Article and photography by Fitz
Lead photo of Chef/Owner Brandon Morrison during service at F.M.C. Garden Cafe
“I do not sit still well.” These were the first and probably most understated words Chef Brandon Morrison shared with me when I interviewed him in his restaurant, FMC Garden Cafe, not far from the airport off of Military Highway in Norfolk. More precisely put, I would say Morrison, aka Full Metal Chef—a nickname given to him in his master of arms Navy days—is a man combusting daily with new creative ideas and projects he feels compelled to see to fruition. As I got to know his story more during our involved interview—the duration of which took place both sitting and standing—I couldn’t help but wonder if this drive to realize so much, so fast, was due to the multiple reminders in his life that illuminate just how fleeting life can be.
In the kitchen, Morrison just might be the most nimble chef I’ve ever seen cook. I’m not trying to aggrandize his style of handling or plating food—which in truth was rather focused—more to literally describe the speed and grace with which he maneuvered between his crew during the busy Friday night service I watched. As odd as it might sound, it became apparent to me that his younger days as a dancer, who would realize his BFA from Middle Tennessee State, are without a doubt being put to use when he is in the kitchen. Morrison is far from just a dancer turned chef however, he has also earned a BS in Business, an Associate of Science in Sociology, an Associate in Applied Science/ Culinary Arts, and a Masters of Business Administration and Hospitality Management over the course of his life.
To ultimately say that Morrison in his youth developed a disposition to be a chef, even with all his other educational pursuits, would more than make sense. As a young kid, as he put it, “I wanted to do what dad did.” His dad did all the cooking at home and cooked at his own dad and mom’s, Morrison’s grandparents’, restaurant in Louisiana. Tragically, his dad, whom Morrison spoke of affectionately to me, lost his life when Morrison was ten. Though Morrison didn’t get into too much detail, an aberration to the candidness of the rest of our interview, he would soon bounce between foster homes in part due to a strained relationship with his mother.
At age 16, Morrison emancipated himself and soon after joined the navy where, as he put it, “In the Navy, I never knew how I was doing. And in foster care, growing up, you need to feel like you’re contributing something. That’s what I love about food; the minute I set it down I know exactly how I did. Food is the only job I see with immediate gratification. You can tell by the customers’ reactions.”
In the present, when serving the public at FMC Garden Cafe, a restaurant born out of his FMC catering business, Morrison takes the right steps to get great reactions. As he explained to me, “I tell people, we are a from-scratch, made-to-order restaurant, it does take time. This is a place to enjoy your dining experience, a place where you can be told where every ingredient came from.” Morrison also hates food waste and cracked a smile of satisfaction while telling me he is down to less than 10 pounds of food waste per week.
The importance of responsible cooking and waste management, in part, took root in his approach to food when he was a student at the Culinary Institute of Virginia. Nowadays, along with running the restaurant, and his catering business, he also teaches at his former school part time. Oh, and by the way, he does all this while going through his second round of chemo for soft tissue cancer in his shoulder.
Saying that I was a bit taken back by his nonchalance while discussing his cancer would be an understatement on my end. Morrison just casually, verbally bounced back and forth from, “Yeah, you have some good days and some bad days on chemo and radiation”, to explaining how he got involved in catering local cons (fan conventions), NECO and ROF because he himself identifies as both a nerd and a geek. The latter, by the way, made for a most interesting juxtaposition in terms kitchen tone with him and his staff while I was there.
Morrison commands his kitchen. From witnessing the loud and immediate orders he shouted out to his guys when service was thick, it’s clear his moniker Full Metal Chef is justified. However, when service wound down, he and his guys began jabbing at one another with D&D jokes, and I think some anime references. The level of nerddom rose to a level too superior for mere Godzilla appreciators and lay folks like myself to follow.
Morrison’s life could warrant multiple articles in all honesty. So, if you leave this article with only one take-away concerning this nimble nerd of Norfolk, leave with this: he is one of the best chefs in Norfolk today, and, that is only one of a myriad of passions in which he is wholeheartedly engaged.
For more on F.M.C. Garden Cafe, located at 5511 Faris St in Norfolk, visit www.fullmetalchef.com