesota to sitting on the White House lawn?"

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