Michelin-starred chef Chris Morgan is taking his culinary skills and experience with fine dining restaurants to explore a new venture: pizza. Morgan recently opened Pizza Serata in Washington, D.C. with his business partner Ben Farahani. And while Morgan admits pizza concepts are not hard to come by, he believes that his vision for Pizza Serata stands out.
“It kind of leans like nostalgic, like the old pan pizzas from Pizza Hut, but a little more elevated,” Morgan says.
Being big fans of pan-style pizza, Morgan and Farahani wanted to keep that nostalgia alive while also creating a more elevated and conscious style of pizza. When they got the chance to work with Chef Anthony Falco, a well-known pizza consultant, they thought it would be a fun project.
Pizza Serata’s pies are made from heirloom grains sourced from Virgina’s Wades Mill, a local family-run stone mill that has been around for more than 250 years. The dough also goes through a 24-hour room-temperature fermentation process which gives it structure and makes the pizza light and airy.
Although Morgan was trained at a French culinary school, he was exposed to Italian and American cuisine before making the decision to become a chef. After graduating with an economics degree from the University of North Carolina-Wilmington, the North Virginia native decided to drive across the country to California instead of pursuing any economic job offers. He spent his time traveling across the state, surfing, and working odd jobs, sometimes in restaurants. One winter, he moved to Lake Tahoe where he worked at a restaurant on a resort. It was there he realized he was good at cooking and wanting to continue on a culinary path, and after the winter ended, he decided to go to the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco.
“I’m high energy. So the hours don’t bother me,” Morgan says about having a career in food service. “It’s a world full of scattered brains and extremely focused people. So I think my brain works well in that environment.”
In culinary school, Morgan managed his school schedule while working at various restaurants and being mentored by chefs, including Judy Rogers, owner and chef of Zuni Cafe. He was determined to learn as much as “humanly possible.” From Monday to Friday, Morgan would spend six hours in school and then work for an additional eight hours.
“I think finding this career path was particularly exciting because it wasn’t expected for me, it was kind of just like, I was doing something just totally to make money,” Morgan adds. “Then I realized, you know, I think I could do this, like this is actually fun.”
After completing culinary school, Morgan moved back to Washington D.C., where he would begin to open restaurants and showcase his appreciation of cuisines from all over the world.
“I love tradition. I love history. I love different cultures. I love learning from other people. This is truly fascinating, how it ties people together is just beautiful,” Morgan says.
In 2020, Morgan and his business partner Gerald Addison opened Bammy’s—a laid-back Caribbean restaurant where customers can have a rum punch, eat traditional Jamaican dishes, and listen to live DJs.
His idea for Bammy’s was spurred from spending summers with his Jamaican aunt during his childhood. She introduced him to Caribbean cuisine, and he would even assist her while she cooked. Morgan remembers always talking to his aunt about opening a restaurant one day. She is now a partner at Bammy’s.
Before Bammy’s, Morgan and Addison opened Maydan, a Middle Eastern dining experience featuring bread made in their Maydan clay ovens as the centerpiece of the meal. The success of Maydan earned the restaurant a Michelin Star and a list of other accolades, including becoming a James Beard Award Semifinalists in 2018.
Morgan’s other restaurants include Yasmine, a Lebanese kebab shop, and Little Chicken, a fried chicken spot with a bar.
“I think the beauty of being able to be a restaurant owner is you really get to create experiences,” Morgan says. “You’re creating great food, but you’re also creating something memorable.”
This ignites Morgan’s drive to consistently come up with new eatery concepts; he will just be sitting with his girlfriend at dinner and they’ll brainstorm fun restaurant ideas, he says.
Morgan emphasizes that creating and managing multiple restaurants is not an easy feat. He has a team behind him who cares about creating great food and great experiences in the same way he does.
“They’re like family to me, and if I didn’t have them, I wouldn’t be anywhere close to where I am right now,” he adds.
Although Morgan is aware that working in the restaurant industry has its physical, emotional, and financial hurdles, he reminds upcoming chefs and restaurant operators to surround themselves with the right people and learn from the people around them. When it gets hard, he urges them to use it as motivation to make sure they’re taking care of themselves.
“If you’re doing things right, you’re treating people the right way, and you’re working with the right people, there is a method to the madness; there is a beautiful way to run and operate restaurants,” Morgan says.