Nine On The Line With Chef Jerry Morgan, Ghini’s French Caffe

Jerry Morgan was born and raised in Tucson. Currently the Kitchen Manager at Ghinis French Caffe Chef Morgan’s impressive and eclectic background includes Flying V at Loews Ventana Canyon; pastry assistant at the Hub Restaurant & Ice Creamery; Reilly Craft Pizza + Drink; and Janos/J Bar. Morgan has also worked for Native Seed/SEARCH, had a brief stint writing for the Tucson Weekly food section, and is attempting to start Tucson’s first Meadery.

What was the first dish you had that changed your perspective on food?

I would have to say fried calamari that my grandfather ordered for the table when I was 8 years old. I thought they were tiny onion rings and began shoveling them in with the accompanying marinara sauce, loving every bite. With a mouth full of squid deliciousness, he proceeded to explain what they were. My world changed for the better.

What are you eating these days?

A lot of house fermented stuff. Kimchi quesadillas are an after-work staple for me theses days. Quick, simple, yet full of flavor and complexity. Also noodle soups, such as ramen and pho, I have had mad love for these days. They’re light, filling umami bombs. Throw in some homemade mead to smooth it all down.

What was the first dish you remember cooking?

That would have to be classic Mac ‘n’ Cheese from the box and hot dogs. I had to baby sit my younger brother and needed to make dinner. I felt so proud that I didn’t starve us.

What concept, ingredient or food trend does everyone seem to love, but you just can’t stomach?

The term, “mixologist.” It’s some fancy term to make a bartender sound more important. I’m not a gastronomical engineer, I’m a cook, or on a good day a chef. If you make great cocktails, you’re a great bartender. “Mixologist” makes me think of some pretentious, holier than thou snob and that is not a guy I want making my drink.

What chef, with us or passed on, would you most like to cook or eat dinner with?

Rene Redzepi of Noma. I read his experimental blog all the time. He has this test kitchen that’s a boat on the water there in Copenhagen. Some of the stuff he does boggles my mind. Like bee larva granola! I would love to just eat some of his creations and brainstorm flavors and ideas.

What city, other than Tucson, is your favorite place to eat?

Some of my fondest food memories and eating stuff out of my comfort zone was in Hong Kong when I was in the Navy. Things like dried seafood and odd vegetables. It made me realize how small of a world I had been living in.

Speaking in junk food terms, what is your favorite guilty pleasure?

Chili dogs and greasy fries. Either prime stuff at Pat’s Chili Dogs, or even slumming it at Sonic. I pay dearly for it later but they are so good.

Top three Tucson restaurants?

Ugh, so hard. Excluding where I cook, of course, Downtown Kitchen + Cocktails. Janos (Wilder) and Chef Devon Sanner are always on point. Cafe Poca Cosa – the ever changing menu and the famous Plato makes it a winner. And, La Cocina. Between the food and the ambiance, it’s a great group spot to hang with friends.

With a figurative electric chair in your immediate future, what is your last meal?

Oh, well I’m going out big! Start with Oeufs Dans le Sirop d’Erable. Then a goat cheese and asparagus terrine, Pork rillette and fresh bread, and then a purselane, cranberry, and pecan salad with a citrus vinaigrette. Halibut on celeriac puree. Seared and honey glazed duck breast with roasted root vegetables. And finally 14 hour braised beef short ribs with horseradish mashed potatoes. Black forest cake right before they throw the switch! Oh, and copious amounts of beer, wine, and mead.

C.J. Hamm is a native Tucsonan and has been covering the local culinary and cocktail scene since 2012.

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