August 2007 Issue
Food in the Fast Lane
At a sporting event usually associated with cheesesteaks and greasy burgers, gourmet cuisine such as seafood quiche and crawfish salsa seems out of place. Drag race competitors, especially, find it difficult to escape the fast-food norm of racing life. But chef Nicky Morse, who travels across the country with nationally renowned Team Jegs, is pushing the standard of racing fare with his divine dishes fit for five-star dining.
Six years ago, Morse, of London, Ohio, became the first full-time chef employed by an NHRA (National Hot Road Association) race team when he decided to leave the frenetic world of the restaurant business and head for the racetrack with its more flexible scheduling. At first glance, cooking for a drag-racing team seems an obscure endeavor for a gourmet chef who says he doesn't even know the model or year of his own car. However, Morse, 41, quickly found his niche in this high-power sport.
"I thought I was a perfectionist but these guys have the driver's life in their hands," Morse says, marveling at the pit crew's innate attention to detail.
Morse adds that cooking lunches and dinners for about 20 people in a 35-foot trailer that doubles as a dining room can be difficult when you only have a few hours to gather ingredients and prepare the food.
"When I get to the track Friday I hit the ground running. [Finding ingredients] can be hard in certain parts of the country," Morse says.
With the assortment of tastes and dietary needs of team members, it's easy to imagine the variety of food coming out of Morse's oven every week. For example, Friday Pizza is topped with jumbo lump crabmeat, while a pie tailored for a racer on the Atkins diet calls for a sausage crust. To jazz up his apple pies, Morse adds caramelized onions and a side of salty caramel ice cream, creating a team favorite.
Despite the fact that Morse gets to jet across the country experimenting with regional ingredients and been featured on Food Network's "Top 5," this culinary star has found a more meaningful treasure.
"I've made so many new friends. That for me has been the best experience," Morse says