(Sean McCormick/For The Washington Post) William Morris inherits the Vermilion dining room from Tony Chittum. (Sean McCormick/For The Washington Post)

Ever since Tony Chittum revealed plans to leave Vermilion in Old Town Alexandria so he could reopen the Iron Gate Inn in Dupont Circle, the question in food circles has been: Who will fill the chef's big clogs?

Vermilion's owner, the Neighborhood Restaurant Group, announced its decision this week: William Morris, whose previous experience at the San Francisco-based Michael Mina and
Brasserie Beck in Washington helped him land the role of executive chef at Vermilion. Under Chittum, the Obama-approved, contemporary American restaurant received three stars, an excellent rating, from this customer in the 2012 fall dining guide.

"This is a homecoming for me," says Morris, who grew up in Springfield and served as executive sous chef at Bourbon Steak in Georgetown. In a nod to Chittum, Morris says he wants to "continue what he has started and progress from there." Ultimately, the new hire says, "I want to cook simple food and not 20 ingredients on a plate."

Morris, 39, has been on the NRG payroll about two months now, helping out at the company's Columbia Firehouse in Alexandria and the forthcoming Red Apron. He is expected to take over the reins at Vermilion after one last hurrah from Chittum, who wants to leave on a high: Valentine's Day, one of the restaurant industry's busiest dates.

Iron Gate Inn is tentatively expected to launch in late March or early April, following some out-of-town research and development trips by Chittum to New York and Philadelphia, says a spokeswoman for NRG.