For the past two months, a sign with Darryl Morrison’s face has greeted those who dine at On Top of the Palms, the buffet-style restaurant with daily menu offerings, frequented by students, faculty and administrators alike.
As the newest chef for the restaurant located on the third floor of the Marshall Student Center, Morrison said he enjoys cooking a wide variety of food and draws from a history of cooking for people of all walks of life.
His love of cooking, he said, originated from the humble purpose of feeding his wife and children.
His career as a chef, however, began in the army where he said he cooked for thousands of soldiers over the course of several years.
Travelling with the military across Germany, South Korea, Egypt and the Mediterranean, Morrison said he learned “culturally authentic” ways to cook.
“It allowed me to learn how to cook European food. French style from French people, German style from German people,” Morrison said. “It gave me another look at food that a lot of American cooks don’t get a chance to see.”
Because of his duty to feed so many, Morrison said he learned to value quality in face of massive quantity.
Particularly, Morrison said he came to appreciate the “ala minute” approach to cooking – the practice of cooking an item to order instead of prepping a dish in advance and holding it for service.
“There’s no doubt in your mind that it is a fresh product,” he said. “I am doing everything in my power to put out the freshest product possible.”
After arriving home from the military, he returned to his roots of cooking for those he loved – his family and his friends.
“I would go out to barbecues,” he said. “I would be the meat man, or whatever it is, and I would come marinate steaks, put steaks in front of everybody. Everyone said ‘That’s really, really good food,’ … and I looked like I was having a good time too.”
But it wasn’t until one day at a church banquet that he said he was finally convinced to pursue a career as a chef.
“I cooked for an event for a church and it was about 50 people and everybody there commented on the food,” he said. “It kind of sold me at that point.”
Using the educational benefits offered by the military, he enrolled in University of Akron in Ohio where he learned refined techniques that he didn’t have the luxury to use in the military.
“The army is more about feeding five thousand soldiers each meal period,” he said. “There’s a lot of proper technique I learned (from Akron) that you don’t find feeding that many people.”
After receiving his culinary degree, he worked for a Marriott in Ohio until he was promoted and moved to Florida. He was then transferred again to the Ritz Carlton in Naples.
Before arriving at USF, he cooked at a Raymond James Stadium restaurant over several seasons until Aramark, a company that owns food vendors at both the stadium and USF Dining, brought him to On Top of the Palms.
Ashley Horowitz, the marketing manager for USF Dining, said Morrison blends well with the atmosphere of the food and of those who make it.
“Collaboration is key, and we’ve seen a cohesive unit in our kitchen since his arrival,” she said. “Darryl has the ability to play with flavors and incorporate himself into the dishes.”
Over the past three months, Morrison said he’s found his niche in the kitchen, although a chef’s duties are often divided.
“I have yet to be in a kitchen where one person does everything,” he said. “It’s always a group effort.”
What he brings to the team, he said, is garnishes that hint to the nuances of a dish.
Morrison said he looks forward to sharing his garnished “art” with USF students who want good food to go with a good view.
“(Cooking) is an art form because you get to express exactly who you are by flavor,” he said. “The cilantro, the thyme, the parsley and the rosemary. That’s who I am.”
As for the dishes he cooks, he said his favorite dish has traditionally been smoked salmon pasta with dill, though he’s grown fond of experimenting with vegetarian and vegan food.
“The more I get to play with barleys, canola and different kinds of vegetables, the more I learn a little bit more about how to feed people better,” he said.
After all, Morrison said, people are the reason he loves to cook.
“I want the wow factor, as in ‘wow, that one dish did it,'” he said. “Anytime you see me, if it’s something you want, you like, you don’t like, you love, just stop me and talk to me…I’m looking to cook for you.”