Tomato Tortellini Beef Soup. That’s the recipe that was forwarded to me by a friend who raved about it and other recipes she’d found on the Facebook page Diane Morrisey Cooking. After picking up a few ingredients at my local supermarket, I was ready to give it a try on a rainy Sunday afternoon. Not difficult to make, hearty, and filling. Perfect comfort food. Family and guests loved it.
It made me curious about Trumbull resident Diane Morrisey. Who is this woman, a mom who talks real, budget-friendly, family food with over 1,500 Facebook followers and over 100,000 Instagram followers? Turns out, she’s a self-taught cook, mom of six, pescatarian, skilled iPhone photographer and recipe creator like almost no other.
Raised in Monroe, Morrisey moved to Trumbull when she married her husband, a Fairfield native. In 1994, nine months to the day after their honeymoon, they welcomed their first child. Five more followed and she found herself a stay-at-home mom with six kids (three boys, three girls) in nine years.
Always artsy and artistic, Morrisey had gone to college for graphic design. Now at home, she still wanted to find a way to express that side of herself. Food became the means.
“I didn’t have time to do art when I started my family,” she explained, “so my creativity has always come out in my culinary side.”
Since she was a little girl, Morrisey had been a baker. She learned much from watching her Italian grandmother. Cooking meals, however, was a whole other story.
“When I got married, I didn’t really know how to cook,” confessed Morrisey. “I read magazines, looked at cookbooks and watched Food Network.”
Food Network had just started airing a few months before Morrisey’s first child was born. And she credits it for much of her culinary education.
“I didn’t know what I was doing,” said Morrisey, “but I was patient and willing to try and taught myself. Every half hour was a new show on Food Network and I learned something new. I just loved it."
“I probably got on Instagram in the very beginning as a means to spy on my kids.”
As her children became older, Morrisey started a catering business, Diane Morrisey Cooking. All by word of mouth, she found her business taking off. Later still, she began working for Whole Foods, running the prepared foods department in several stores and eventually found herself in store leadership, running a couple of the stores in Connecticut and in New York City. Then finding herself more in New York City than in her home, she decided it was time to step back from Whole Foods and picked up catering again—just as Instagram was taking off.
“I probably got on Instagram in the very beginning as a means to spy on my kids,” laughed Morrisey.
“I started posting photos of what I was cooking. I’ve always thought of food as art, not just cooking. It’s composing, designing the picture—it is art.”
Her first Instagram post ever was of a birthday cake, and before she knew it she had 300 likes and it was getting lots of attention. In roughly two years she had amassed 25,000 followers and had over 2,000 posts published.
“Then opportunities came to me,” said Morrisey. “I realized ‘wow, I could actually monetize this!’ I didn’t know what I was doing, but people seemed to like it and I kinda stumbled my way into something.”
"I was frustrated, furious, and said I was done.”
It all came to a screeching halt on July 30, 2018.
“I was at a wedding and my phone was blowing up,” remembered Morrisey. “When I checked my Instagram account, I could see my content, my picture, but someone else was running it… I was hacked.”
Hundreds of messages to Instagram and Facebook asking for help went without response.
“I wanted to scream,” recalled Morrisey. “There was no avenue to fix it and I didn’t have anything backed up. I was frustrated, furious and said I was done.”
Morrisey’s children, knowing how much that Instagram account had meant to their mother, pushed her to start again.
“My kids said, ‘No, you’re not done, you love doing this!’ The last thing I wanted to do was start over. But then I felt what kind of example was I setting if I threw in the towel?”
So one month after getting hacked—15 months ago—Morrisey did start over as Diane Morrisey 2.0. Cooking and photographing the results with her iPhone XR, within a month, she had 10,000 followers.
“It just grew quickly,” said Morrisey. “I think because I added stories and videos.”
(The hacked account, by the way, eventually just disappeared from Instagram.)
Today, with over 100,000 Instagram followers, Morrisey called the hacking “a blessing in disguise.”
Her followers break 80 percent female and 20 percent male, with the biggest group hitting that desirable 24-to-35-year-old demographic. Interestingly, she has quite a huge following from Australia.
“At the end of the day, I’m a mom with limited time on a budget like everyone else.”
When it comes to selecting what to post, her recipes are dictated by how they photograph. And when it comes to a particular food? Pasta is always the most popular.
“I can put any kind of pasta up and within 20 minutes I’ll have 1,000 likes,” said Morrisey. “People love pasta!”
Her recipes use easily sourced ingredients and don’t require hours of preparation and unique culinary skills. No doubt part of her appeal is that she is always mindful of what things cost so that recipes are doable for most families.
“No one wants 40 ingredients in a recipe,” said Morrisey. “At the end of the day, I’m a mom with limited time on a budget like everyone else.”
And her followers are often shocked to learn she’s pescatarian and hasn’t eaten meat or chicken in 25 years.
“I cook meat and chicken often for my feed, I cook what my family loves” explained Morrisey, “and I married an Irishman who’s a meat-and-potato guy.”
While her family has lucked out with her creative and delicious meals, they’ve also learned to eat their food lukewarm if not cold.
“In all the time I’ve been doing this, no one in my family has ever eaten anything hot because I have to take pictures first,” laughed Morrisey. “My husband will come home from work, he’s s hungry, and I’ll yell, ‘Don’t touch! Don’t touch! I haven’t taken any pictures yet!’ They’re conditioned to wait. My family is incredibly patient."
Morrisey does have some advice for all holiday cooks: Don’t be a perfectionist, plan ahead (lists are great) and don’t put so much pressure on yourself.
“If you have a lump in your mashed potatoes, your guests aren’t going to fun for the hills,” emphasized Morrisey. “So many people have the notion that everything has to be perfect for the holidays. We’re our own worst enemy. If it’s not perfect, the only one who’s going to know is you. Relax and enjoy it.”