If there was an appealing dessert enjoyed in New York City within the past 13 years, chances are Joseph Murphy had something to do with it. As his 14th year in the restaurant business approaches, Murphy has taken his passion for all things sweet (and some salty) to the kitchen of Jean-Georges as executive pastry chef.
A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America with a degree in baking and pastry, Murphy wasted little time before working in the pastry departments at the Symphony Café, La Côte Basque and Park Avenue Café, gaining the professional experience needed to further his cooking and baking techniques. In 1997, Murphy joined the culinary team at the revered Gotham Bar and Grill as the executive pastry chef. Throughout the next four years, Murphy honed his managerial skills with his involvement in the menu development, food purchasing and staff hiring of the restaurant. It was while at Gotham Bar and Grill that diners began to take notice of Murphy’s collaboration with Executive Chef Alfred Portale to create desserts that illustrated the restaurant’s signature approach to epicurean juxtapositions. With such knowledge and recognition in hand, he set out to teach pastry classes at Macy’s, the Culinary Institute of America and the French Culinary Institute as well as to design and research recipes for a variety of food publications including Gourmet and Food & Wine, and the New York Times.
In 2001, Murphy took up the reins at B.R. Guest’s Bluefin in the W Times Square Hotel. Less than a year later, an irresistible opportunity arose. Along with partners, Murphy opened Fresh, a 100-seat TriBeCa seafood restaurant that quickly received two stars from Eric Asimov of The New York Times.
In the spring of 2003, Murphy was offered the position of corporate pastry chef for Jean-Georges Management, where he supervised the pastry kitchens of Vong, V Steak, Mercer Kitchen and JoJo. Murphy also spent his time traveling to London, Paris, the Bahamas and Shanghai assuring that each of Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s famed restaurants continued to maintain the standards implemented by the world-renowned chef. It comes as no surprise that in 2006 Pastry Art and Design magazine named Murphy one of the Top 10 Pastry Chefs in the country.
In 2007, Murphy has joined with another venerable French chef, Laurent Tourondel. As the executive pastry chef of BLT Market and The Ritz-Carlton New York, Central Park, Murphy oversaw the pastry stations at both BLT Market and the Ritz-Carlton’s Star Lounge, executing sumptuous desserts and pastry items for all meals including afternoon tea.
“Growing up in Brooklyn, I was exposed to a love of food before I even realized it. Bread was bought at a specific place that everyone liked, and if you wanted a cannoli there was the best bakery to go to and nowhere else. People in Brooklyn were foodies before there were even foodies. My parents also had property in upstate New York that we would visit in the summer and we would always go to the farmers market there rather than the grocery store. Not because it was cool or healthy, although it was both when I look back. It was just the cheapest! So I always grew up appreciating great, and farm fresh food. Don’t get me wrong, I would crack my mother up with the typical kid career aspirations. I told her I wanted to be a musician and ran around my house in a ridiculous rock star outfit when I was young. Food was always there though and I got my first job in a bakery that unfortunately closed. I got another job in the Jewish bakery I grew up going to and slowly worked my way from the front of the house to the back of the house.
“There was also a connection to the Culinary Institute of America through my grandmother. She and I always foraged for mushrooms when we were upstate since they grew all over the place on our property, and we even were able to find lobster mushrooms. I hated doing it; I can still exactly recall the smell of the mushrooms and I got so sick of them. I didn’t even want to go near one until I got older. She dehydrated them and then sold them to the CIA. So she encouraged me to check out the CIA and I did the tour and was really interested in it. Then once I was 18 I enrolled in their program. I was overwhelmed at first like every new student would be, but I really loved how it challenged me and the classes were great.
“Once out of school I got a job with one of the best pastry chefs in the country at the time Richard Leach. He made his food edgy by mixing sweets with herbs and using avant garde techniques I had never seen before. I worked my way up through the years, becoming an executive pastry chef before trying unsuccessfully at opening my own restaurant. At that time Jean-Georges was looking for a pastry chef and my predecessor there knew me from the CIA and so did the corporate chef. I got my resume in to them, did a tasting for Jean-Georges and it turned out he was looking for someone to oversee all of his restaurants and to travel with him.
“It was really exciting to say the least. If we went to Paris and we wanted macarons it was off to Pierre Herme’s. One time it was Vegas for a week and we visited Robuchon. Traveling with Jean-Georges made me not only understand him and made me a part of the core team, but I was able to experience the most amazing restaurants in the world. Learning about flavors and palettes from him was incredible. In the Bahamas, he had me try a piece of veal he made with fried plantain and papaya. Even though he had made that dish so many times, his excitement when he had me taste it made it seem like the first time he had done it. He was so passionate about explaining the flavors to me and why they worked. A lot of pastry chefs don’t get to learn how to make a foie gras torchon, and I got to learn how to make one from Jean-Georges. I would rush to get into work when I knew he was going to make it and I asked him to show me. This particular torchon had sun dried strawberries down the middle and it was just spectacular served cold with some fresh brioche.
“I love to bring this passion for food home to my two kids as well. We cook a lot of Italian food at home and everyone in the house loves a great roasted pork loin around the Holidays. All of us making Holiday cookies together is a big tradition. I also like to branch out though and see what the kids will eat. I made a lamb dish that they loved, which is pretty sophisticated for a 5 and 3 year old! My son will even eat curried mussels, I definitely see him inheriting my wife’s adventurous palette. The important thing is for me to develop in them an appreciation for good food. If they follow me into the business that’s wonderful, but if they don’t that is perfectly okay as well.
“The advice that I will someday give my children is the same that I would give to any aspiring chef or culinary school student. Just appreciate, respect and be passionate about what you are doing. Work hard and be loyal and stay focused. It has to be understood that nobody is going to be a television personality and celebrity chef right out of school or right when they start working as a line cook. It takes years to work your way up anywhere near that point. In this ever changing business one thing that hasn’t changed is that longevity is really sought after when resumes come in. I like to see someone who has been in a place for years and really put the time in to learn before moving on. You have to be ready to do what you need to do in order to make the best food you can and stay focused on that. This business is all about the love of creating amazing food and working hard to achieve that, the rest just follows.”