" I came here a long time ago for the kind of life I want to live—I'm a big extrovert, and energy brings me energy. This city brings me energy. "
Marc Murphy weaves about his restaurant with direction and an air of absolute delight. Considering his responsibilities —five restaurants, massive amounts of time working with Share Our Strength, a regular seat from the beginning as a judge on Chopped, and being one of the final three contenders for the new 1 World Trade Center restaurants—you'd maybe expect someone a little more run down. But Murphy laughs boisterously, and talks about food with joy. His energy seems to invigorate those around him, and evidently we've got New York City itself to thank for the fuel.
Your travels as a child must have given you a broad scope of the world from an early age. Was there a food memory that stands out? My strongest food memories are collective. I have memories of going and buying cheese with my grandfather in the south of France. I can remember my grandmother roasting leg of lamb outside on a spit, and she always used to grow haricot vert in the backyard and we'd go pick them and she'd cook them with garlic and parsley. My mother used to make amazing risottos.
I went to an American boarding school in Rome, and I remember going into the cafeteria, and all these American kids were complaining about the food. And I was like; "there are seven old Italian ladies in the back rolling cannelloni for you, fresh! The food's amazing!" It was really, really cool. But there's no one specific memory. It's a collective.
Was there one particular dish your mom made that, no matter where you had it, made it feel like home? My mother was a good cook, but she was very precise. If she made her risotto con gorgonzola, she would have to have certain ingredients that she was used to having and they would be measured out—it would be the same exact one if I had it now or 20 years ago. That's just the way she cooked.
Are you the same kind of chef? No, no, I'm much more free-form. I was very dyslexic as a kid so reading and writing were not my forte—working with my hands is.
You've said you went into cooking with the idea that, "if I'm cooking, I'm eating." But what else made you choose this profession? The idea of being hungry was very upsetting to me. When I moved to New York 20 years ago there were more homeless people on the street, you know! I would probably be okay with being homeless, I would be really unhappy being hungry!
Other than that, the sense of accomplishment is so amazing with cooking, where you have a few ingredients and you transform them into something. Like carbonara—a box of pasta, a slab of bacon, an egg, a wedge of Parmesan, and some black pepper. Beautiful ingredients, but put them together and that thing is rocking, you know what I mean? I like the idea of doing something and having a finished product. Food is instant gratification. Delicious instant gratification.
You worked at a lot of fine dining restaurants, but yours are particularly accessible and welcoming, down to the energy level of those who work for you. What was the plan when getting ready to put your name on the door? I'm very proud of what I've built, in a sense. Running a restaurant is one thing, but you're also sorta running a family. And it's my responsibility to not screw it up. I have 550 people who work for me now. And part of our mission statement is about trying to take care of our staff because I want people to be happy in longevity working here. I hate the idea of people not being happy working here. I started in this business to make a living, but then once I was in it was like, "this is awesome!" I get to cook all day and they pay me—this is so much fun!
Does the responsibility of your name literally being on the door stress you out? Is there something you don't love about it? There's nothing I don't love about it, expect maybe reading the leases that lawyers write. That's maybe not what I like to do. But still, it's a means to an end. It's like, "I really have to read this f'ing lease and I have to get through it because it's something I should know." I feel like every year we get another PhD in restaurant management. Because you never know all of it—you always learn something more. And we're doing it in the hardest goddamn town in the world.
So why New York City? You've lived and traveled all over the world, so why pick here as home? I came here a long time ago for the kind of life I want to live; I'm a big extrovert, and energy brings me energy. I think that if I went to some sleepy town and had a very successful restaurant that was open from 5-9 p.m. I'd probably get in trouble during those extra hours.
You're now included as one of the final three groups in the running to head up the new 1 World Trade Center. I know you can't talk specifics at this point about what the restaurant would be, but why, personally, did you want to put your hat in that ring? I worked up there for almost 2 1/2 years, so I have a strong connection to that space—I was the chef for Cellar in the Sky and The Greatest Bar on Earth when they reopened after the first bombing, so when the opportunity came it was a lot about nostalgia. But also it would be a great honor to be the person that heads up the culinary team up there. It's a patriotic duty in a certain sense. I'm a true American. I love this country and I think this would be a big representation. What this thing is gonna be when it reopens is pretty damn huge.
What do you uniquely bring to that table? I don't know! I'll bring my best game, that's all I can say.