(This column is Part II of my interview with Chef Murphy. Click here to read Part I.)
The courses keep coming.
Chef Murphy has not been matching me on every course but he doesn't pass on this one: a veal beggar's purse with cippolini onions in a red wine sauce. I enjoy the irony of a dish this rich and flavorful going by the name of "beggar's purse." While the proverb is that "a beggar's purse is never full," no one tucking into this entrée would complain that it's empty. The veal is tender and tasty and the cippolinis are an especially nice touch. We're drinking a Buena Vista Pinot Noir with this course.
Murphy tells me a story about when he was in Marco Pierre White's kitchen. (White is as famous for his temper as for his food: he once published a photo of his protégé Gordon Ramsey crying after a particularly tough night in the kitchen.) Murphy recalls that White would say that "all food had to be in the pass in 30 seconds or 60 seconds or 3 minutes, and guys on the stations would have timers to keep track." With the kitchen a floor below, the cooks were aware of exactly how long it took to make it up the stairs. It could get hectic. "You came up a minute late and you were out the door." What makes the situation especially demanding is that in restaurants of that reputation, there's always someone ready to step in for the cook who fails to beat the clock.
One interesting thing I notice about the kitchen we're in right now is that, while it's not so chaotic, there never seems to be an idle moment. No one is ever standing still, arms crossed waiting for the next order: it seems that there's always something to be done.
The chef starts to tell me a story about one time when it was this kitchen under pressure, when another course arrives: we're served plates of pan-seared duck on a bed of cornbread and fresh Roma tomato topped by St. André cheese. (The accompanying wine is a Villa Antinori Tuscana.) Katie Couric was the scheduled guest at the Chef's Table one evening last year and the kitchen was abuzz with anticipation. Then Murphy got a call from home that his pregnant wife had a medical emergency. It turned out that the kitchen handled Couric just fine in Murphy's absence, as did the doctors who treated his wife's emergency. In December she delivered quadruplets.
I'm not sure I hear him correctly. "Quadruplets?"
I think he's used to the reaction. First, he and his wife were told that they'd be having twins. A week later, it was triplets. And then, quadruplets. The four girls' six-month birthday falls just about a week before Father's Day this month.
Jazz trumpetist Jeremy Davenport, Mélange's headline entertainer, makes an appearance in the kitchen. I imagine he's disappointed to find me instead of someone like Couric or Dustin Hoffman—both of whom have dined at this very table—but he doesn't show it. We have a brief chat but I'm telepathically urging him to get back to the stage. It's possible that Salma Hayek is done with filming for the day and is at the bar, waiting to hear him play; if so, I don't want her to get impatient and leave.
Another course arrives: succulent lamb chops, served rare, with fried goat cheese in a port wine reduction. I had enough to eat about an hour ago but this is one of my favorite dishes. And it comes with a cooking lesson.
I learn that the term for removing the excess fat from the bones is called "frenching," and that the skillful way to do so is by running a very sharp knife along the bone. Lesser chefs will consume a lot of time shaving away the membrane, but the professionals know how to easily peel it away. Murphy also tells me that these chops should always be served with the bones curving upward; that presentation invites the perfectly acceptable practice of holding the "joint" in one's hands when eating the meat.
I'm happy to know the etiquette, but I'm already flirting with gluttony; at this point, I feel as if I'll shade into full-blown Henry the Eighth mode if I start eating chops with my hands. We stick with the Tuscana for this course.
I'm so thoroughly sated that I forget to ask Murphy a question I had about the fried scorpion he was telling me he ate when he was in Thailand. I've turned into an indolent interviewer at this point. Great—first, gluttony, now sloth. At this pace I'm sure to commit the five remaining deadly sins by midnight.
(Come to think of it, I suppose I can also check off "lust" from the list, what with my musings about Salma Hayek. The tally: three sins down, four to go.)
And then dessert arrives. In stages. First up, fig samosas with a fruity chutney on the side. I have just about finished my plate when the second dessert hits the table. We're treated to wontons filled with dark chocolate accompanied by a cherry compote. Chopsticks come with the dish but, at this stage of the evening, they seem like too much trouble to maneuver. I follow the chef's lead and treat the wontons as finger food. That settles it: I, Henry the Eighth, I am.
Finally, the third plate of delights arrives from the pastry kitchen: it includes a few clusters of very fancy caramel corn, orange meringues, a chocolate-toffee construction, and another chocolate thingy that I don't catch the name of. I start to ask the pastry server to explain it to me but I've already started on the chocolate-toffee treat and my teeth are stuck together.
We've reached the end of a glorious meal. Truly, squire, I couldn't eat another wafer.
I say my thanks and my good-byes, and I wish Chef Murphy a slightly early Happy Father's Day...four times over. As I leave, I notice that Miss Hayek is not at the bar.
It's well after ten when I step out into the warm evening; the French Quarter nightlife is now in full swing. Turn left, and a two minute walk down memory lane will put me in the midst of all that revelry; turn right, and I'll be on my way home and have time to cool out and do a bit of reading before bedtime. In my youth, I would not have thought twice about the options. And tonight? One can probably guess which path I took.
For menus, hours of service, and reservations contact information, visit The Ritz-Carlton, New Orleans website.
© Marshal Zeringue