Building a ‘Chopped’ Champion

Photo courtesy of Food Network

Chef Cory Morris is a competitor. And he always has been. After all, you have to be when you’re trying to make a name for yourself in the food industry, which tends to be a lot more competitive than your average cubicle dwelling day job. Even the average chef doesn’t have the killer instinct to win $10,000 against other distinguished chefs from around the country. But as Chicago’s own “Chopped” champion, Morris is far from average.

For Morris, who specializes in Latin American cuisine, competing on Food Network’s cooking competition “Chopped” was just the next step in his journey towards becoming a culinary legend. His ascent to success started as a line cook on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon with his nose to the grindstone, and after being appointed to his first executive chef position at 21, his initial plan of going to culinary school became an afterthought. As he worked his way around America, concocting creative cuisine and honing his craft at highly regarded culinary establishments in Utah, Montana, Michigan, and at multiple “Iron Chef” restaurants in Chicago, he was looking for his next challenge, and the thought of winning $10,000 competing on “Chopped” called Morris’s name. Morris isn’t one to give up, so when he sent his application to “Chopped” the first time and didn’t hear back, he applied againand again. The third time was the charm, and after being interviewed over Skype, Morris received an invitation to spice things up in the “Chopped” kitchen.

Morris’s episode, accurately titled “Bizarre Battle,” aired in Season 25, and while Morris was surprised by the freakish ingredients he and his competitors had to use, he accepted the challenge. “I like to cook with hearts, kidneys, livers, intestines, brains, eyeballs, tongues,” Morris says. “I can turn the most random, funky, bizarre ingredients into something delicious and edible.” Without a moment’s hesitation, Morris pickled jackfruit, boiled duckbills, and sliced fruit-flavored beef jerky to make a duckbill dashi, a Vietnamese dish for which the panel of celebrity chefs had nothing but praise.

Proving that he was a culinary force to be reckoned with in the “Chopped” kitchen, Morris conquered the entrée and dessert rounds, transforming hot sauce-flavored jelly beans, aloe mango pudding, and a funky fermented butter called smen into pieces of edible artwork to impress the judges. After a grueling culinary struggle, Morris triumphed over the competition, earning the much coveted title of “Chopped” champion—and $10,000.

More than anything, the competition is exhausting. “It’s all done over one 14-hour day, and you don’t meet the other competitors until the morning of the competition,” Morris says. But he praised the show’s production team for portraying the experience that he faced as a chef accurately to the viewer at home. “It’s real,” Morris says of the short cooking times. “And there are no exceptions.”

One of Morris’s favorite parts of the competition was the time he spent with his competitors during the day. “You get to spend a good amount of time getting to know the other chefs in between rounds, and I was fortunate enough to be paired with some really incredible talent on my episode,” Morris says.

Mark Sabbe, who worked closely with Morris at Chicago’s Mercat a la Planxa, saw his competitive spirit every day. “Cory is a genius chef,” Sabbe says. “He has a great affinity for food, for plating and for flavor combinations. He is highly skilled, thinks fast, and works quickly.”

Morris appreciates his opportunity to participate on “Chopped” and believes that it helped him to become a better chef by encouraging him to trust his instincts and to rely on his creative mind instead of over-analyzing new dishes and menus. Morris still gets stopped in the street to be congratulated by strangers and by renowned chefs. The competitive mindset and the abilities that Morris has been honing over his long career have given him a cool $10,000—and one hell of a resume builder.