Horses, Harleys, and Home Cooking
Chef Chris Murray has been a member of the Chef Council since it was formed. He’s baked in donut shops, cooked in upscale country clubs, and even catered for President Clinton. When he’s not cooking amazing meals, he spends most of his time on his horse farm, riding his Harley-Davidson motorcycle, or spending it with his grandkids. He shares his favorite way to keep smiling when the day is over and some of his favorite Chef Council trip experiences.
Murray and His Baking Beginnings
What got you interested in cooking?
As far back as I can remember, I loved baking with my mom in the kitchen. She’s from Poland and brought all of the recipes with her. From there I worked all kinds of kitchen jobs. I’ve made donuts, catered, all that stuff. I love being in a kitchen.
What is your favorite dish?
Everyone asks a chef that! A dish someone else makes. I’m kidding, of course. I can’t pick a single dish. I would probably pick authentic Mexican cuisine. It’s not really spicy unless you want it that way, but it is packed with a TON of flavor. It’s simple and fresh. That’s what I love about the Chef Council trips. You avoid the tourist traps and you get to experience the food and the culture. That’s important.
What is one of your favorite Chef Council trip memories?
My two favorite places were Morocco and Hanoi. I loved them both because it was such a new and different experience. Hanoi is such a nocturnal city because it’s so hot during the day. I walked down an alley and saw twelve or thirteen kids playing soccer. Their mothers came out and talked with us and it was a really good way to experience the culture. Morocco was the same way. I loved going to the markets there. Every time I interacted with someone new, the people were extremely generous. They were both filled with friendly, friendly people. I love the fact that by the time we get back this next time, we’ll have been to 24 different countries.
Hows, Whys, and Becauses
What is your favorite thing to teach a student, apprentice, or new chef?
For students, I love teaching them about the cultures from the Chef Council trips. Since most of the cultures we visit have the same herbs and spices thanks to historic spice trade, I like showing the kids how different cultures use herbs. Cilantro exists in tons of cultures, but how do they use it? It’s important to teach kids the hows, whys, and becauses of the new and different culture. The awesome thing about young kids, if they don’t like something they’ll tell you. If they love something, they’ll tell you that too. “Wow Chef Chris, I really liked that!” Seeing their smiles makes me smile.
For chefs I work with, I want to push them to be better. Good enough isn’t good enough. I want to make their dishes and them better. I want them to ask “What can I do to make this dish one step better?” And that usually comes to the way a dish looks. Taste is 75% visual. Remember your first dream car? You probably didn’t know about the engine or with your dream home, you probably didn’t know about the HVAC system. You fell in love with the way it looked.
Besides Chef Council trips, where do you draw inspiration for dishes?
Growing up with my mom, for sure, is one part of it. But one thing that I really like to do is get on my Harley, turn off my GPS, and get lost somewhere. I’ll find little holes in the wall and find out what they are serving. Sometimes I’ll get church basement cookbook from church ladies and I’ll modernize the recipes for either Taher’s business or k-12 clients. In working with Taher’s nutritionists, I’m finding more and more that the recipes we bring back from our Chef Council fit really easily in school lunch nutrition guidelines too. Almost all of them call for fresh vegetables! It makes it super easy.
Working with Taher’s nutritionists is really great in schools too. I’ll begin to make a recipe and the nutritionist will take over and tell kids why eating fresh fruits and vegetables is good for them. Kids learn a lot, I learn a lot and I’m starting to make better decisions about what I’m eating too. I’ve lost a bit of weight thanks to them.
Back To School
Here Chef Murray is showing kids more about the dishes he brought back from a few Chef Council trips: