Chef Minds: Angela Murphy

Angela Murphy from Restaurant Ninety One shared with Forest City Cookbook some insights of what it means to be in the culinary world and what is it that keeps the flame and passion alive!  

Forest City Cookbook - chef Minds - Angela Murphy

What is your idea of a perfect restaurant?

 Essentially mutual respect and appreciation for the experience from kitchen staff to servers to guests to management all the way around. That and a clear and carefully crafted concept dedicated to excellence. There is a lot more to it than that but you’ll have to invest in my business plan if you want details.

What is your biggest fear at work?

Not being fully recognized as Executive Chef. It happens all the time because I have a baby face and a quiet voice. I’m not the archetypal idea of a chef I guess. I’m not intimidating and stern and unforgiving. I want to create a different kind of kitchen where ideas can grow and staff can develop and everyone can be valued for their individual contributions. I don’t want to work in a place where only the loudest most obnoxious people are recognized. I work very hard. I’m good at what I do. I’m creative. I’m a strong manager with an amazing team. It’s a true meritocracy in the kitchen so if you’ve made it to the top you better deserve to be there.   

Which still working Chef Do you most respect?

There are so many… but I’m going to say Jonathan Gushue. He is my mentor’s mentor, he is living the chef-owner restaurant dream, he is doing innovative interesting things, he has had an incredible career to date and I think most importantly he has brought awareness to some serious industry issues by confronting his demons in the public eye and then succeeding despite them. The most important thing for a cook is to be able to take responsibility and admit faults, to always know when things aren’t right and to correct them. It shows accountability, reliability, maturity and it builds trust among the staff. I respect that.  

What part of work ‘you’ do you most deplore in yourself?

 The good part of working in a kitchen is that work “you” is a lot like you-you. You don’t have to dress up, you don’t have to engage with the public directly, you get to spend all day cooking food, cuss words are common place and everyone expects you to get a little greasy. I would say the passion that comes with the title and the stress that come with the job lead to some difficult emotions. I hate it when I get into a rut of complaining or when I tear up in front of someone.

What would automatically make you fire someone?

Stealing, Violence, Sabotage

What was your most extravagant purchase for your restaurant?

 Polyscience’s Professional Series Immersion Circulator and Evox Vac-Pack Machine, total game changers.

What is your favourite food journey?

When I travel I travel for food. I spend all of my money on food and local food products, I sample all the regional beers and wines. I recently went to Portland, OR for the food scene. I was in heaven. I also recently went to Collingwood and went on a micro-brewery tour. There are so many people doing interesting things near and far these days. Even a trip to the London farmer’s market or a walk outside on the hotel property to forage can be a food journey. They are all my favourite.

What words/phrases do you most overuse at work?

“It gets better… I swear”

“There’s no ordering on Saturdays!!”

            “Hey Insert Name! I’ve got an important job for you!”

What do you regret most after all your years in the business?

Missing time with my family. In the early days I worked every weekend, every holiday, I missed family events. I didn’t want to make anyone re-schedule on my behalf so I would just miss out. Since then my family has gotten quite a bit smaller and I get sad that I missed out on those times. I’m learning though. I try and make more space for those things in my life. I have more control now, and I try and make sure that’s possible for my staff too.

What do you love most about this industry?

 I love being creative. I love to make things with my hands. I love that I can be myself. I love the comradery. I love having Mondays off so I can run all my errands without having to wait in line. I love that the work is both physically and mentally challenging. I love that when I’m cooking in the kitchen I’m in a good mood, I feel at home.

What is your current state of mind?

September is right around the corner and I am feeling very “back to school” and “back to basics” at the moment. Time to put the difficulties of the summer behind and look ahead to the fall. Re-organize and rejuvenate and all that.

If you could change anything about the restaurant industry, what would it be?

Living wages, more respect for the art and increased gender equality.

What do you consider your most essential ingredient?

Salt. I mean it is THE essential ingredient. It is in everything, or it should be. Its purpose is to bring out the flavour in a dish. Food cannot be good without it. It preserves, it seasons, it tenderizes. It even puts out cooking fires and helps you sweep up spilled oil. Without salt you are not cooking you are just heating up food.

The work/life balance struggle is real... How good of a juggler are you? Advice?

 Terrible. In this industry you spend a lot of time trying to set some boundaries that allow you to live your life and be successful at the same time. Whenever you manage to set those margins something happens to narrow them, the price of beef sky rockets, a valued employee moves on, business slows down, etc. Then you have to step in and assume more responsibility to keep the numbers in check. With the passion involved and the difficulty of the job, it’s a lot of stress, a lot of extra unpaid hours. A network of supportive managers and sous chefs is essential, people who you can trust to support you and who will share the burden of responsibility. If you don’t have that, build it, or go somewhere else, because otherwise you’ll lose yourself to the job in the end.

What is your most treasured culinary/kitchen tool?

My KitchenAid mixer. It’s a re-furbished industrial model given to me by my aunt and uncle who used to repair them for a living. 

What do you consider as the lowest depth of misery?

Spray cheese.

When you finally retire, were will you live?

In a cabin in the woods.

What is your most marked characteristic?

 I am super mean. Ask my staff. They won’t even make eye contact with me.

What is the quality you most like in a chef?

Curiosity, creativity, intelligence, bullshit detector

What is your greatest inspiration/motivation?

Other than the food itself? I would say the staff. They are the people that help you bring your vision to life. You trust them to re-create your dishes. Could you imagine asking someone to re-create a painting you did? There is a lot of trust and patience and mutual respect that develops between members of a well-trained team. There is nothing better than seeing one of your staff succeed, to make progress, to grow and then to develop their own creations. You can see yourself in their work and you can see them and you can see your influences in there too. The pride is overwhelming. They make it all worthwhile.

Superman or batman or Wonder Woman?

Batman because he is dark and brooding. He proves that no matter how fabulously wealthy you are your life is meaningless unless you are wrapped up in the battle for good to triumph over evil. Plus he has cool toys.

What is the first thing you remember cooking?

“Spaghetti” sauce as we would have called it in the 80s. Ground beef, onions, peppers, canned tomatoes, carrots, celery and whatever spices I wanted.

Neil Young or Tragically Hip?

 There is room for both.

Favourite kitchen word or phrase?

-       à la minute


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Photos by: Alieska Robles