Catering Scotland

Profile: James Murphy, Grand Central’s Executive Chef

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Profile: James Murphy, Grand Central’s Executive Chef

October 21
20:07 2013
Grand Central landscape.jpg

The Proof’s in the Pudding

Having studied hospitality management and catering at the former Glasgow College of Food Technology, James went to on to begin his career as a third commis chef under the guidance of Anton Mosimann at the Dorchester in London.

Returning to the Grand Central as executive chef after a 30-year absence, James is heading up a brigade of 25 in his kitchen, including Hungarian senior sous chef, Zoltan Szabo: ‘Although we’re responsible for the hotel’s food and beverage outlets – including its restaurant, champagne bar and extensive C&B facilities – it’s not as daunting as I thought it would be,’ says James. ‘It’s not been all that easy, mind you, but coming back here is a lot like seeing an old friend after years apart; you remember everything about them but you also enjoy getting to know them all over again.’

As if to illustrate this familiarity, James picks up a fading photo from his desk and looks at it wistfully: ‘That was the fourth of September 1979; my first day on the job here. There’s the kitchen team with Stewart Cameron at the front – he was the main man back then – and me on the right. I also have my employment acceptance form from that very day when I started.’

How things have changed since then; the hotel’s exhaustive £20m refurbishment is close to completion, its 186 opulent rooms have been stripped out and refitted, and James is no longer living on £40 a week

However, despite his familiarity with the place, he says that the refurbishment of the F&B areas was far more complicated than he or anyone else could have envisaged: ‘The logistics of kitting out the new kitchens tested everyone’s skills, foresight and patience to the limit,’ he explains. ‘We had innumerable issues with the heavy equipment, mainly because it’s a Grade A listed building and there were various rules and regulations about what we could and couldn’t do with regard to knocking down walls or removing windows.’

You can understand his point: The sheer length of the main corridor is a sight in itself: ‘The old-fashioned dimensions made the act of manoeuvring the cookers and worktops much harder than we had anticipated but we got it done and achieved the desired result in the end.’

And what a result: James’s ‘patch’ comprises two restaurant kitchens – one for Champagne Central and a larger one for Tempus – both of which have been fitted out with the latest technological advances in kitchen equipment. The latter also has its own wood-burning oven which, according to James, was a ‘living nightmare’ to get into the building, and yet now suits perfectly the character of the hotel: ‘At times we actually thought we weren’t going to get that oven in at all but as with everything in this place it’s been an absolute labour of love and we triumphed in the end.

‘Now we have a genuine wood-burning oven that will cook a lobster to perfection in four minutes flat. That’s what it’s all about!’

Despite his enthusiasm, however, the jewels in James’s crown are his beloved banqueting facilities, which have also benefitted from a thorough clear-out and comprehensive refit. The ‘toys’ he now has at his disposal would make any chef wide-eyed with envy: Induction hobs, water baths, grills, stoves, Self-Cooking Centers – they’re all in there.

Not that any of this kit is indulgent, though. Indeed, it’s all absolutely necessary to help James and his kitchen team run the Grand Central’s vast, high-pressure banqueting capabilities. When we spoke, he was in the middle of a week that had already seen 95 for lunch that afternoon, 55 for dinner that evening, 18 VIPs the day before, 38 for canapes the following day and a further 300 for dinner again on the Friday. And that’s just the corporate business; daily breakfast, lunches and dinners are all in addition. James reckons they’ve got bookings in the schedule for a total of around 5,000 covers in the three weeks from 2nd to 22nd of December alone; not bad for a hotel which only opened at the end of the summer.

As ever, his suppliers take centre stage and are as important as the dishes he creates: ‘I’ve spent a lot of time visiting the country’s best farmers’ markets to source the best produce, and we’ve teamed up with a host of specialist companies who’ll supply us with Scotch meat, local cheeses, fresh fish, breads and rolls, and even Arran dairies for our own bespoke and unique Grand Central ice cream,’ he explains. ‘We had our trials in the beginning but now we’ve settled on the suppliers we want to use, they’ve been great and they are an integral part of what we’re trying to do here. At the end of the day, it’s all about the food.’

Despite the constant battle between challenge and solution, James and his team are pragmatic about the job that lies ahead of them: ‘With all its history and heritage, the Grand Central is easily the most recognised and romantic hotel in this city. We want to grasp that heritage and take this place forward to make it greater than it ever was in the past. We know we’ve got a lot of work to do and no one had envisaged needing this many people or resources but I also never thought it’d be as exciting as it has been.

‘One day soon we’ll be the best hotel in Glasgow once again, and in Scotland too.’

Watching James working away in his kingdom, quietly advising his army of chefs and commanding respect and reverence in equal measure, you get the distinct feeling that if anyone can restore the Grand Central to its former foodie glory, he can.

Visit http://tinyurl.com/l8asx6v to read the complete feature on Glasgow’s Grand Central Hotel.

 

 

 

 

 

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With over three decades of experience under his toque, James Murphy (inset) is arguably one of the country’s most experienced and accomplished banqueting chefs. CateringScotland caught up with him in the Grand Central kitchen…

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