Over two sweltering-hot days at the Bite of Bend, eight local chefs tackled six secret ingredients in six rounds of competition to determine whose cuisine reigns supreme. This year the title of "Top Chef" went to a Bend newcomer: Chef George Morris from the new fine dining steakhouse, Bos Taurus.
To claim his win, Morris had to first beat previous Top Chef Bend winner, Chef Michael Benson from Pronghorn, in an oyster battle. Next, in the semifinals, he had to take down the previous year's runner-up, Anna Witham from 123Ramen in a rhubarb brawl. In the final cooking showdown, with octopus as the secret ingredient, Morris had to beat Chef Ingrid Rohrer from Broken Top Bottle Shop.
We caught up with two of the judges from the final octopus round and asked them why they thought Morris won. (Full disclosure: I was also a judge, in the semifinal round.)
Wine expert Lance Steffan said, "George won because he exhibited creativity with the ingredients and the situation. With temps hovering around 100 degrees he decided to make two cold dishes with the octopus, integrating two different cuisines, but still being the focus of the dishes. His Latin-inspired appetizer with marinated sea scallop and his Asian cold noodle soup showcased both the flavor and texture of the octopus but also the way that it melded with the diverse ingredients."
It's no surprise fellow judge Chef T. R. McCrystal, had similar feelings. "In my opinion, George's dishes both reflected a balance between flavor, appearance and texture; that and his utilization of the secret ingredient, octopus, made him the clear winner and deserving of the title of Top Chef."
Morris hails from Chicago and is a graduate from the prestigious Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in Hyde Park, N.Y.. Early in his career he worked at urban restaurants across the country, but decided to escape city life and make his mark in relaxed mountain towns. Before moving to Bend, he was the executive chef at the award-winning Madeline Hotel and Residences in Telluride, where he oversaw all culinary operations. He moved to Central Oregon to direct the opening of Bos Taurus, developing a steakhouse menu with creative flair.
It's no surprise that Morris has won other culinary prizes. He was the winner of Batalla Culinaria, a cooking competition between well-known chefs from the U.S. and Mexico, organized by Tijuana Innovadora.
Morris has a crazy attention to quality, which you can see when he competes and builds a menu. Most steakhouses find one ranch to feature on their menu, but to find the best-tasting cuts of meat for Bos Taurus, Morris cooked 60 steaks from 13 ranches around the world. Today you can eat a New York strip from Fulton Provisions in Portland, Ore., or dine on Wagyu—the most expensive beef in the world, from Japan. If you've never tried Wagyu, it has a sublime melt-in-your-mouth texture, coming from the intense fat marbling of genetically predisposed Japanese breeds of cattle.
When we asked him what his dream secret ingredient would be, he had a hard time coming up with an answer—probably because he works with dreamy ingredients every day. But his worst secret ingredient? He didn't hesitate in saying, "I would not have wanted to see green bell peppers, 'cause I think they are the devil. It's one of the only ingredients I don't like."
As soon as Morris got the Top Chef Bend trophy, it went in the window at Bos Taurus. We asked Morris what this win means for him and he said, "It means being a part of the community and making the Bos Taurus team proud of where they work." It also means Morris will compete again, representing Central Oregon in Top Chef Oregon. He says he's "committed to making the rest of the country aware of what the Central Oregon culinary scene has to offer." We think he's well on his way.
163 NW Minnesota Ave., Bend
EDITOR'S NOTE: This story has been changed from the original version, to reflect that the Madeline Hotel is in Telluride, Colo., not Aspen as previously stated.