Champaign’s own Thad Morrow, owner of bacaro in Downtown Champaign and wine director of Blue Apron, kindly caught up with us about his recent move to New York City. Morrow has had a huge influence on the Champaign-Urbana dining scene for well over a decade with his diligence and talent, pushing the limits for cuisine in downtown Champaign. Bacaro is known for serving items like perfect, piping hot al dente risotto and crispy seared pork belly on a Boos block. Sure you could pop in for just a glass of Barolo, but the temptation of the ever-changing menu will make you want to pair that Barolo with dinner.
Thad recently moved to the East Coast to pursue an opportunity as a wine director for Blue Apron. Blue Apron is a weekly subscription that offers customers a convenient way to use pre-portioned fresh ingredients — recipes included — that are delivered nationwide to learn and embrace the joy of cooking at home. According to Bloomberg, in 2014 Blue Apron delivered over 800 thousand ready to cook meals a month.
Smile Politely: Tell us a little bit about your culinary background.
Thad Morrow: I went to Culinary School at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park New York (1998) after graduating from Indiana University (1995). I did my apprenticeship with Chef Mario Batali in NYC.
SP: Funny that you went to school in New York, and now are living back there again! What made you decide to open bacaro?
Morrow: My very good friend, Carlos Nieto, suggested I stick around town and give opening a restaurant a shot. I was working as the GM at The Corkscrew and was planning on heading back to work in NYC. He was instrumental in really encouraging me to take the leap. Without him there would be no bacaro. I found a great space and worked with a great landlord, Jeff Mellander to secure the space.
SP: What are your future plans with bacaro?
Morrow: I wish I could see the future. But if I were guessing I would say bacaro is headed for even more greatness. Chef Drew Starkey is an amazingly talented guy and his current team have really elevated the menu. We have always strived for spectacular service and the General Manager, Julie Grubich, is incredible at making this happen. She has a natural gift to make our guests feel welcome. I have been extremely lucky over the past 15 years to work with very talented and professional people. They make bacaro, bacaro.
SP: I’d say that is a great team. Was it a hard decision to leave Champaign and go to NYC for Blue Apron?
Morrow: The hardest and most difficult decision I have made in my life. The opportunity to expose the entire United States to my wine vision is exciting, but I am far away from the best part of my life, my son, Gus. But I hope someday he will be proud that I went after my dreams and I hope he is inspired to do the same thing.
SP: What's your newest culinary/wine inspiration?
Morrow: My new inspiration is Blue Apron! We are really changing how people cook, eat and now drink wine. Turning people on to wine has been my life and passion for over 20 years. This allows me to extend my reach and get thousands of people excited about trying new wines.
SP: What's some exciting news with Blue Apron you'd like to share?
Morrow: The most exciting news, I guess for me, is the wine program at Blue Apron which just launched, and of course my Blue Apron discount on meals. Shopping in New York is expensive and a pain. They bring it right to my door for cheaper than I get it for in the store.
Take at look at Blue Apron and sign up for the wine delivery so you, too, can get delicious wine and seasonal ingredients delivered to your door — I trust Morrow’s taste.
bacaro is located at 113 North Walnut, Champaign, and offers Market Monday dinners from 5-10 p.m., dinner Tuesday through Saturday from 5-11 p.m., and lunch Friday, 11 a.m.-2p.m.
Photos courtesy of Rose Homma.