Chef Brian Morris feeds a sample of food he cooked to an audience member at the Taste of the Hill City event in Lynchburg, Va.

Chef Brian Morris knows how to cook. His secret ingredient in anything? Fun.

“I have an intrinsic motivation to have fun in those moments that would otherwise typically be high stress,” he says.

But lots of home cooks want to know more. The director of operations for Nashville-style hot chicken chain Hattie B’s answered your cooking questions in advance of his cooking show on Nov. 6 at the Carolina Theatre.

Q: I have a small kitchen. How do I prepare a big dinner with such limited space?

Chef Brian: “Even if you have a decent-sized kitchen, what a lot of people run into is limited oven capacity where you have a bunch of stuff you want to keep warm but also a bunch of stuff you want to bake at the same time. It’s about making the most with what you’ve got. You can’t snap your fingers and double the size of your kitchen or add another oven or add another stove. You’ve got to have a plan and maximize every tool you have: stove, oven, countertop electrics, and outdoor equipment. We’ll talk about that at the show.”

Q: I want to impress my girlfriend with a home cooked meal, but I only have basic pots and pans. How can I make a fancy dinner without fancy equipment?

CB: “Fancy equipment is not necessary for meaningful food. Your intention is the sexiest thing you can do at dinner that night. Things that taste great, no matter how simple they are, are the things that tug at your emotions the hardest. [At the cooking show], we’re gonna look at some techniques that are super multi-purpose. You’ll be able to leave the show being able to do them, like one little technique that’ll change everything you do with vegetables or one little technique that’ll change everything you think about how to cook any kind of meat. Things like that go so far in this situation.”

Q: How do I make holiday cooking a family activity rather than something the parents (or the women) do?

CB: “You’ve gotta set the mood. If you’ve ever been to Hattie B’s hot chicken [restaurant] before, you know we really value this concept. Before you even hit the door, you hear the tunes, you’re jamming. So step one: Wash your hands. Step two: Turn on some tunes. That generally gets people engaged, wanting to know, ‘Alright, these people are having fun in here. It sounds like a place I need to be. Let me check it out.’ As far as getting the dudes engaged, I guarantee you 99 times out of 100 it’s not because he doesn’t want to; it’s because he’s not confident there, and he doesn’t want to look like a dummy. This is where I come back to having a couple tools in your tool belt because all it takes is a little bit of confidence to get in there and try it and then all of a sudden, you find yourself feeling like a craftsman at something.”

Q: I don’t like to cook. How do I make it easier?

CB: “Most people who don’t like to cook are just easily annoyed by things that are cumbersome. And they’ve had an experience or two like that before where they just want to throw their pots out the window, and they just don’t go back to it. But I think getting comfortable with a few little things and then adding a few more little things along the way, and before you know it, you’ve got some things you can feel really good about. [Eventually], you say, ‘Maybe I want to have some friends over and make it for them,’ and then you have this experience of what it feels like to love on people via food. It’s not about showing off. It’s about, ‘Man, it feels good to love on my friends and family this way.’”

Q: Is it worth it to buy a cast-iron skillet that you have to season yourself, or are pre-seasoned versions just as good?

CB: “I’m a huge fan of cast-iron skillets. They do such a good job of holding heat and dispensing that heat evenly to food. [They’re] so versatile and durable. And cast-iron pans, when cared for properly, are the best non-stick pans on the planet. Here’s the thing: Pre-seasoned is a marketing vehicle. They’ve taken that raw cast-iron, put some oil on it, heated it for a couple hours, and cooled it down before they stuck a label on it. Pre-seasoned pans are convenient for the first use. They’ll save you a couple hours the very first time, but it’s not like they’re permanently seasoned. Seasoning a cast-iron pan is not at all hard to do, and whether it’s pre-seasoned or not, you’ll need to re-season that pan for the life of it.”

Note: Chef Brian recommends using coarse Kosher salt, a green “scrubbie,” and hot water to clean cast-iron. Then, dry it out, rub oil on it (CB uses canola), and wipe off the excess. Never use soap!

Q: I’ve heard so many different theories for the “perfect” chili, like adding chocolate, a can of beer, or a pint of whiskey. What’s the key to a perfect pot of chili?

CB: “It’s really in the eye of the beholder….There are a lot of ways to make chili your own and really, really good. To me, the most important deal is to start with great meat. I use a blend of beef and pork, usually the shoulder or the round. Get with your butcher and ask him to grind that meat more coarsely for you. Then, get that beautifully seasoned cast-iron pan, and put color on that meat. Don’t go crazy stirring. Let it get nice and dark golden brown. Do it in batches, if you need to. But starting with great color on meat will give you all the richness your chili needs.”

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