Eating Authors: Tee Morris

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Tee Morris

Every year it seems there’s a point where you look up and suddenly realize that the year seems to be whizzing by. For me and for this year, it’s just happened. How can it possibly be late March already? How is it we have crossed that rotational marker of the vernal equinox? But no, I’m not going to wax on about temporal relativity (though I suspect doing so might slow things down considerably). Instead let’s move on and talk about this week’s EATING AUTHORS guest, Tee Morris.

I’ve known of Tee for years and years, our orbits frequently crossing at conventions (mostly typically Balticon), but we’ve rarely found ourselves with the leisure to just hang out, shoot the breeze, and get inside one another’s head. That’s hardly surprising though, as I can’t recall ever seeing Tee when he wasn’t running around, spinning multiple projects at the same time, radiating tremendous enthusiasm and energy all the while. The man is dangerously infectious that way.

But more than being eternally busy, Tee’s a great example of a writer who draws on other skills to create his fiction, in his case his years of experience as an actor. You’ll spot this most easily in his voice work, and indeed Tee is famous for being a pioneer and innovator in the world of podcasting. But it shows up in both broad and subtle ways when you read one of his books. His characters glide across the page, hit their marks, execute their lines with perfection, and manage their exits with an economy of motion. If you didn’t know this about Tee’s background before, keep it in mind when you pick up a copy of his new book, The Diamond Conspiracy. It’s the latest novel in the A Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences series, co-authored with his wife, Philippa Ballantine, and you’ll be able to get a copy in a mere eight days.

LMS: Welcome, Tee. Let’s talk about memorable meals. Or more specifically, would tell me about yours?

TM: Memorable meals. You would think with my love of food—and yeah, I do think of myself as a foodie as I love to cook, I love to eat, and I love the social experience around food so much that it creeps into my own work—this would be an easy thing. The truth is I can recall the best meals based on the company. Tonight, for example, I cooked with my wife some healthy-conscious lasagna rolls for a full house of friends. We have room for six and tonight, on account of late trains and bad weather, we were an overflowing house of seven. It was great fun, good food, and a delightful Smoked IPA from Old Bust Head Brewing Company. The food itself wasn’t exactly memorable (I mean, come on, lasagna rolls. This was my third time making it within a month.), but the company made the meal an experience.

But this is about a memorable meal, a meal that begins with anticipation and ends with an impression. I’ve been very lucky to have wonderful meals in Manassas, Virginia, across the country, and around the world. So I sat down and thought for a moment about a meal I had that stood out from my history with good food and fine dining.

The Diamond Conspiracy

Then a night came to mind, a night that carried a true lesson about making an incredible dinner. When it comes to getting food right, every detail matters. Right down to the dessert.

The year was 2009, and it was my first trip to one of the farthest points of the world: New Zealand. Pip Ballantine was my host and showing me the sights of Auckland, and that night we journeyed up to the top of Sky Tower. 328 meters over New Zealand’s biggest city, the first thing that struck me about this dinner was the view. This wasn’t my first meal at a rotating restaurant; and no matter the location, all rotating restaurants offer a “dead zone” of panoramic views. Not the Sky Tower. The location of the tower, and its accompanying restaurant, lent itself to stunning vistas, and as it was dinner, it was a great sunset I was treated to. A great first impression.

Appetizer was a pumpkin soup, and I can’t recall enjoying a pumpkin soup much like this. There was a delightful balance of cream, sweetness, and warmth that set the level of dinner. That was already done with the view, of course; but the soup promised an unforgettable meal, setting the stage for what was to come. This all came from soup, a really, really good soup.

Phoenix Rising

New Zealand is famous for its lamb. Sure, this means their Australian “big brother” comes to parties with a plethora of sheep jokes; but this is not what makes New Zealand famous for lamb. I have enjoyed American lamb, Australian lamb, and English land; but there is nothing like New Zealand lamb. This restaurant continues the tradition of fine lamb that is succulent, melts in your mouth, and is a pleasure with every bite; so you make certain you cut this particular entrée into small pieces. With a side of asparagus it was nothing less than fantastic.

Then came dessert.

With such a strong appetizer and solid entrée, you would think the dessert would also deliver; but this is where what should have been the perfect dinner turned on a heel. I had ordered a chocolate sampler and was presented with a quartet of various sweets: white chocolate, milk chocolate, dark chocolate, and finally a truffle. This is chocolate. This should have been a slam dunk. This should have been an epic finish to this amazing meal.

The white chocolate was as I expected. Meh. I’ve never been a fan of white chocolate, and this was a starter chocolate, I gathered. Moving on to the milk chocolate, I was expecting to begin the end of my culinary delight but something was missing. I took another taste of the milk chocolate and waited. Nothing. There was no taste. There was less taste with it than the white chocolate. Without finishing it, I took in a taste of the truffle. I was leaving the dark chocolate for last as I love dark chocolate. The truffle left me bored. One bite, and I knew that finishing the truffle would just add to disappointment.

Legacy of Morevi

I have never been nervous around dark chocolate. Even 90% dark chocolate, a terrifying experience but still an experience to remember, didn’t make me as uneasy as this last chocolate in front of me. Even Pip noticed it. I was not happy. I knew the disappointment was coming, but I tried the final sample regardless.

If I had ever wanted to be wrong, it was this moment.

I wasn’t.

This is chocolate. Chocolate. How hard do you have to work to screw up chocolate?

So with a brilliant view, a delightful beginning, and a fantastic main course, a meal becomes not so much a memory of disappointment but a lesson for the writer. Pay attention to the details. You can tell a great story, introduce characters that make an impression and come to life in your works. However, your story can easily fall apart, no matter the brilliance of your settings or your players, if your ending is not as tended to as the earlier acts. Details matter. All of them, even the ones that you may be tempted to take for granted. Just as in a novel or a short story, you need to have a great ending. Otherwise, you lose your audience.

Desserts, like the details, matter.

Thanks, Tee, though I’m saddened that what should have been a magnificent meal ended on such an anti-climax. A lesson indeed.

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!



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