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Kari Morris on syrup purveyor Morris Kitchen

On her day off, Kari Morris greets me at the entry to Morris Kitchen’s commercial kitchen in Williamsburg, donning a blue bandana to keep her hair back and an apron over her street clothes.

It’s easy to imagine Morris Kitchen as a brand that has an entire factory behind it–you can find the purveyor of fine syrups in your neighborhood grocery, Dean & Deluca, and even the Ace Hotel in New York. However, Kari’s 9-to-5 is spent in one room with high ceilings, whitewashed walls, and tools of the trade. A kettle the size of several stacked, round hat boxes takes up a corner.

Bins for “juicer gloves” and label stickers crowd shelves and a gigantic parachute full of packing peanuts hangs from the ceiling. Squat, brown 8-ounce bottles sit in boxes and cover metal tables in the laboratory-like setting that Kari has constructed for Morris Kitchen. A signature of the brand, each bottle contains one of three handmade syrups–Ginger, Boiled Apple Cider, or Preserved Lemon.

Kari, one part of the original sibling duo behind Morris Kitchen, hovers over her computer and chooses Lou Reed to accompany her explanation of the kitchen’s background.

Kari and her brother Tyler grew up in Sonoma, California, where Kari notes Tyler started working in a restaurant at 16. “He kind of went from one great restaurant to the next and before he knew it, he was moving to New York,” Kari says. After working alongside Tyler in a restaurant in California, Kari ended up in New York involved in another industry–the arts. A week after she graduated with a BFA from the California College of the Arts, Kari began working for the prestigious art fair The Armory Show, founded by her other brother, Paul Morris.

Living with Tyler, who was at the time working at Craft and later at The Breslin, Kari found that she also wanted a foot in the culinary world, and the two soon started their own supper club. “It was a way for us to cook together,” Kari notes. Asking ten attendees to spare 20 dollars and to bring a friend, Kari and Tyler planned each dinner’s menu based “on something new they wanted to try or whatever was at the farmer’s market.” From there, they started thinking about projects they could work on together without quitting their day jobs; they settled on making products.

Kari remembered that during her time in the south of France while archiving an artist’s drawings there was always a bottle of ginger syrup on the table, whether it was at home or in restaurants and bars. “I thought, it can be used in so many different ways–let’s make this!”

With this idea as the impetus, Kari and Tyler began experimenting with ginger–boiling it, adding different sugars, and using different ratios. They ended up juicing the ginger straight and adding only pure cane sugar to the recipe. “We juice, strain, and weigh the ginger and put it right on the kettle to boil, taking only as much as we need for that day. The color is much more vibrant.”

Kari incorporated her artistic background when they designed the identity for Morris Kitchen. “The fun part for me was sourcing bottles and coming up with a label. The first labels were embossed and hand applied–it was my way of keeping printmaking involved.”

Armed with forty bottles, the Morrises set up shop at a small flea market in Greenpoint–and sold them all. In 2009, after a year of research and assessment of their options, Morris Kitchen became official.

While Tyler has since moved on to become the head chef of RYE on Market in Louisville, Kentucky, Kari has continued to expand the brand. Shortly after the Ginger Syrup came to life, the Boiled Apple Cider Syrup was developed, using apples exclusively from Red Jacket Orchard in upstate New York. “The thing about the Boiled Apple Cider Syrup is that it’s the complete opposite [from the Ginger Syrup]. It’s locally sourced and there’s no sugar added.” Kari is now experimenting with a Preserved Lemon Syrup, flavored with cardamom and pink peppercorns.

When asked about the future of Morris Kitchen, Kari is quick to note that she feels there’s much more to do in the niche of handmade, artisanal syrups. “The next thing we are doing is a book of cocktail recipes with the three syrups. We also batch out 32-ounce bottles of cocktails for events.” Outside of syrups, Kari mentions that she would like to do research bottling non-alcoholic or alcoholic beverages. “I’ve created the base, why not expand on it? That would be a way to expand into a different market.”

For now, though, she’d just like one thing to make the by-hand assembly line a little easier: a bottle filler.

Sailor’s Ale Recipe by Kari Morris

2 oz spiced rum
1/2 oz Morris Kitchen Ginger Syrup
1 oz lime
1 oz dark beer

Juice limes
Add all ingredients to shaker except the beer
Shake well and pour in rocks glass over a large ice cube
Top off with beer and serve

To find out where you can get Ginger Syrup in your neighborhood, visit Morris Kitchen’s website.

By on March 23rd, 2012

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