Michele Morris: Vagabond Chef
Whether she’s cooking, teaching, volunteering, writing or traveling the globe, Chef Michele Morris approaches her culinary passions with hard work, commitment—and a heart for helping everyone eat better
Povy Kendal Atchison
Michele Morris in her home library, which features more than 500 cookbooks.
Pity the graphic designer who has to squeeze Michele Morris’s many titles on her business card: Cookbook author. Gourmet travel planner. Blogger. Food photographer. Culinary teacher. Philanthropist.
Morris launched her company, Cooking With Michele, eight years ago, initially hosting hands-on cooking parties. She was also an early adoptee of the blog form, and today CookingWithMichele.com attracts thousands of readers for her mouth-watering recipes, tips and photos.
Morris is also a prolific writer of food columns, and in 2013 she penned Tasting Colorado, a beautiful and practical cookbook of recipes from top working chefs around the state. The book recently won the Colorado Book Award for general nonfiction. Morris not only gathered and tested the 120 recipes, she also photographed all of the dishes. Her latest book, A Taste of Washington features recipes from Washington State’s best chefs.
“I’ve been cooking since I was a little kid,” says Morris, who at fourteen prepared a complete Chinese feast from scratch for her mother’s birthday. “My mom always encouraged me, and that’s probably why I enjoy cooking with children so much today.”
Based in Denver, Morris teaches adult and children’s cooking classes from her spacious home kitchen, which is outfitted with an oversized island to accommodate students, a professional Wolf range, a large Sub-Zero refrigerator and two farmhouse sinks. “I’d rather have a pair of sinks to stash pans than two dishwashers; you can always do dishes later,” she explains.
Morris hosts an array of cooking classes for both children and adults in her well-appointed home kitchen.
And she recently started taking her show on the road. After Morris attended a class at a cooking school in Italy, the owner suggested Morris return with a group of her own students from Colorado. “I discovered I loved putting together culinary trips,” Morris says. “We just finished our fifth trip to Puglia, in southern Italy, where the food is classic Mediterranean. Next year we’re going to France, Germany and Italy.”
Much of Michele Morris’s considerable energy is devoted to doing good in the culinary world. She’s a Hall of Fame Chef for Share Our Strength’s Cooking Matters program, which shows families how to stretch food budgets and prepare healthy, affordable meals, and she is also a contributing gardener for Produce for Pantries—a grassroots initiative that provides fresh fruits and veggies to local food pantries. Morris also helps Denver Public Schools students cook with produce they’ve grown in school gardens, and rarely encounters picky eaters in those settings. “They make sandwiches from just-picked radishes, and ratatouille with garden vegetables,” Morris says. “I’ve discovered that if kids grow it, they will usually eat it.”
Michele Morris may have too many titles to fit on a business card, but one common theme runs through all of her endeavors. “I want people to know how to cook and feed themselves good, healthy food,” Morris says. “To me that’s just a basic, very important necessity.”
What are a few of your favorite new Colorado restaurants?
Acorn, Beast + Bottle, Gozo and Session Kitchen serve really creative food and are also fun for brunch on the weekends.
What’s your favorite thing to cook?
Anything I cook for friends! I love to create multi-course dinners with a theme—like Italian, Colorado-grown or “The Whole Hog”—and serve them with wine pairings.
What’s the most memorable meal you ever ate?
I’ll never forget things like my first salade aux chèvre chaud in Paris, a true Belgian waffle in Bruges, a perfect thin-crust pizza with prosciutto and arugula in Italy, or a comforting bowl of chicken broth with noodles and vegetables served for breakfast in Beijing. Travel, for me, is as much about the food as it is anything else, and recalling those meals helps me remember the wonderful places I’ve been fortunate enough to visit.
What are your feelings about trendy foods like kale, kimchi, cronuts and quinoa?
Some hip ingredients—like kale and quinoa—serve a useful purpose by helping to educate our communities about eating healthy foods. Others, like kimchi, reflect our ever-expanding palates as we seek to experience new cuisines. But trends like cronuts just seem a little silly to me!
What’s a good dish for a novice cook to prepare?
I encourage people to learn to cook without recipes so they can have more flexibility based on the foods they have on hand. Pasta dishes are easy to play around with, because you can combine vegetables and protein with herbs and seasonings, toss it all together and create a fabulous, easy meal.
After writing Tasting Colorado and traveling all over the state, what food do you think most exemplifies Colorado cuisine?
Ingredients like peaches, bison, chiles, and lamb certainly seem iconic for our state, but I think what really defines our cuisine is more of a commitment to locally grown, organic and sustainable foods. The farmers, restaurateurs and chefs I’ve met seem deeply committed to these principles.
They’re better at it than you might think! Children do tend to want to overstuff their rolls, so I work with them to help them make a smooth, tight wrap with just the right amount of filling.
Michele Morris has long been dedicated to organizations that work toward ending childhood hunger. These programs can use your help, too:
Part of Share our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign, Cooking Matters teaches families how to shop for and cook healthy meals on a budget. To volunteer or donate, visit cookingmatters.org.
Produce for Pantries
A Colorado-based organization, Produce for Pantries connects home, school and community gardeners with food pantries to provide fresh fruits and veggies to those in need. To become a Produce for Pantries Gardener, visit produceforpantries.com.