February 12, 2001
Area chef creates vision for EMP's Turntable Restaurant
by Deborah Stone
One major requirement for any chef is to love food and all its possibilities. Most chefs are also highly creative individuals who possess a sense of adventure and willingness to take risks.
Doug Murray, executive chef at the Turntable Restaurant, the dining establishment within the Experience Music Project Museum in Seattle, considers himself a food-obsessed person who finds great comfort in the smells and tastes of the kitchen. For Murray, being a chef is a challenging and dynamic job, always changing, never static.
Ten years ago he and his wife Gina came to Woodinville from New York for a change of lifestyle and scenery.
"We had family out here," comments Murray, "and felt that Seattle was a city with a burgeoning economy and on the move culturally wise. It had that big city feel, but it was more manageable than New York. I saw many possibilities here and the opportunities were great."
Murray had spent most of his life in New York and remembers his first job in a bakeshop owned by the father of his friend. He was in high school and helped in the kitchen, surrounded by the smells of freshly baked breads and pastries.
He says, "It was those smells that impacted me greatly. There's nothing like being around fresh bread, straight from the oven. Then there was the camaraderie that existed among all of us working there. It was a fun place."
Murray went on to attend the Culinary Institute of America in upstate New York where he received formal training as a chef and then following graduation, he worked for various private clubs and French restaurants, eventually becoming involved in corporate food management.
When he moved to Seattle, he initially worked as the corporate chef for Dukes, developing food concepts for the organization's chain of restaurants.
Four years ago, he went off on his own to open Post Alley Pizza, an authentic New York style pizzeria in downtown Seattle.
"The place had a good following," says Murray, "and it was doing pretty well, but it really needed a more visible location. It was a lot of work and full of daily challenges, but I enjoyed the experience."
He decided to sell the restaurant and the day after the sale was finalized, he was contacted by a consultant who asked him about running a new restaurant planned for EMP. Murray was impressed with the high quality of the people he met that were associated with the museum and was intrigued with the challenges presented to him.
"The challenge for me with this position was adjusting to a situation where food is not the main focus," explains Murray. "I was used to working for restaurants that were simply restaurants, on their own, not associated with something else. I also was concerned about the museum itself, as I really had no idea as to the scope of the project. As it turns out, the place is tremendously cool! The team that put it all together really hit a homerun. It's an incredible place."
The Turntable Restaurant needed to be in sync with the rest of the museum and its concepts, so Murray landed on the idea of serving regional American food that offers a variety of seasonal tastes throughout the year.
He says, "I articulated this vision of who we are and where we're going, based on the mission statement of the museum. The idea here is to celebrate pop music. The building is eclectic and fun and the café needed to echo this sentiment, as well as cater to all age groups of customers from many walks of life."
Dishes like authentic southern fried chicken, fried green tomatoes, smoked salmon potato pancakes, trout coated in pumpkin seeds and hearty crab chowder are just a few samplings of the restaurant's eclectic tastes. Thus far, the Turntable's volume has been very good, according to Murray.
There has been a steady crowd since the opening of EMP and the reactions from diners has been positive. Murray is pleased at the growing number of people who return to the café and those who dine there as a stop before going on to other venues for the evening.
He says, "It's great when you can start to see people coming just to eat at the restaurant. That shows me that the place is making a name for itself and is not just a museum café."
Murray's goal is to continue developing the regional American style menu and also become a bigger player in catering events at the museum, such as holiday parties and corporate events. When he is not busy creating new dishes, writing menus and doing the day to day administrative work as an executive chef, Murray enjoys cooking for his own family,prefering comfort foods, such as pot roast or dining at some of his favorite haunts in the Seattle areas which include the Kingfish Cafe and Monsoon Restaurant. He likes to venture out to try new places and keep in touch with the trends of the industry.
"Food is similar to the fashion industry," commented Murray. "It has its trends and styles that come in and go out. It's always moving on you and you have to stay on top of things to keep current. That's why I like the business so much. It also feeds my ego and provides me with immediate gratification. You win or lose with each plate you serve and you know right away what the result will be. There's no politics involved."