Tom Eckert is Maneet Chauhan’s right hand. The corporate chef across all Morph Hospitality restaurants (Chauhan Ale & Masala House, Tansuo, The Mockingbird, Chaatable), he oversees the entire operation from a high level — menus, front of house, back of house, future concepts, and forecasting.
Our chat with Tom took place the morning after the tornado. While none of his restaurants were harmed, others weren’t so lucky: “Within minutes, all the local chefs were texting each other to find out who needs help. Nashville is a great community, and I love how close everyone is in the restaurant scene here.”
Tom wasn’t always so keen on the Music City. Born and raised in the Chicago area, he met Maneet Chauhan at Vermilion, where he was her sous-chef. Fast forward TK years, he was applying for a position in a Chicago restaurant and asked Maneet for a reference. That’s when she offered him the job here in Nashville. At first, he laughed. But she convinced him to commute for a year, and, like her, he fell in love with it and moved his family down in 2017.
Read on for his fascinating restaurant career (it involves a ponzi scheme!), brilliant interview tips, and his favorite Nashville eateries.
My first restaurant job was at a restaurant on a golf course in Illinois when I was 16 — I was a busboy. I enjoyed it and always loved cooking, but it was midway through college when I realized I had no interest in my major (psych) and decided to quit school and pursue a culinary career. I moved back to Chicago, went to culinary school, and got my first (well technically second) job as a cook at Monsoon. Next was Vermilion as Maneet’s sous-chef, followed by an executive chef gig at Cafe 103, which won a lot of awards, including Best New Chicago Restaurant.
I left Cafe 103 to open my own restaurant. Unbeknownst to me, our investor was running a ponzi scheme, and we lost everything. We were on his payroll, which didn’t exist. Taxes were never paid. We had to pay all of that back. My wife was pregnant at the time, and we had to move in with my mom in the suburbs for several years while we started from scratch and rebuilt our life. Every chef has a disaster story. If you don’t, you’re not ready to open a place.
I took an executive chef job at a country club, a brewery, a wedding pavillion, and then was applying for a job back in fine dining when Maneet offered me the opportunity in Nashville. After (first laughing), I commuted for a year and fell in love with this city, so we made the move and haven’t looked back.
The Best Part
I love seeing all the people I work with grow, get promoted, and build their own teams. It’s all about the people for me.
Don’t show up trying to tell me everything you know. Just show me who you are as a person.For leadership roles, I look for people who can truly listen to others, assess a situation, and make the best decision based on that. We are a team-based company, so that’s very important.You have to be able to adapt and handle stress in a very calm way. If you show up like a bull in a china shop, you won’t fit in at Morph.
A Day In The Life
I drop the kids at school and get to our office (in the same building as Mockingbird and Tensuo) around 9am. I walk the buildings and say hi to everyone, which takes about an hour. Then I check in on sales and marketing. Midday, I go down and try some food and check standards. Then I have a litany of expansion tasks, as we are opening 2–3 new restaurants this year. At night, I get to lineup at one (sometimes two) restaurants, then I head home. I typically get back online and clock out around 11pm. They are long (but great) days.
Thomas Keller inspires me to want to cook beautiful food. I know every single picture by heart in the French Laundry Cookbook.
At His Dinner Table
We make a lot of risotto (my daughter’s favorite), steak frites, and short ribs. Basically anything I can prep, vacuum seal, and freeze, so they can just put it in water, and eat!
Someone has absolutely spit in my food. 100%. In this industry, I’m sure I‘ve made someone mad along the way. Everyone doesn’t leave as you wish.
My wife and I go to Josephine every year on our anniversary.
I love to meet up with some chef friends at Arnold’s for roast beef.
Corner Asian Bistro moved from downtown to Brentwood, where we live, and they have some of the best szechuan.
La Cucharita is a Colombian restaurant in a converted gas station with seriously great food.
We go to Prince’s three or four times a week. My son, who is 11, takes down eight pieces of chicken every time!
On His List To Try
I’m most excited about WelovEmilia, an Italian restaurant with fresh pastas opening downtown later this year.
Foh&boh sits down with Morph Hospitality’s top chef was originally published in foh&boh on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.