Latest Culinary Interest:
Many chefs are showmen at heart, which helps explain the enthusiasm with which they have embraced exhibition cooking in onsite environments. But few chefs have quite the popular interaction opportunities that Chef Martin Murphy enjoys. A longtime commercial restaurant chef and manager of both restaurants and retail food establishments, Murphy took an opportunity last year to join foodservice management company Creative Dining Services for a very special assignment.
Murphy is executive chef for CDS's operation at the KitchenAid Culinary Center in the Robb & Stuckey upscale home products store in Naples, FL. (CSD was asked to manage the Culinary Center because it is the contractor overseeing in-house dining and catering operations of KitchenAid parent Whirlpool Corp.).
As such, he is responsible for putting together and executing public cooking demonstrations and private dinners in the center's upscale kitchen, which serves as a showcase for KitchenAid products and a customer draw for the store.
The assignment requires culinary, managerial, merchandising and people skills, and Murphy has proved to be a natural. Indeed, he has become a minor celebrity in the Naples community, the subject of several feature stories in the local Lifestyles press.
Previously, Murphy had worked in the restaurants, resorts and hotels around Cape Cod, including upscale establishments like Chillingsworth, High Brewster and Regatta of Cotuit.
The economic downturn of the early 90s led him to Florida where, after some more restaurant experience, he joined a gourmet market enterprise called Blue Pepper. His responsibilities there included putting together customer education programs and demos using high-end foodstuffs, but the financial-administrative side of his job was taking its toll. So when he heard about the Robb & Stuckey/KitchenAid venture, he was very interested.
How did you get the job?
"I knew Clive Lubner, Robb & Stucky's CEO, because his wife used to come to the Blue Pepper and take some of my cooking classes. When I heard about the Culinary Center project, I inquired to Lubner about it. He asked me if I was interested in joining up. I said 'yes,' so he had me meet with Clint Wismer from KitchenAid and Janine Oberstadt from Creative Dining. They offered me the position, and I happily took it."
How many people are there per event?
"It depends on the subject matter. Our attendance varies tremendously depending on what we do. My largest classes tend to max out at 36 to 40..."
A large group!
"For sure, programs on the superfoods and healthy eating have been very popular. So was one on the Flavors of Tuscany. When we do something with France or Provence, we usually get more than 30. But just the other evening, we did a program on stir fry and sautè, and had 30 people show up. That was a surprise because techniquetypeprograms tend to get smaller groups."
So broad food traditions draw but...
"Exactly. You would think that people would want to come because they are serious cooks. They are, but they also want some entertainment. While we definitely provide recipes, our whole focus is on talking about techniques and blending flavors properly. If you think about it, there are really only about eight or 10 ways to cook, but a million different ingredients."
Are you constantly having to stay ahead?
"My greatest joy in this job is that I'm continuing to learn. I have some time to sit down and read and research and plan the programs out. One of the challenges I have is doing something different every day.
"Last night I did a class on sautè and stir fry, and tomorrow I'm doing a class on Southern Italy. So in three days I have to come up with three recipes, type them out, give them detailed descriptions and get everything prepped forward for the presentation.
"In the meantime tonight I'm doing a wine dinner for a private group. Tomorrow night we're doing a grilling demonstration for a local fisherman's group, teaching them how to grill seafood."
Do you repeat yourself?
"In the classes I'm careful not to, but the wine dinners have a certain amount of repetition. For example, I'm scheduled to do back-to-back wine dinners in the next few days, and since it won't be the same people, I may do the same lamb dish in both because I have some nice lamb that I brought in."
Do you pitch the equipment?
It's a fine line and I use their equipment during my programs. But in both the class program and wine dinners it's a soft sell. However, we also do demonstrations where we show how to work with the different products, and that's a harder sell. I'll come out and say, 'I'm here to sell you a bar blender today, and here's why....