Q&A with NGI Alum John Morris
John Morris is a recent graduate of our Chef’s Training Program. As an Olympic gold medalist and full-time firefighter, he turns to healthy foods for optimal performance. Read on to learn about John’s career and how he hopes to use the tools he learned in culinary school both personally and professionally.
John, you have a very unique professional background. Can you tell us about your experience of being an Olympic curler?
The Olympic experience was one of the most amazing of my life. Curling is a really big sport in Canada and it was quite the challenge just to be able to win our Olympic trials. I can remember assembling our team four years before the 2010 Games with a common goal of representing Canada and winning gold at the next Olympics. We worked so hard to become the best team in our sport, so when we finally realized that dream, it made every little bit of hard work and sweat worthwhile.
What was it like co-authoring the book Fit to Curl? Do you plan on writing any more books in the future?
When I first started curling, not many curlers put much time into the fitness aspect of it. However, I began to realize that being in good shape was vital for performance (now I know just how important nutrition is as well!). I always enjoyed working out, but I was determined to take it to the next level. I felt it would give me that little bit of an edge over my competitors. After seeing the positive results, I had many people asking about my training regime, so I decided to create a book with my friend Dean Gemmell, to help educate and share my experiences. It became very popular and we actually sold every copy that we printed. Today, most elite curlers around the world are in top athletic shape and our sport has grown to a new level of popularity. I’m not sure how our book impacted this movement, but I like to think it had a positive effect. I currently have two other book proposals in the works involving my two other passions – firefighting and nutritious cooking. We’ll see where they go, but regardless, I really enjoy writing and hope to continue in the future.
You noted that you have a passion for firefighting. What has it been like for you to be a firefighter back home in Canada?
Like most boys with big dreams, I had an interest in firefighting at a very early age. I was lucky enough to start my firefighting career about ten years ago and have loved every minute of it. I truly think it is one of the best jobs in the world and I am very grateful to be able to call myself a firefighter. The people I’ve had the privilege to serve with are all genuinely great and I really like the sense of camaraderie and community it brings to my life. Also, the shift work involved in firefighting has allowed me to have a more flexible schedule, so I can continue to chase my Olympic aspirations. I’m actually on a medical leave right now for a hernia injury I sustained in the spring – being able to do my physio in NYC, combined with a lot of the healthy cooking practices that I’ve learned, has left me feeling better than ever and I’ll be returning to the curling ice and my firefighting job in Canada ready to rock come fall!
Have you always had a passion for cooking and healthy food?
Not always – I was your typical teenage picky eater that had a tendency to eat more refined quick foods and a lot of fried foods. Shortly after university, I began competing internationally in curling. I had learned from my Kinesiology degree that part of this meant eating the right foods that would fuel my brain and body for peak performance. As I continued to learn more about nutrition, my tastes began to change and I started craving really nutritious food. I also soon found out how much better I generally felt when I made these changes – I was more energized, had a better attitude, was more productive, and even slept better. Soon after, I began creating and experimenting in the kitchen, as I couldn’t afford eating out all of the time and I liked knowing exactly what was going into my meals.
What drew you to culinary school at this point in your life?
I would say over the last ten years I’ve developed a real love for food, but not just the eating part – that’s too easy! I love the whole process: where your food comes from, what’s in your food, how to fuel yourself for optimal health, and how to make nutritious food taste delicious so everyone wants to eat it. Before I enrolled in the Chef’s Training Program, I received a Holistic Nutrition diploma and I felt it could really be complemented with formal culinary training. I wanted to learn to create delicious food that was also really good for you and NGI is one of the few schools that I found that offers this.
What was your favorite part of the Chef’s Training Program?
There are so many great things that I’ve been able to take away from the program! A few things- Cooking in an environment where most of my peers were as keen to learn as myself was very refreshing and motivating; being able to learn new cooking techniques that I’ve never used before such as making Asian, Indian, Italian and Sicilian cuisine; improving my confidence in knife skills and using certain kitchen equipment that I had never seen; and last but certainly not least, was learning how to create delicious non-dairy ice cream from scratch (I am lactose intolerant so this was great for me!)
How do you find time for all your diverse commitments? Do you have any advice for people who want to attend NGI but are afraid they don’t have the time?
I am a big advocate for following your passions as life is simply too short not to do the things you really want to experience. One of the great things about the Chef’s Training Program is that you can take it full or part-time. As a Canadian I was able to come down to NYC and complete the in-class curriculum as well as my internship in about 5 months, which was perfect for me. I’ve met lots of other students who are taking the part-time program, which allows them to continue to work during the day. This seems to really fit well with their lifestyle and was a pace they preferred.
How do you plan to use your new culinary skills?
Not only do I love to cook at home, but at my fire department we work 24 hour shifts and I’m typically cooking 3 meals a day for my crew. Since I’m starting to really understand the connection between the food we eat and the way we feel and perform, I take it as a personal challenge to be able to fuel my crew with meals that will leave them energized, mentally sharp, and ready for anything that is thrown at us. With the new skills that I’ve acquired from NGI, I can’t wait to expand my cooking repertoire at the fire hall and really take my cooking to a whole new level. I am also very interested in teaching some public workshops in my town of Canmore to help educate local residents and school kids about what I’ve learned.