By Grace Webb
Parents and students had the chance to try something different during Tri-City United’s Parent-Teacher Conferences on Oct. 14 when guest chef Chris Murray visited TCU Middle School in Montgomery to cook up Vietnamese dishes.
Murray, who has worked as a chef for 35 years, works as regional chef for Taher, Inc., the food service for TCU cafeterias. He’s in charge of 17 school accounts, including Tri-City United.
Murray trained at the Culinary Arts School in Denver and joined Taher in 2003. Before that, he worked for numerous food services, including his time as the director of catering for the Minnesota Vikings Food Service, and catered the 1998 U.S. Presidential visit of Bill Clinton. He won the “Presidential Hero of Everyday Life” in 2001 for his work feeding the homeless and the “Spirit of the Heart” award for his commitment to students.
When he isn’t cooking, Murray travels the world to discover new recipes. Recently, he visited Hanoi, Vietnam, where he learned about bún cha, a dish of noodles and grilled pork served with sauce and vegetables on top.
“The layer of flavors is quite intense,” he said.
It was this dish that Murray prepared for visiting parents (and tag-along students) during the parent-teacher conference. He estimated that he made about 150 dishes. While the idea was to give parents a tasty treat in between conferences, many students also tried the exotic food.
“Never underestimate the taste buds of kids,” Murray said. “If they try new things, they’ll like them.”
Elly Novak, an eighth-grader at TCU Middle School, was one such student. While she hadn’t tried the dish before, she said it was worth waiting through Murray’s preparation.
“It’s got a little bit of a spice to it,” she said. “I really liked it.”
Murray said he’s working on bringing school meals up to new federal nutrition regulations and recently created a new pizza crust recipe featuring more whole grain for school districts to use. He tries to visit each school district a few times a year, though this is the first time he’s come during parent-teacher conferences.
“We thought it would give people an opportunity to try something new,” said TCU Food Service Director Amy Sauter.
She said next year they might organize a market outside so that people can enjoy Murray’s food in an outdoor environment. They also might bring Murray into the school earlier into parent-teacher conferences, instead of on the last day.
Murray’s next visit will be to the TCU High School to teach a cooking class in January and then to Lonsdale Elementary in the spring.